In all the debates about the RAF I find it most amusing that a lot of commentators want to strip the RAF of its assets and distribute amongst the other services like Robin Hood, dispersing the aviation riches amongst the poor of the Army and Royal Navy. There is an assumption that a) it can be done and b) it is a vaguely good thing to do
It could be done but I am less sure what benefits would accrue.
In all the discussions about taking helicopters, fighters and transport away from the RAF and giving them to the other services I have yet to see a decent enough argument to convince me that it would deliver any positive benefits or any sort of cost reductions.
In order to provide some sort of balance, how about going the other way?
Whilst the UK armed forces enjoyed plenty of resources (when?) there might have been an argument for each service having their own light infantry, logistics, policing, rotary/fixed wing aviation, intelligence and engineering. However, in these resource constrained times every instance of duplication should be challenged and whilst some are obviously still needed others might be less so.
Falling into the less so category, in my opinion, is aviation.
The reasons for the formation of the Fleet Air Arm and Army Air Corps are largely historical and wedded to an era when joint working arrangements or inter service collaboration was at a low point. Arguments like people don’t join the RAF to serve on ships are fair enough but only go so far and ultimately, the needs of the nation must be considered. What about the unique operating environment of ships or forward locations, again, are these really too significant to overcome, why RAF aircrew could not be trained in working aboard ships (damage control etc) or Army standard skill at arms is not clear. RAF aircrew routinely embark from naval vessels and work from the same locations as army aviation.
The bottom line is this; we need to drive out unnecessary duplication to reduce operating costs and if there are any sacred cows it is the Army and Royal Navy operating their own fixe and rotary wing aviation assets.
The Royal Navy will naturally view aviation as one element of their overall capability, likewise the Army and looking at the resources both services have given to aviation it is debatable if this would in any way improve if they absorbed the RAF. Conversely, if we concentrate pretty much all of the aviation roles and equipment into the single service that sees aviation as its reason to exist then one would think that it would be a better situation all round.
In a land of plenty each service would have their own everything and whilst the numerous joint forces have proven the basic concept they are a typical British fudge, avoiding making a tough decision.
The scarcity and cost of modern aircraft is such that they need a dedicated service that does nothing else to ensure they are suitably managed across the JOINT force, supported by a unified career structure.
This is not to say the RAF can just carry on normal jogging because they can’t. Attitudes have to change and the whole of the RAF have to work hard to shrug off the 5 star hotel, Monday to Friday and civilians in uniform perceptions that have built up.
It is also the role of the leadership at the MoD to ensure that resources are allocated to the most pressing needs, persuading the RAF that it needs to switch priority from fast jet to ISR and transport would not be easy but that is no reason not to do so.
Although it would not happen overnight this proposal is quite simply to move all aviation assets from the Army and Royal Navy into the RAF.
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