The Post They Tried to Kill

If you can remember from a few weeks ago and my communications with those fine gentlemen from the Phoenix Think Tank there was a particular post they objected to in which I eviscerated their outrageous claims about the RAF and their over inflated claims about the Fleet Air Arm.

In that post, called Naval Aviation, Blogs and Think Tanks, I took selected quotes from the PTT and offered a rebuttal and exposing their nonsense. Because they objected to me quoting from their posts I agreed to remove the original but I thought an update, without them, would still be useful.

So, here it is, the post they tried to kill :)

This is not intended to be authoritative and I would strongly urge readers to research the facts and points of view (which aren’t facts) for themselves.

In the build up to the SDSR a number of web sites popped up that had a single theme, the promotion of the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm. There is absolutely nothing wrong in that, if you look at the broad aim of Think Defence it is to promote debate on the nature and role of UK defence capabilities, so when it comes down to chit chat, I think more is always the merrier.

As the SDSR timeline progressed and in its aftermath, it became obvious that the content and tone had changed in some of them from advocacy of a maritime strategy to the advocacy of a maritime strategy at the expense of the RAF. Instead of highlighting the unique contribution of naval aviation, where it compliments land based aviation and how it can be integrated into a joint force, articles increasingly turned to denigrating the RAF, its achievements and personnel, and often, calling for its disbandment.

The authors and contributors maintain that criticisms are not directed at individuals in the RAF but at it as a corporate body or its senior leadership, but it is hard to reconcile that with some of the content and its tone which verged in some parts on impugning the memory of service personnel killed on recent operations.

This is inter service rivalry at its worst, it is desperately depressing that in an environment of decreasing funding and increasing costs that clearly bitter relations continue to harm UK defence capability especially when that energy could be devoted to more productive matters.

It is obvious that they are passionate about the defence of the UK and that passion has been directed to the production of numerous articles and opinions which have achieved some traction in the mainstream media.

Perhaps they are right, perhaps not; there are always two sides to any argument and although I do not entirely agree with a maritime centric strategy it is an entirely valid thing to argue for, that doesn’t make me ‘anti Navy’ it just means I have a different opinion.

One of the pillars on which it bases its argument on, is the history of naval aviation, particularly British naval aviation and comparing it unfavourably to land based aviation.

One has to be careful about citing history as some justification for the future composition of UK combat air power because it is very easy to simply learn the wrong lessons, forgetting that yesterday was very different to today, and today will be very different to tomorrow. We also have a tendency to look back with rose coloured spectacles; it is human nature to be loyal to one’s own ‘tribe’

Being objective is very difficult.

Their position seemed to be that naval aviation is far superior and belittled the contribution of the RAF at every stage, citing numerous examples of where the RAF were found wanting and the FAA and/or naval aviation were superior, saving the day.

This view was then extrapolated forward to an assertion that the RAF should be disbanded.

The source of this historical perspective seemed to be an article on the Fleet Air Arm Officers Association website from David Hobbs (a former RN Commander and author of excellent books) in which the case was made for naval aviation at the expense of land based aviation. An additional set of conflicts were also used to highlight how the RAF, lacking strategic mobility, needed the Royal Navy and its carriers to get to the fight, as it were.

This article has since been removed but I thought it was highly selective, presented a completely one sided and narrow perspective on what air power is and only discussed operations where naval airpower was used, not naval and land air power.

The Fleet Air Arm Officers Association website is a brilliant site, with bags of interesting information, so I would urge readers to pop over and have a look;

So the original article then propogated across multiple sites and was often cited by associated articles, blogs and other published papers.

I am no professional researcher but I wanted to examine the evidence presented by the these websites, surely if the RAF are as bad as they indicate, successive governments, civil servants and chiefs of the defence staff have been hoodwinked for a protracted period by RAF propaganda and it should be exposed!

You might to Google for yourself to see if the article in question, and others that quote it, are still around. I seem to remember extracts from it were used in submissions to the House of Commons defence select committee as well.

So this is a quick run through of post war operations where air power, of any flavour, has been used, and this might allow a spot of comparing and contrasting.

Instead of quoting directly, I have paraphrased or described the claims made.

1944 to 1949, Greek Civil War

In a 5 year operation the RAF deployed approximately 15 squadrons/detachments and Hurricanes, Spitfires, Beaufighters, Wellingtons, Boston’s, Mosquito’s, Dakotas and Walrus.

The FAA deployed a detachment of Sea Otters.

No mention of this in the article.

1945 to 1946, Indochina and Siam

Although it was a relatively small operation from a UK perspective, both the RAF and FAA were involved. 2 squadrons of Spitfires and 811 and 825 NAS with Sea Fury’s and Fireflies from HMS Warrior were deployed.

No mention of this in the article.

1945 to 1946, Netherlands East Indies

The RAF deployed Spitfires, Beaufighters and Mosquito’s in addition to Sunderland’s, Dakota’s and Auster’s from 14 squadrons/flights.

No mention of this in the article.

1948, Palestine

The article claimed that during the withdrawal phase, only naval aircraft from HMS Ocean could be used because the RAF aircraft had already been evacuated.

The first counter to that is the highly selective date, 1948. British forces had been in Palestine for many many years prior to this and in the pre war period the RAF and Army had perfected close air support tactics to such a degree that reaction times for airborne close air support were as low as 15 minutes, an interesting comparison with today.

In 1946 the infamous King David Hotel bombing prompted a reinforcement of Palestine in support of the British Mandate. Wikipedia has a good overview of the history of the conflict but without delving too deep into the wider conflict as one might reasonably imagine there was a sizeable RAF presence throughout, 12 squadrons in fact, No 6, No 13, No 18, No 32, No 37, No 38, No 178, No 208, No 214, No 621, No 651 and No 680.  Between them, they operated Spitfires, Mosquito’s, Lancaster’s, Liberator’s, Tempest’s and Austers of various marks.

The main operation location was RAF Aqir but others were used including Ein Shemer, Qastina, Ramat David and Peta Tiqva.

By the end of 1947 the British announced their intention to withdraw and in the tense operational and political climate that followed all UK forces were gradually drawn down. The announcement came after the UN Resolution on Planned Partition which required the UK to withdraw by May 14, 1948 and the port of Haifa open for immigration by February. However, the British authorities deemed the opening of Haifa to be extremely unwise.

In April 1948 Tempests from 249 Squadron and Spitfires from 208 Squadron made a number of operational attack sorties in support of ground forces and the Lancaster’s of 38 and 37 Squadrons were relocated to Malta. The Union Jack was lowered on 14th of May and the state of Israel was declared the day after although British forces would not leave for some weeks after.

Within hours of the declaration Egyptian Spitfires had attacked Tel Aviv and Sde Nov airfields and on the 22nd of May also attacked Ramat David Airport in two sorties where the RAF were still tasked with covering the withdrawal. A number of RAF Spitfires and one Dakota were destroyed and 4 RAF personnel killed for the loss of 5 Egyptian Spitfires, 4 in the air and one with ground fires from the RAF Regiment. The Egyptians later apologised, they mistakenly thought the RAF had left and the forces on the ground were Israeli. The aircrew at the stations in question were reportedly recovering from a Dining In night in the mess in which they had decided to destroy the mess before handing over to the Israelis, hardly a model of military preparedness.

In 1946 the Royal Navy Palestine Patrol was established to prevent illegal immigration into the area and the Fleet Air Arm was renamed to the Naval Aviation Branch. The patrol continued its work right up until the end of the mandate.

HMS Ocean(theship that conducted the first ever landing of a jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier and first ever embarkation of female crew) arrived off Haifa on the 7th May 1948 and was later joined by HMS Triumph.

On the 15th of May the High Commissioner left Palestine aboard onboard HMS Euryalas, escorted by the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean, HMS Chevron, HMS Childers, HMS Volage, HMS Pelican and HMS Widemouth Bay.

British forces then withdrew to the Haifa enclave, a simple collapsing perimeter.

Towards the end of June the rear party preparing to leave Haifa after recovering a great deal of heavy equipment, with Royal Marines, Royal Engineers, Coldstream Guards, Grenadier Guards, Dragoon Guards and other units carrying out these final moves. Providing air cover was HMS Triumph with 4 Seafires held at 30 minutes notice. RAF aircraft were also involved with a search for a missing 4/7 Dragoon Guards tank and the Seafires conducted a number of armed reconnaissance patrols, no doubt providing a highly visible coercive deterrent. There is some disagreement on exactly who and when the last British forces left Palestine but the overall picture is largely one of an ordered withdrawal.

On the 30th of June, with most British forces now out of Haifa, HMS Triumph’s Seafires conducted a flypast.

The remaining Royal Marines and Army units gradually shrunk the perimeter until the last of the equipment and personnel were embarked on the LST HMS Striker and the force sailed. A destroyer was left in international waters for a few days, just in case.

For a complete breakdown of UK forces that served in Palestine between 1945 and 1948 the ever brilliant Britain’s Small Wars has a comprehensive breakdown hereand for further details of the Royal Navy Palestine Patrol, including the final few days, click here

In the book linked above there is no mention of HMS Ocean in the final days but other sources state she stayed with HMS Triumph.

Some great British Pathe newsreels on the evacuation here, here, here and here

So it would seem that the quote is largely correct in its highly selective construction but it fails to note the 3 years constant service in theatre by the RAF, the fact that RAF bases can’t be evacuated onto LST’s through a collapsing perimeter and would therefore have to have left long before, the actual nature of the protection and the continued operations in the area by the RAF some time after.

I would also question the assertion that only naval aircraft were capable of providing the protection required, Haifa is less than 200 miles from Cyprus and some of the longer range Mosquito’s had a range in excess of 2000 miles, the reason naval aviation was used was simply because it made more sense to do so, the aircraft could conduct limited sorties that suited the nature of the operation but would be available at short notice to cover any contingencies in what was essentially, an amphibious operation in reverse.

After the withdrawal, flying from Kabrit in the Canal Zone RAF PR Mosquito’s made daily sorties over the area and one was shot down by an Israeli Air Force P51 Mustang piloted by an American volunteer on November 20th 1948. Two similar incidents followed but in the very sensitive political environment at the time retaliation against the embryonic IAF would have certainly destroyed them and left the door wide open for Arab air forces to attack.

These incidents in 1949 were a lesson to the RAF about complacency, details in the Flight International archive here.

1945 to 1950, Southern Arabia

The RAF were engaged on a sporadic basis through this period with Mosquito’s, Brigands, Tempests and Lincolns.

No mention of this in the article.

1948 to 1952, Eritrea and Somaliland

RAF Hawker Tempest F6 aircraft of 6 Squadron deployed from Fayid to Mogadishu to fly a series of demonstration sorties. No.6 Squadron’s efforts were subsequently augmented by a detachment of Tempest F6s belonging to 8 Squadron, which operated from Hargeisa during March 1948.

In April, a detachment of Hawker Fury F6 fighter bombers from 39 Squadron was despatched from Khartoum in Sudan to Asmara in Eritrea to help counter guerrilla attacks mounted by Shifta bandits. The primary task of the detachment was to fly armed reconnaissance sorties in support of ground forces but they also conducted rocket attacks against rebel bases.

In August, unrest within Somaliland, triggered by the announcement that the disputed Ogaden territory was to be transferred to Ethiopia, leading to the despatch of No.213 Squadron (Hawker Tempest F6) from Deversoir to Mogadishu in order to ‘fly the flag’ and assist in restoring order. Following the withdrawal of the last British troops from the Odagen region of Somaliland on 23 September, No.213 Squadron left Mogadishu and returned to Deversoir.

Aircraft deployed included Mosquito’s, Tempests, Brigands and Lancasters.

Detachments remained until 1951 and operations from other locations until 1952.

No mention of this in the article.

1948 to 1960, Malaya

Following serious rioting and social unrest in early 1948, Sir Edward Gent, the High Commissioner for the Federation of Malaya, declared a state of emergency. The Malayan Communist Party was subsequently banned on 23 July. This marked the beginning of the Malayan Emergency (Operation Firedog). Operation Firedog represented a major commitment for the Royal Air Force (RAF).

A total of fifteen RAF squadrons served in Malaya at some stage of the emergency and many more United Kingdom-based units took part in temporary detachments to Malaya.

At the beginning of the operation the RAF presence was limited but during the emergency it escalated significantly. During the operation Fleet Air Arm aircraft would contribute when RN carriers were in the area. The full gamut of RAF and FAA aircraft were employed and a number of innovations progressed, including helicopter operations in a combined wing and psychological warfare. 848 NAS carried out its first airlift in 1953 when three S55’s lifted 12 members of the Worcestershire Regiment into the jungle in search of an insurgent commander and the naval rotary aviation component played a major role until the RAF could catch up and meet the requirements.

It would be fair to say that many of the jungle strike sorties were ineffectual and the most significant contribution to the overall campaign was provided by the fixed and rotary supply aircraft.

No mention of this in the article.

1949, the Berlin Airlift

147 RAF aircraft completed 65,857 sorties, transporting 394,509 tonnes of supplies.

No mention of this in the article.

1950 – 1953, Korea

The articles in question stated that the RAF’s involvement was limited to transport and some flying boat MPA patrols and the RN flew thousands of effective patrols. It also mentioned that the RAF supplied Meteor fighters to the RAAF but these had to be transported to theatre on RN aircraft carriers, the point being made that the RAF needed the RN even for that limited operation.

What happened

Aircraft carriers did indeed provide all the UK’s tactical strike and fighter capability during the Korea War. On their way to, and way back from Korea, Firefly’s from 827, 821 and 825 Squadrons from HMS Triumph HMS Ocean also conducted a number of sorties in Malaya but these were from land bases. Although to me this demonstrates the flexibility of naval aviation they weren’t actually flown from the decks and thus for some reason, left out of the article(s).

At the outbreak of the Korean War HMS Triumph, sailing to Hong Kong from Japan, joined the USN Valley Forge and the first sortie comprising 12 Seafires and 9 fireflies was launched against Haeju Airfield on the 3rd of July 1950.

The articles casually dismissed the role of the Sunderland yet fails to mention that there were there at the request of the Royal Navy, initially providing an anti submarine capability. Hong Kong was a vital staging post and naval base for the carriers, without Hong Kong it is unlikely the carriers would have been able to sustain their deployment and it was given the appropriate degree of protection.  From mid 1949 in Hong Kong, 2 squadrons were maintained as a protective force, first with Spitfires and later with Hornets and Vampires. Photo recce Spitfires were also based in Hong Kong and regularly flew sorties over China. The RAF deployment in Hong Kong lasted from 1948 to 1997 and the FAA were also involved over a sustained period.

HMS Triumph was duly replaced by HMS Theseus in October and in April 1952 by HMS Glory. HMS Glory was replaced in May 1952 by HMS Ocean when she was replaced by HMS Glory in October. HMS Ocean carried out the final shift until the ceasefire was declared in July 1953 and during her deployment carried out a record breaking 123 sorties in one day.

This was a superb display of sustained deployment, a Sea Fury from HMS Ocean was also responsible for the first kill of a jet aircraft from a piston engine aircraft (interesting account here) and the first use of rocket assisted takeoffs from a carrier was also carried out by HMS Ocean in this period.

Video from British Pathe of HMS Glory in actionoff Korea

The carriers generally spent 18 days on station followed by a 6 day trip to Japan for replenishment where they would be in port for about a week before returning to the ops area.

Despite the superb contribution of naval aviation to operations in Korea it would be wrong to dismiss the contribution of the RAF. RAF Sunderland Flying Boats from 88, 205 and 209 squadrons were tasked throughout, 2 were lost. The Sunderland detachment came under the operational control of the United States Navy’s Fleet Air Wing (FAW) 6 and their duties included anti submarine, maritime patrol, weather reconnaissance and transport. The last detachment concluded operations on 31 July 1953.

Auster’s from 1903 Independent Air Observation Post Flight and 1913 Light Liaison Flight were deployed from 1951 until the ceasefire, 2 were lost to ground fire and over 3,000 sorties were completed. Both these flights were mixed RAF and Army, with the pilots usually being ex Royal Artillery.

RAF pilots also flew with other nations; the Royal Australian Air Force 77 Squadron and 6 pilots were killed or taken prisoner. At the ceasefire, 77 Squadron had flown over 18,000 sorties. RAF pilots also flewwith the USAF, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at Suwon the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing at Kimpo.

Given that a number of RAF personnel were killed in action I would say that the article is rather disrespectful to their memory and it is also worth considering why the RAF was largely in the backseat in Korea.

The simple reason is that they were heavily tasked in Malaya and not forgetting the early fifties was a period where air defence of the UK, the strategic deterrent and other locations were core roles.

1951 to 1956, Egypt

After the war the Egyptians naturally wanted to assert their independence and effect a British withdrawal. A number of RAF bases in the Canal Zone protected the canal and provided a buffer against Soviet expansion in the area. There was a simmering and escalating security situation with 40 service personnel killed and the RAF had Vampires, Meteors, Mosquitos, Meteors, Valettas, Dakotas, Proctors, Ansons, Lincolns and Austers in theatre.

No mention of this in the article.

1952 to 1956, Kenya

After the War, the Kenyan African Union was formed and from that came the extremist Kenyan Land Freedom Party, otherwise known as the Mau Mau. In 1952 the murder of a prominent local prompted the declaration of emergency. By the end of the emergency the RAF had dropped nearly 22,00 bombs and deployed Lincolns, Austers, Harvards, Meteors, Lancasters, Dakotas, Ansons, Proctors, Pembrokes and a number of Sycamore helicopters.

No mention of this in the article.

1952 to 1959, Oman

There had been a long series of close links with Oman that continues to this day and in this period British forces provided combat support, the RAF deploying Vampires, Meteors, Valettas, Lancasters, Lincolns, Shackletons, Canberra’s and Ansons.

Sea Hawks, Sea Venoms and Skyraiders from HMS Ocean HMS Bulwark were also deployed for a short period.

No mention of this in the article.

1954 to 1968, Aden and Radfan

The artice described how the withdrawing British forces were covered by an RN task force, this task force providing cover the RAF as it too withdrew from theatre.

What happened

Although British forces had been involved in various smaller operations in the region for many years things got serious in 1954 when the RAF airlifted troops to counter an attack against Fort Rabat. Supporting the troops were a small number of Vampires and air command post. The Vampires also marked targets for Lincoln bombers and operations continued for some time, in this phase up to 1957 when Shackeltons were also deployed. In 1960 Hunters saw service in the area and in 1960 and 1963 Sea Venoms and Sea Vixens from HMS Centaur and HMS Hermes were involved.

In October 1962 there was a revolution in Yemen and the situation escalated, with Egypt being drawn in. British forces then had dissident tribes, incursions from the Yemen and terrorist actions in Aden itself to deal with.

Combined arms operations continued through 1964 including Operation Nutcracker which involved Army, local forces, RAF and Wessex helicopters from HMS Centaur. After Nutcracker another operation was executed that included 45 Commando, a company of 3 Para, other Army units, local forces and a range of RAF aircraft. Hunters provided close air support and in May this forces was reinforced further, including Wessex helicopters from 815 NAS. The operation was ultimately a success and order was maintained after these combat operations using the well tried air control tactics.

A quote from Tim Toyne Sewell in the book ‘The British Retreat from Aden’

Spectator sport was watching the RAF Hunter (successor to the Venom) pilots attacking rebel positions deep in the valleys between the mountains. They flew at the limits, heading down the between the rock walls until it seemed that they must crash into the mountainside, firing into forts or sangars with long bursts of fire, before hauling back the stick and going vertically up over the mountain lip. It was real Biggles stuff and the RAF won plenty of plaudits from the Jocks, who knew that they would be well served if they needed help in an emergency

The Wessex helicopters were essential to the success of the operation and during the May to June period, RAF Hunters flew over 600 sorties, expending over 180,000 cannon rounds and firing 2,500 rockets. During the same period RAF also Belvederes flew over 1,000 sorties.

In 1964 it was announced the area would be granted independence but with a British military bases retained. This didn’t go down well with the locals and fighting continued in and around Aden for some years, in 1966 the intention to retain a base was reversed.

Plans were now made for a full scale evacuation involving the largest airlift since Berlin and many thousands of personnel and huge quantities of stores were airlifted by Hercules, Britannia’s and Belfast’s. In an echo of Palestine the final withdrawal was 42 Commando by Wessex helicopters from 848 NAS and 78 Squadron. These were covered by Buccaneers Sea Vixens from HMS Eagle. Although there were of course contingency plans if things get a bit sporty, in the end, the withdrawal proceeded without incident.

The article was again guilty of being highly selective in its dates.

1955 to 1959, Cyprus

When the Cyprus Emergency was declared in 1955 after the murder of a policeman there was already a significant British force on the island following the withdrawal from Egypt in 1954. The RAF and FAA contribution was relatively small but there was a contribution nevertheless.

No mention of this in the article.

1955, Sudan

The RAF deployed 3 squadrons of Tempests to support the run up to independence and attack dissidents in the south of the country.

No mention of this in the article.

1956, Suez

The article described a combined assault by UK and French carrier borne and land based aircraft, making the point that because of their position, the carriers reacted more quickly to calls for action than RAF aircraft from Cyprus and Malta. Despite, it said, only having a third of the British strike fighters the RN strike fighters flew two thirds of the strike sorties. RAF aircraft were said to carry fewer weapons and could spend little time on task and when on task most time was spent at high level to conserve fuel.

What happened

In October 1955 fighting broke out around the British bases in the Suez Canal Zone and 16 Independent Parachute Brigade was flown from Cyprus aboard the Vickers Vikings of Nos. 70, 78, 114, 204 and 216 Squadrons RAF to support the units stationed in the Canal Zone.

In August 1956 after the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by Egypt on 26 July Canberra bombers were deployed to Cyprus as part of an escalation strategy. In October following the Egyptian Government’s rejection of the ultimatum presented by Britain and France and its closure of the Suez Canal, British and French forces commenced operations against Egypt, called Operation Musketeer.

Twelve Egyptian airfields in the Canal Zone and the Nile Delta were attacked by Canberra and Valiant bombers. In an echo of recent operations this initial phase, called Operation Fairlove, was designed to neutralise the opposing air forces. The bomber force consisted of 17 RAF squadrons supported by 7 squadrons of Venoms, Hunters and Meteors operating from Malta and Cyprus. In addition to the RAF, the Fleet Air Arm fielded 11 squadrons, Sea Hawks, Sea Venoms and Wyverns.

Operations commenced on the 31st of October, with reconnaissance being carried out by RAF Canberra’s closely followed by Canberra and Valiant bombers. The night after both the RAF and FAA were engaged in bombing operations. The destruction of the Egyptian Air Force was swift and other targets were engaged although subsequent research has shown that some of the Egyptian Air Force was relocated South prior to the operation.

Subsequent analysis showed that the high level bombing was not as effective as first thought but as the threat of the Egyptian Air Force was reduced, medium level attacks were much more accurate and rules of engagement meant that civilian casualties were to be avoided at all costs.

Whilst the Canberras carried out many effective strike sorties the Hunters, with most of their drop tanks having been damaged by previous gunnery practice, were indeed limited to only 10 minutes over the target area.

Prior to the amphibious attack phase there was a shortage of viable targets for aircraft so strikes reduced.

Carrier borne aircraft, in addition to strike sorties, also carried out anti submarine and AEW tasks.

On the 5th of November 3 Para were dropped onto the El Gamil airfield by RAF Valettas and Hastings, the drop zone being marked with flares dropped by Canberra’s. The airborne force also included 7 jeeps armed with recoilless rifles, these, incredibly being carried under the wings of the Hastings. Although the WWII vintage jeeps had been out of service for some time they were the only vehicles available that were light enough for air dropping. FAA aircraft flew cab rank style close air support missions and by the end of the day in excess of 400 sorties had been flown. The size of the airdrop was largely dictated by the available space at the Cyprus airfields and capacity of the RAF’s transport fleet. This was an area that had seen rapid decline since the war and with the resource intensive effort to get the V Bomber force operational the air lift capacity was simply too small. In comparison with the French parachute force, British parachute forces were much less well trained and equipped.

On the 6th of November the amphibious assault commenced with 40 and 42 Commando, supported by Centurion tanks from the Royal Tank Regiment. The reserve, 45 Commando, was committed to and in a world first, carried out a ship to shore helicopter assault using Whirlwinds from 845 NAS and HMS Theseus and Whirlwinds and Sycamores from the Joint Helicopter Unit and HMS Ocean.

After helicopters had demonstrated their potential in Korea, Joint Helicopter Experimental Unit (JHEU) was formed at RAF Middle Wallop on April Fools Day, 1955, with both the RAF and Army in equal numbers. After many landings on an aircraft carrier sized runway at Middle Wallop, helicopters from the JHEU deployed to HMS Theseus in 1955 to develop the concept further.

Just before Suez, JHEU ceased to be an experimental unit and was renamed to the Joint Helicopter Unit, during Operation Musketeer they were extremely busy. JHU was a truly joint unit, Army and RAF pilots ferrying Royal Marines into battle.

RAF and FAA aircraft continued to provide support to the land operation although given their close proximity the FAA aircraft could remain on station longer. Close Air Support to the amphibious landing was provided by the FAA, 8 Sea Hawks armed with rockets and coordinated by an Air Control Team that consisted of 2 pilots (RAF and French Armeé de’l Air), 2 forward air controllers and an Army Ground Liaison Officer.

The FAA was involved with a friendly fire incident when a Wyvern mistakenly attacked the HQ of 45 Commando.

The same day a ceasefire was announced.

Suez, like every single combat operation, was a mixture of success and failure, many lessons were learned but what strikes me is the interconnected nature of the operation, all the services combining for maximum effect in what was a stunning tactical victory, strategy of course, was another matter.

1958, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq

The article described how HMS Eagle provided support for airborne and amphibious forces and that carrier borne fighters were used to protect RAF transport aircraft because RAF fighter bases were to far away for their aircraft to be effective.

What happened

As part of a coordinated US/UK response to growing unrest in the area the UK flew elements of 2 Para to Amman from Cyprus in RAF Hastings. By the 18th, over 2,000 British troops were in Amman. The RAF transports were escorted by fighters from the powerful US Sixth Fleet and on the 20th a detachment of Hunters from Cyprus were stationed there.

1958, British Honduras

In April, Operation Quick Flight commenced, in light of the worsening relationship between the United Kingdom and Guatemala with regard to the status of British Honduras, a Royal Visit was conducted by Princess Margaret to demonstrate the United Kingdom’s commitment to preserve the integrity of the Crown Colony. The Vickers Viscount carrying Princess Margaret was escorted by two armed Canberra interdictors of No.59 Squadron, with two Canberra PR9s of No.58 Squadron acting as navigation leaders.

No mention of this in the article.

1961, Kuwait

The article decsribed how HMS Bulwark and 42 Cdo RM arrived in the area within 24 hours because of timely intelligence and used helicopters to provide rapid deployment. It stated that British troops arriving in RAF transport aircraft had only what they stood up in and had to both requisition vehicles and wait for RN amphibious shipping to bring in more. HMS Victoria arrived some time later but arrived with a complete package of power that subsequently dominated the area. It said that a single RAF Hunter squadron was deployed to Kuwait from Bahrain but lacked the logistics and radar cover to be effective, this being provided by HMS Bulwark. Because no RAF transport aircraft were available, as they were all being used for troop transport, the Hunters left as soon as HMS Victorious arrived.

What happened

In response to Iraq making a claim against Kuwait and moving troops south, British forces in the area were placed on 4 days notice to move. HMS Bulwark and 42 Commando were off Karachi and she joined the three frigates in area, moving into the Gulf. Plan Vantage was a prepared Reinforced Theatre Plan which envisaged supplementing local forces with those flown in from the UK.

On the 29th June HMS Bulwark started her voyage from Karachi and on the 30th the 2 Hunter squadrons moved to Bahrein from their respective regional locations and were operational the same day. A pair of Shackletons also moved to the same location and Canberra’s went to Sharjah (now part of the UAE) HQ 24 Brigade was moved into the Gulf from Kenya using a combination of RAF and civilian transport aircraft.

When the formal request for assistance came on the 29th British forces were poised ready. The first units to enter Kuwait were elements of 42 Commando flown off HMS Bulwark by Whirlwinds of 848NAS. The RAF Hunters arrived the same morning at Kuwait New Airfield and Britannias flew in  45 Commando and the 11th Hussars from Aden. A small contingent of the 3rd Dragoon Guards was put ashore from HMS Striker (the same HMS Striker mentioned above in the Palestine section)

The build up continued with Comets, Britannias and Beverleys bringing in 2 Para, 1st Battalion Royal Inniskillings and 2 company’s of Coldstream Guards complete with their equipment.

On the 4th the planned build up was complete and the composite force took up positions along the Mutla Ridge. The RAF aircrew were rotated onto Bulwark and Bulwark also provided the only air defence radar capability.

On the 9th of July HMS Victoria arrived with Sea Vixen fighters, AEW Gannets and much improved radar which extended coverage out to 150 miles. On the 18th, the RAF also established a second air defence radar site although it was not as capable as that of HMS Victorious. No moves were made on Kuwait and by the 20th plans for a stand down were in place. HMS Centaur relieved HMS Victorious on the 31st of July and by late September all units were at their normal locations.

No invasion came and one might reasonably chalk this one up to the effectiveness of an all arms deployment that rapidly built up ground forces that were supported by a range of airborne capabilities from both land and sea.

1962 to 1966, Borneo

This is where the article seemed to descend into siliness, clutching at straws to to score points, making a point that the RAF had to rely on the RN commando carriers to get into theatre because they lacked the range to self deploy which seems rather obvious. It then described how carriers and their air groups provided a deterrent against Indonesian intervention by a show pf presence in international waters, the RAF being unable to provide anything similar.

What happened

The then president of Borneo encourage a local group to revolt, seeking a unification of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia and a number of attacks were carried out and a pre prepared plan, Operation Borneo, was commenced. RAF Beverleys and New Zealand and Australian aircraft flew a battalion of Gurkhas into a number of locations to reinforce and restore order. Hunters and Canberras were detached to provide close air support and Beavers and Austers continued to provide localised support. 42 Commando joined the action and HMS Albion was on the scene with Whirlwind and Wessex helicopters a short time later.

As mopping up operations continued HMS Hermes arrived to provide additional air cover

Things de escalated but by 1963 trouble was increasing with sporadic cross border attacks by Indonesian forces although both sides were at pains to keep the political rhetoric low key.

By late September Indonesia has started overflying the area with their B25’s and P51 Mustangs. In response the RAF detached Hunters and Javelins, this was reinforced in early 1963 with more Javelins and an air defence intercept zone was established.

Prior to the state of emergency being declared on the 2nd of September Indonesia paratroopers had conducted and airborne assault in West Malaysia. 14 Hunter sorties saw most of the ground force destroyed and the remnants were cleared by ground forces.

The Malaysian aircraft had penetrated via a radar gap and HMS Kent was subsequently positioned to fill it. Gannet AEW aircraft played a vital role until ground based radar coverage could be improved.  RAF, RNZAF and RAAF aircraft continued to reinforce the air defence arrangements in the area.

In Borneo, ground operations continued and were supported by an increasing number of RAF, AAC and FAA helicopters and transport aircraft.

To provide an overt and visible deterrent to Indonesia detachments of the V Bomber force were routinely deployed to Singapore.

1964, East African Mutinies

Again, the article seemed to make great play of how RAF helicopters had to rely oy on the RN to get into the action.

What happened

A number of former East African British colonies achieved independence in the run up to this period and British forces were involved in minor roles, supporting evacuations for example.

On the 20th of January men from the 1 Battalion Tanganyika Rifles mutinied, detaining British officers, NCO’s and the High Commissioner. HMS Centaur sailed from Aden with 45 Commando, elements of the 16/5th Lancers and RAF helicopters. Although the captives were released the mutiny spread and the president of Tanganyika formally requested assistance. On the 25th 45 Commando conducted a heliborne assault into Colito on the coast supported by Wessex from 815 NAS and Belverderes from 26 Squadron RAF. The Belverderes were used to transport Ferret armoured scout cars of the Lancers. After restoring order the next objective was Tabora, some 400 miles inland.

An RAF Argosy flew in an RAF Regiment force to secure the airbase who were met by elements of 45 Commando flown in by the 2 Belvederes. Sea Vixens were planned to strike that day but the mutineers had surrendered and the attack was cancelled.

A number of other mutinies were effectively dealt with and the RAF, Army, RN, FAA and Royal Marines all playing various roles.

1965 to 1980, Rhodesia and Zambia

The article describes how during the Defence of Zambia (1965-66), the RAF took many months to deploy and in this period was covered by aircraft from HMS Eagle.  Then for the Beira Patrol (1965-66) claimed that only aircraft from aircraft carriers could cover the area before the RAF arrived.

What happened

Following Rhodesia’s declaration of independence sanctions were imposed but these would also impact Zambia so it was decided to mount an air supply operation supplement their oil stocks. In mid November 1965 HMS Eagle arrived off Mozambique to provide air cover in case the air force of Rhodesia decided to attack the transports flying into Zambia. The plan called for the aircraft from HMS Eagle to mount defensive patrols until they were relieved by RAF Javelins. On the 1st of December the Javelins flew direct to Nairobi from Cyprus using long range tanks. Air defence radars were also flown in.

On the 19th of December the oil supply flights commenced and by the end of October 1966 when the airlift ceased, over 3 million gallons had been transported, although it was said much of this was for the Vixens!

HMS Eagle left the area in December and in January was replaced by HMS Ark Royal who took up station off the Mozambique port of Beira. HMS Eagle came back in early March to relieve HMS Ark Royal and commenced the blockade; this was called the Beira Patrol. Until Shackletons took over in August the FAA and RN carried out the task.

The Beira Patrol was a futile exercise, most of the oil was transported overland from South Africa and many saw it as a complete waste of time and resources better deployed elsewhere, Borneo for example.

1972, British Honduras

The article describes how a show of force by Buccaneers from Ark Royal prevented a threatened invasion of British Honduras (Belize) by Guatemala and that the RAF was too far away to do anything.

What happened

In January 1972 a small force of Guatemalan troops were sighted on the border and HMS Ark Royal, who was in the area conducting a training mission with the USS Bachante was detached to the area, Buccaneers from 891 NAS conducted a number of shows of strength on the border.

In February HMS Ark Royal returned to the area with the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards who reinforced the garrison.

The country was renamed Belize in 1973

1975 to 1994, Belize

After negotiations between the UK and Guatemala broke down Guatemalan troops began massing on the border. From the 11th of October RAF Pumas were flown into the area by Belfast transports and the garrison increased to over a thousand personnel. Six RAF Harrier GR1A aircraft were flown to Belize, using in flight refuelling and stops at Goose Bay and Nassau.

By 1976, with things calming down, the Harriers returned to the UK, transported in Belfasts.

The situation escalated yet again and six Harriers were flown out to reinforce the garrison, yet again.

Although the expected invasion did not happen, as could be expected, a force of 4 Harrier GR3 was established and maintained throughout this period. The last Harriers departed in 1993 and the Pumas in 1994.

No mention of this in the article.

1982, Falkland Islands

Given the recentness and how obvious personalities have been vocal on this it should come of no surprise that the article was partiularly strident about the RAF’s contribution to the Falklands conflict.

First it made the point that RAF Harriers and Chinooks had no means of reaching the conflict other than the Atlantic Conveyor, HMS Hermes and HMS Invicible, how they had to rely on RN supplied radar, air defence, weapons and fuel to be effective, neither of which would have been there without the carriers. It then went on to describe how carrier borne strike fighters and helicopters were fundamental to the success of the operation, neither of which would have been there without the carriers. It again made the point, using the word ‘significantly, that the RAF ‘needed’ the carriers and ACO to ‘get them into action’

Not in the main article but claims made around the same time on the same collection of sites included statements that RAF Harriers flew many fewer ground attack missions than did Sea Harriers and on Black Buck it claimed that one bomb hit the edge of the runway, how this did not prevent its use by Hercules or Close Air Support aircraft and 62 bombs were off target, 21 of them not even being armed properly. One mission was reportedly aborted because a pilot left the cabin window open and declared a cockpit pressurisation failure. Comparisons were also made about comparative fuel use, how Sea Harriers delivered many bombs and hit their targets every time, that £10m of fuel was spent on knocking out one small surface to air machine gun and that the RAF placed ships in danger by insisting that the naval task force could not fire at any targets whilst the Vulcans were near the target.

What happened

Much has been written about the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982 and inevitably there are differences of opinion and perceptions, to research these differences would be a huge task, made even more difficult by the official history differing in some aspects from subsequent publications.

The first and obvious thing to say is that without the Sea Harriers the operation would have simply been extremely unlikely to have been successful. The anti aircraft systems on board the Royal Navy vessels and when ashore, ground based air defence systems, proved less capable than thought and no land based fighter cover was available. Even though British forces demonstrably failed to achieve complete control of the air what control was achieved was enough to provide the land and sea component the ability to retake the islands.

Operation Corporate was predominantly a naval and ground operation, the RAF were to play a series of supporting roles but these were vital to overall success. The final decisive operation was very much a land one but denigrating the RAF’s role is wrong.

Rather than going through the entire operation I am going to look at a few different air aspects of the campaign;

Black Buck – Anti Runway

They were and still are hugely controversial.

The famous Vulcan raids on Port Stanley, like much of Op Corporate, have been endlessly analysed with the obvious divergence of opinion. Some claim that it was nothing but showboating so the RAF could say they were involved and a complete waste of valuable fuel. To understand Black Buck one has to at least try and balance the certainty of post operation research with the degree of uncertainty that would have been experienced at the time.

The fact that several components for the Vulcan’s were recovered from museums and scrap yards makes this extraordinary feat of airmanship even more remarkable but what about its material impact on the operation?

It is obvious that the given our relative disadvantages, attacking well defended islands with a numerically inferior force at the end of an 8,000 mile logistic train the use of Port Stanley for fast jet operations was a major factor in planning. If Argentine forces could operate their Skyhawks and Mirage fighters from Port Stanley instead of at the limit of their range the balance of power in the air war would have massively changed and without some semblance of air control, no land operation could be countenanced. It was therefore imperative that Port Stanley was denied to Argentine forces, especially their Mirage and Skyhawk fighters.

This was a maximum effort operation, as far as practically possible all British defence forces were engaged and it is entirely understandable that all services wanted to get stuck in. There are a number of accounts of service personnel just turning up at the troop ships hoping (and I think there might have been a few successes)  to get a ride south.

There were a number of strategic objectives of Black Buck; the first was to deny the airport to Argentine Mirage and Skyhawks and the second, arguably the most important, was to send a very clear message to the Junta that the UK could reach out and touch them. In both these strategic objectives, they were a success, it was also hoped that such a demonstration would force the diversion of Argentine aircraft to defence of the mainland, opinions on this seem to differ but most accounts confirm that some repositioning took place which would have meant less aircraft available for operations around the islands with obvious results. The degree of this repositioning was arguably not hugely significant but opinions and accounts do differ.

Critics point to the fact that only one bomb hit the runway on the first attack but this was calculated, conventional bombing doctrine against runways dictates that the attack line is at an angle to the runway, the angle being calculated using a number of factors. This is to maximise the possibility of a single or multiple hits, it should also be recognised that in order to maximise damage the bomb needs to land as near as vertical as possible and at high speed which dictated a medium level approach. The bombs penetrated the runway and surrounding areas creating a heave effect that rendered the surface unusable to fast jets with high pressure tyres. It has been noted that the Argentine combat engineers repaired the craters and this allowed Hercules, Pucara’s and even light jets to operate right up until the end of the operation. This is true but it was designed to stop fast Mirage and Skyhawk’s, not transports. The material difference that continual Hercules operations had on the outcome was immaterial, the same could not be said if Argentina had operated their Mirage and Skyhawk aircraft from the islands.

Launched from mainland Argentina, the Skyhawks, Mirages and Daggers were at the edge of their endurance, time over the islands was measured in minutes, they (Mirage and Dagger) were unable to use to maximise their speed advantage over the Harriers and usually concentrated on attacks against the land and sea forces without defensive weaponry. If Stanley could be used, this would change dramatically even if only the Skyhawks could be deployed (runway length issues), sortie rates would be much higher and who knows what the result might have been.

It came as a surprise that the Argentine forces did not make more of an effort to use Port Stanley, they might have thought it was too short, too vulnerable to attack or without the support facilities necessary but it could have been used as a divert location, refuelling stop or other use that fell short of full operations. They could have extended the runway and had the capability and materials to do so not only was the runway a target in the initial mission, the surrounding areas were also targeted.  According to Wikipedia (which backs the claim up with Argentine document links) in early April arrestor gear was installed to enable S2 tracker and A4 Skyhawk landings with a small number deployed until just before the British forces arrived. There are pictures on a number of online forums that would seem to confirm this.

Sea Harriers conducted a follow up attack after the first Black Buck with cluster and conventional bombs but the degree of damage was uncertain. The claim that they could have dropped 1,300 bombs for the fuel of a single Black Buck is fair enough, but the task force didn’t have 1,300 thousand pounders and it would have needed 650 Harrier sorties to deliver them.

It has been claimed that Sea Harriers would have been more effective but with the munitions and delivery mechanisms available, the fact that Vulcan’s were available and the finite supply of Sea Harriers, which in a cold analysis, were too few in numbers, meant that the task force commanders rightly decided to marshal the Sea Harrier and use them for what they excelled at, namely air defence. If Port Stanley was without air defences then a lower level attack by Sea Harriers probably would have been able to completely deny the runway to all aircraft but this was not the case, Port Stanley was protected by a number of extremely effective anti aircraft systems and to prosecute such an attack, to get the necessary runway penetration, would have meant flying directly into the optimal engagement zone of these systems, it was simply too risky. The Vulcan could deliver this strike on one go, using its powerful ECM and large bomb load, whereas to use Sea Harriers would have diverted them from the valuable role of air defence and without ECM would have exposed them to great risk.

I can see the argument for greater use of Sea Harriers in the ground attack role in the early stages but I think the decision taken was the correct one, on balance.

It would also have been in the planners mind that post conflict there would be a need to defend the islands against any retaliatory attacks and denying the runway rather than completely destroying it might have been thought of as a sensible option.

When it became apparent that the Argentine forces were not repairing Stanley it dropped down the things to do list although they continued to try and deceive the task force into thinking otherwise, arranging the MB339’s with angled runway repair planking to simulate a Super Etendard for example. Some have claimed that the runway was repaired the following day but this is also to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of runway repair, what they did was fill the holes so the runway could be used for Hercules and light aircraft, this is not the same as effecting a proper repair and extension that would have been required for the Skyhawks and Mirage’s and their high pressure tyres.

This from the Telegraph in 2007

Immediately after the Argentine surrender, I and a Falkland Islander drove the length and breadth of the Stanley runway looking for signs of damage and repair. There were none and the concrete was in as good condition as when I had been responsible for its security in 1978 and 1979.

My friend and I marvelled, not for the first time, at the inventiveness of the Argentine engineers. Certainly the RAF’s bombing operations against Stanley airport were strategically useful but of little tactical value to us actually in the Falklands.

Lt Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour, Ermington, Devon

In response, I think this from someone qualified in airfield bomb damage repair is relevant.

Sir – Ewen Southby-Tailyour (Letters, May 5) is wrong in his description of the damage to the Stanley runway. As Commander, Royal Engineers, I was responsible for its repair immediately after the surrender. There was one large crater caused by a 1,000lb bomb from the RAF Vulcan raid, and four smaller craters resulting from earlier Harrier attacks. (The Argentines had also created dummy craters to confuse our aerial reconnaissance.) Repairing the large crater and the large area of runway took about two weeks and 1,000 square metres of captured Argentine runway matting. Lt Col Southby-Tailyour is, however, correct in stating that Argentine aircraft were able to continue to use the runway, despite the bombing raids, by temporarily backfilling the craters. This, perhaps, is why his “recce” did not spot the true extent of the damage

Black Buck 7 used proximity fused bombs against facilities and positions and Black Buck 2 bombs failed to go off. It is Black Buck 2 that comes, rightly, in for criticism. Depending on which account you read they were either incorrectly fused or incorrectly armed, such is conflict, mistakes can be made and many were made by all three services.

Back to the overall goal, accepting that we did not know whether Argentine forces were going to use Stanley for fast jets (Mirage, Skyhawk, Dagger etc) or not, the goal was to deny them the ability to do so and by a combination of Sea Harrier, Black Buck and naval gunfire this goal was achieved.

Were the Black Buck raids an unqualified success, no, of course they were not and there is no disputing the cost in tanker capacity and fuel (it might be worth comparing the fuel to that used by the task force as a whole) or the inter service rivalry that would have been in the back of people’s minds but the final word should go to Admiral Woodwood at a seminar held at the RAF Staff College in 2002

My dark blue aviators said “Oh, it’s the air force just trying to get in on the act”, but I said, hang on a minute, there will be two things. If they do hit the runway, that can’t be bad, they can disrupt it… but also it will have exactly that effect of causing them [the junta] to think they could come at us on the mainland. It is showing reach and therefore it is deterrent. And I suspect it made them hold back some of their Mirages, which could have acted as top cover for their A-4 raids. So I signed up for it and told my aviators to shut up.’

Black Buck – Anti Radar

The other Black Buck missions, 3 to 6, were designed to destroy Argentine radar installations in and around Port Stanley, a modern Westinghouse AN/TPS-43F and supporting AN/TPS-44. These posed a significant threat because they could be used to support inbound strike sorties by Argentine aircraft, locating the approximate area of the carriers by plotting the Sea Harriers flight path for example.

The Grupo de Artillería Antiaérea 601 posed a serious threat and was reinforced with a detachment of Grupo 1 de Artillería Antiaérea that manned some of the radar equipment. In addition the radar sets mentioned above the occupying forces also had Roland 2 launchers, Skyguard fire control radar, radar controlled 35mm twin Oerlikon-Contraves cannons, twin 20mm cannons and Super Fledermaus fire control radars.

On paper, a formidable array

After Black Buck 1 and the first Sea Harrier sortie, during which the air defences were ineffective, the second wave of Sea Harriers was met with intense fire, although, again, ineffective. Subsequent operations against Goose Green resulted in the loss of a Sea Harrier to radar directed 35mm weapon and it was reported that after this, subsequent air to ground missions were carried out at an altitude outside of the engagement envelope of the 35mm weapons until low level strikes were resumed by the RAF GR3’s later in the operation, again, not sure if this is true but it would make sense, the Sea Harriers were a precious and finite commodity.

Black Buck 4 was the first mission armed with the AGM-45A Shrike anti radiation missile but was cancelled when one of the tankers had a refuelling equipment failure. Black Buck 5 was flown on the 32st of May and the principal target was the TPS43 radar, it shot and missed, plain and simple, the missile striking about 10 meters from the radar.

Black Buck 5 this time had 4 Shrike’s, a pair each tuned into the TPS43 and Skyguard radars. The TPS43 crews wisely switched off their transmitters but not so the Skyguard crew and a successful strike took place, killing 4 and destroying the equipment. This was the mission that had to divert to Brazil due to low fuel and was unable to jettison the remaining Shrike, this fell into Brazilian hands and was never seen again (I think it might be in a museum in Brazil somewhere)

A small number of Shrikes were parachute dropped into the sea next to HMS Hermes by Hercules transport aircraft, these were recovered and assembled but by the time the weapons were ready the Argentine forces had surrendered.

After the conflict, the remaining 35mm cannons and fire control systems were recovered to the UK and pressed into service.

RAF Crewing

Roughly one in four aircrew on the Sea Harrier force were RAF and they accounted for about a quarter of the kills.

Harrier GR3

After the initial warning order was received modifications of the GR3 to enable naval operations commenced including drilling holes to allow water to escape, fitting lashing points, fitting transponder equipment to allow recovery to the carriers and a very hasty Sidewinder fit. Without radar the GR3 would be much inferior to the Sea Harrier in the AD role but in the absence of anything else, they would have to make do.

The GR3’s and additional Sea Harriers were flown to Ascension Island for embarkation on the Atlantic Conveyor. One Sea Harrier was kept onboard at alert state to counter any Argentine 707’s and in the first few days after leaving the island some tanker support was available should it be needed.

After transferring to the Hermes on the 18th of May, the first operational sortie was completed on the 20th

Because in the period between the initial operations and when the reinforcements arrived there had been no Sea Harrier losses so the GR3’s could be used for their primary role, close air support, combat reconnaissance and interdiction using cluster bombs, thousand pounders, rockets and the twin 30mm Aden cannon pods. The GR3’s were also capable of using the newly obtained laser guided bombs but these were not used effectively until the closing stages of the operation due to unfamiliarity. When they were used, they were devastating, destroying a Company HQ and 105mm artillery piece. Although the writing was clearly on the wall for the occupying forces by this time, the precision strikes must have contributed to the desire to surrender. It was a fearsome capability.

Ground based air defences included the automatic weapons and missile systems mentioned above and Blowpipe and SA-7 MANPADS. Two GR3 losses were both attributed to ground based air defences, another to small arms fire and the fourth to an accident.

A little known element of Harrier operations in the Falkland Islands is the port San Carlos Forward Operating Base (FOB)

The Atlantic Conveyor was carrying Harrier spares and a full FOB, the Royal Engineers managed to improvise with the small stocks of matting they had. It wasn’t perfect, the AM2 matting that went down would have been far more suitable but it did provide limited capacity. A pair of GR3’s were usually located there as a quick reaction alert for ground forces and Sea Harriers used it is a refuelling point. It might be an interesting ‘what if’ to ask what impact on subsequent air, land and sea operations if a fully functioning Harrier FOB was established early after the initial landings.

An interesting quote from Major General Julian Thompson as recorded at a Falklands Seminar in 2003.

I was the commander of the 3rd Commando Brigade in the Falklands. In his presentations, CAS* said that his squadron helped to turn the tide at Goose Green. I can tell him that it did turn the tide. 2 PARA were stuck on a forward slope, in daylight, being engaged by 35mm AAA at 2,000 metres range, something to which they had absolutely no answer. Suddenly like cavalry to the rescue out of the sky came three Harriers which promptly took out those guns and turned the tide of the battle. There is a tale behind that too. We had previously been supported by CAS’s squadron on exercise in Norway and we had a very high opinion of what they could do. While we were on our way south, I turned to my primary FAC, who was an RAF Phantom back seater on a ground tour, and I told him that I needed No 1 Squadron. He said that I would never get them. I asked why and he replied they simply couldn’t get there. Thank God you did Peter, because you really did pull the fat out of the fire for us, for which I would like to say thank you, very much indeed.

* Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) at the time of the seminar, Sir Peter Squire

There have been other claims that the guns were knocked out by mortars but it is still an interesting quote, here, on page 155

Bravo November

The single RAF Chinook survivor of the Atlantic Conveyor moved 1,350 troops and 1,600 tonnes of supplies during the short time from when it was operational to the surrender. On one occasion it was used to move 81 fully tooled up paras to Fitzroy. It was supplemented by 4 more when the Contender Bezant arrived, a day after the surrender.

There is no doubt it was decisive, especially in moving the 105mm light guns and ammunition into position. There is an enduring myth that Argentine forces were poorly trained conscripts who gave up after the first shot but this is simply not true, their positions around Stanley were well constructed and fighting was fierce, often close quarters with bayonets and small arms. Without the artillery support provided by the 105mm Light Guns casualties would have been much higher, the limiting factor was ammunition supply and the Chinook was instrumental in providing the ammunition to these guns.


VC10’S and Hercules were engaged in a more or less constant airlift effort between the UK and Ascension Island throughout the conflict and beyond.

Without the huge logistical effort from the RAF the task force would have been unable to transfer all the Harriers south and unable to obtain spares and time critical stores. Hercules also carried out a number of parachute supply drops sorties to the fleet in excess of 24 hours and in total amassed some 14,000 hours.

One might reasonably argue that these incredibly long Hercules sorties that provided vital supplies to the RN were as important as any other.

These continued after the cessation of hostilities.

A little known element of the operation was the contribution of Nimrods, flying from Ascension they carried out various roles throughout, some very close to the Argentine mainland.

RAF Regiment personnel were also deployed.

I am currently researching a more in depth piece on Black Buck but posts on the Atlantic Conveyor and the San Carlos FOB can be found here and here.

1983 Lebanon

In 1983 a small British peacekeeping forces was deployed to Lebanon. In addition to operating Chinook helicopters the RAF also mounted Op Pulsator which detached a flight of 6 Buccaneers to Cyprus. A number of show of force flights were mounted over the British area of responsibility and in one incident, the alert state was raised because a tank round entered the area but was quickly lowered when the Druze Militia Commander immediately apologised to British forces for a stray round.

No mention of this in the article.

1990 to 1991, The Gulf War

Confusing carrier aviation with British carrier aviation the article highlights the role played by USN carriers and states that HMS Ark Royal operated in the Eastern Mediterranean in a ‘containment role’ that was not, in the event, used.

Although not in the original article, associated pieces published at the same time claim that ‘informed sources’ confirm that of the eight RAF aircraft lost, only one was due to enemy action. The others were, it claimed, due to unfamiliarity with the JP233 delivery profile, ‘finger trouble’, whatever that is, and a so called basic lack of air warfare munitions experience. I think it is at this point that things started to get heated and objectivity thrown clearly out of the window.

Hold on, I thought this was about British Combat Airpower not American. So that would be the largest deployment of the land and aviation forces since the colonial operations of the fifties and RN aviation was limited to a containment role that wasn’t used, surely some mistake.

What happened

The Gulf War is another intensively studied conflict.

The RAF flew 5,417 sorties using Buccaneers, Tornado GR1, Tornado F3, C130, Victor, VC10, Jaguar, Nimrod and Tristar aircraft.  1,126 guided bombs were dropped, incidentally, more than the US Navy and US Marine Corps put together.

RAF tankers provided a significant proportion of aerial refuelling support to the USN

JP233 was developed to destroy the runways of relatively compact European airfields and prevent repair. The Iraqi airfields were huge in comparison and given the ability to strike the hardened aircraft shelters with precision weapons and the general lack of Iraqi air force resistance there was some debate whether they should be used at all. The RAF and USAF in theatre did not think they were needed but it was reported that this was over ruled by the MoD. In the event, over 100 JP233 missions were used but only one JP233 mission resulted in a lost aircraft and this was several minutes after release. We also have to put this into some context, the RAF had extensively trained for ultra low level attacks using Tornado, it was thought, possibly correctly, this was the only way to penetrate Warsaw Pact airspace and it was this low level penetration anti runway mission that they were extensively prepared for and were tasked for as part of NATO plans for Europe.

Intelligence failures led to the underestimation of the density of AAA and because there was little scope for realistic training, only trials crews had conducted live firings, the effect of a night time deployment of the weapon, which created a series of flash photography like illuminations, made the aircraft vulnerable.

A change of tactics on was announced January 23rd, medium altitude bombing to move out of the AAA danger zone was now the preferred option. Accuracy suffered but gradually improved and with the introduction of the Buccaneer in the laser designator role the move to guided weapons was commenced.  The initial decision not to deploy Buccaneer was based on logistics, avoiding introducing another type into theatre was desirable but when the low level and JP233 missions were compromised the problem with medium altitude dumb bombing was that the Tornado force was not trained to do so and the aircraft systems were not optimised. The concerns about ramp space and logistics were valid, but they were misplaced. Buccaneer arrived in late January, a rapid deployment and during the operation, despite its age, the Buccaneer had one of the best availability records of all aircraft.

Once the precision issues were resolved by the deployment of Buccaneer and TIALD, the Tornado make an effective contribution and it is telling that for the first time in 30 years the RAF published a new doctrine soon after.

In early February the first Tornado mission with the TIALD pod was launched.

Because of the relatively poor performance of the Tornado F3 it was decided that it would play only a limited role, providing combat air patrols in the rear areas, just in case. The Jaguar contribution, relatively speaking, was also not significant.

A total of 6 Tornado’s were lost on combat operations and one 1 from mechanical failure

17th January 1991; hit by numerous AAA fire and after successful release of JP233 was seen to hit the ground, aircrew killed

17th January 1991; hit by a surface to air missile after releasing weapons and unable to control aircraft, crew ejected. Mission, using 1,000 pound bombs against an Iraqi airfield, aircrew captured

19th January 1991; hit by surface to air missile whilst on a ‘run in’ for a loft attack. Mission, night attack against Iraq airfield using 1000 pound bombs, aircrew captured after navigator initiated ejection.

20th January 1991; suffered a technical failure and was unable to land, aircraft went to a safe area and the aircrew ejected

22nd January 1991; after successfully releasing their 1,000 pound bombs in an attack against an air defence site the aircraft was lost. The likely cause was AAA fire

24th January 1991; subject to explosion during a night time medium altitude attack against an airfield. Investigation concluded the explosion was caused by premature detonation of bombs, aircrew captured.

14th February 1991; subject to attack by two surface to air missiles whilst engaged in a medium altitude daylight mission in conjunction with Buccaneer. Pilot initiated an ejection and was captured but navigator killed.

I haven’t seen the Board of Inquiry documents and the information above is from an RAF website but I would not presume to know any better. Not sure what ‘finger trouble’ is and ‘informed sources’ should publish their revelations so they can be verified.

After ground operations ceased and with the majority of forces withdrawn the RAF continued to contribute, as did the other services, to operations in the north.

The Iraqi no-fly-zones were established in April 1991 (north) and August 1992 (south) as a coalition (US, UK and France) initiative in support of UNSCR 688 demanding an immediate end to Saddam’s brutal repression of Kurds in north and Shias in south. Operation Haven was mounted in support of the US Operation Provide Comfort in the north and this involved the Royal Marines and various RAF aicraft. This was then followed up with Operation Warden and in 1997 Operation Northern Watch commenced. The Southern Watch operation was called Jural.

On 16-19 December 1998, the US and UK took military action against Iraq under Operation Desert Fox on the basis of Iraq’s non-compliance with UNSCOM and the growing concern that Iraq was continuing to develop its chemical and biological weapons capability. In 1999, Tornado GR1’s carried out a number of strike sorties against Iraqi facilities

A good summary of the no fly zones and Desert Fox was published as part of the Iraq Enquiry, here

Suffice it to say, this was a sustained deployment for the RAF.

1992 to 1996, The Balkans

The main article and similar posts made the point that carrier aircraft were able to reposition and thus be effective when RAF aircraft were hampered by poor weather at land bases. A carrier was ordered to be available to cover a possible withdrawal under fire as only carrier based aviation could guarantee cover. They made the claim that Tornado operations, when grounded due to bad weather, were successfully conducted by the Sea Harrier FA2 operating from the carrier and that the Sea Harrier was instrumental in establishing and maintaining the no fly zone.

What happened

Operations in the Balkans took place over a number of separate phases, operations and years.


In 1993 in support of Operation Deny Flight the RAF deployed Tornado F3s, Boeing Sentry AEW1s, SEPECAT Jaguars and Tristar tankers.

During 1993 and 1994 the Sea Harrier was deployed on three separate non contiguous tours in support of Deny Flight and on the 16th of April 1994 a Sea Harrier was shot down by a SA-7 whilst carrying out a close air support mission.

In 1994 8 Harrier GR7’s were deployed to Gioia del Colle in Italy on July 28th to relieve the Jaguar force and undertake ground attack and reconnaissance tasks as part of Operation Deny Flight. These were reinforced with more GR7’s later. In total, the GR7 flew just over 175 sorties and remained deployed until 1999 as part of the NATO Rapid Reaction Force.

Kosovo and Serbia

With the collapse of diplomatic talks to settle the conflict in Kosovo Operation Allied Force commenced. Tornados, Harrier GR7’s and Sea Harrier FA2’s took part, plus the usual array of support aircraft; it was also the first operational outing for Royal Navy Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The operation was from March 24 1999 to June 10, 1999

HMS Invincible arrived from the Gulf on April 17th and flew their first combat air patrol (of 102 flown) soon after. On the 27th of May, HMS Invincible arrived back in the UK on May 27th, 1999.

GR7’s flew 870 sorties and released 894 weapons, ending at 16 aircraft in theatre.

On April 4th Group Captain Travers Smith, an RAF spokesman, commented

This is yet another form of frustration. Now that the weather has cleared they have taken off, but there is nothing for them to hit. This was the first of the daytime operations for the GR7’s that have managed to get airborne (without weather problems). Their prime purpose today would have been to hit mobile targets that would have been identified by other means. During the period that GR7’s were airborne, no such opportunities presented themselves, so the Harriers returned with their bombs

The weather was to play a significant role, of the 78 day campaign, only 25 days had good weather. This coupled with highly restrictive rules of engagement, the lack of all weather precision munitions and an extremely capable and wily opponent meant that considerable challenges were placed in the path of the air forces and as usual, many lessons were identified, particularly the need for all weather precision munitions and improved communications/coordination with NATO allies.

The weather over the target played a more significant part in hampering the air operation than the weather over the launch area so no amount of repositioning would have helped.

Despite this the GR7’s, with their integrated GPS/INS were approved to release weapons through the clouds against pre approved targets where the risk of collateral damage was relatively low. Tangential, but relevant to the list, USMC Harrier II’s were also employed from naval vessels but of the 58 sorties planned, many were cancelled, about a third, due to bad weather.

The air campaign was followed by the ground component which saw the use of 8 RAF Chinooks and 6 Pumas.

A good overview of this phase is here

Democratic Republic of Congo, 1997

In Operation Determinant 4 Pumas were deployed to Libreville and Brazzaville in the Congo, with support troops, as a precaution against the possibility that British citizens might need to be evacuated from the Zairian capital, Kinshasa

No mention of this in the article.

2000, Sierra Leone

The article talked up the benefits of having a floating base and national command centre. It also claimed that RAF pilots embarked on the the carrier were so concerned about finding their way back to the ship the Sea Harriers had to do their missions for them

What happened

The engagement in Sierra Leone comes in three parts, Operation Palliser, Basilica and Operation Barras.


Civil war started in Sierra Leone in 1991 and before it ended in 2002 over a million people had been displaced and the widespread and indiscriminate violence, sexual violence, mutilation and use of child soldiers was to leave a lasting legacy. Into this complex mix had been thrown private military companies, diamond mining and interventions from neighbouring countries. UN Security Resolution 1270 established the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) that was a 6,000 strong ground force (rising to 11,000), including 15 British personnel as observers.

Operation Palliser was mounted to evacuate non combatants (NGO’s, UK/EU citizens et) from the country when increased fighting threatened the capital, Freetown and 208 Zambian UN soldiers were ambushed and captured by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)

In early may 2002, the UN requested to support the ineffective UNAMSIL which was rapidly loosing control of the situation. Initially, France, the UK and USA declined, getting involved in an African civil war had little attraction but given the historic ties the UK had with Sierra Leone it was viewed by Robin Cook and Geoff Hoon as our back garden.

On the 5th of May Brigadier David Richards (yes, that one) the Joint Task Force Headquarters (JTFHQ) commander was ordered to deploy.

On the 6th of May, lead elements, the Operational Liaison and Reconnaissance Team (OLRT), arrived at Lunghi Airport in Freetown to prepare for the rest of the force.

On the evening of the 7th of May, RAF Hercules and Chinook, staging out of Senegal, had transported 1 Para and supporting elements to Lunghi Airport.

Also on the 7th of May the Amphibious Ready Group, elements of which were on exercise in the Med were also ordered to deploy. The ARG comprised HMS Ocean, HMS Chatham (type 22) and two RFA vessels. It was to be joined by HMS Illustrious, more RFA vessels and HMS Argyle (Type 23). Also aboard were 42 Commando RM, 4 Sea King, 2 Lynx, 2 Gazelle, 2 Chinook, 7 Sea Harriers and 7 GR7’s.

The troops at Lunghi set up as a consolidation point for evacuees and on the 8th were reinforced and secured Aberdeen Peninsula and the road between the airport and Freetown. Evacuation commenced almost immediately with nearly 300 individuals flown out.

On May 11th the ARG arrived offshore and conducted a number of shows of force using embarked RM and Harriers. 47 GR7 sorties were flown, the first on the 17th and 85 Sea Harrier sorties.

Even without carrying drop tanks the bring back performance, in the temperatures encountered, was one 504 pound bomb, the Mk107 engine was later to improve this enormously but was not fitted to Sea Harrier because of the cost and relatively small fleet.

On the 17th of May the pathfinder platoon was involved in a firefight with the RUF at Lunghi Loi Village.

With the situation stabilising and the evacuation complete 1 Para were relieved by 42 Commando on May 26th

Palliser ended on 15th June but a number of personnel were committed to build on the security gains made during Palliser.

So it seems to me that the RAF effected theatre entry, again, surely this is some mistake!


Operation Basilica established a small advisory team and in July a battalion of Royal Irish Regiment set up a jungle training camp just outside Freetown. A little known operation was also mounted during this period, called Operation Kukhri, to assist the UN forces rescue 220 Indian soldiers that had been surrounded by the RUF. C130 and Chinook were involved

It is also worth noting that op Silkman, an amphibious show of force’ conducted in November (after Barras) was hugely effective in supporting the UN forces and ongoing peace process


On August 25th a small party of RIR travelling in 3 Land Rovers were captured by the West Side Boys, a rebel group. After a series of protracted negotiations a rescue operation was mounted including SBS/SAS, 1 Para, 3 Lynx and 3 Chinook helicopters.

2003 to 2009, Iraq

The article highlights how a lack of range meant that carriers had to ‘take them to the fight’ and how they caused difficulties on HMS Ark Royal because of a lack of blade fold.

What happened

Operation Telic commenced and RAF aircraft provided about 6% of coalition sorties and released over 900 weapons, of which 85% were precision-guided.

The air tanker fleet dispersed 19 million pounds of fuel, over 40% of which is given to United States Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.

Aircraft involved included Tornado, Harrier, Tornado f3, Nimrod MR2, Tristar, VC10, E3 Sentry, Hercules, Nimrod R1, BAe125, Hercules, Canberra, Puma, Merlin and Chinook.

The operation lasted from 19th March 2003 to 30th April 2009.

The initial UK operation was to secure Umm Qasr, especially oil installation on the Al Faw peninsula and this was carried out in conjunction with the USMC and Polish personnel.

The Iraq – Lesson learned document from the MoD provides a good overview of the assault on Al Faw, here

The joint plan was for special forces to secure helicopter landing sites and other key areas then 42 and 40 Commando would clear the remaining area and secure them over the assault phase. The majority of heliborne assaults were launched from Tactical Assembly Area Viking, in Kuwait. A, B and C Co  of 40 Commando lifted from Kuwait and D Co from HMS Ocean. The landings were supported with a variety of land and ship based weapons and aircraft.

More information here and here

Al Faw is often used to highlight the effectiveness of aircraft carriers but in all the pieces I have read from the usual suspects, none of them make any mention whatsoever of the role of TAA Viking or the Army units that took part and it is this kind of selective view of history, deliberately excluding the role of others that really niggles me.


So there we are; a rambling trip through the last several decades of UK military aviation. I have left off operations in Afghanistan and Libya deliberately and might look at these separately and as I mentioned above, will be looking at Black Buck in some detail soon.

The list above also excludes air defence of the United Kingdom, development and maintenance of the strategic deterrent until Polaris, supporting the Polaris and Trident deterrent submarines, supporting the BAOR, transport, various humanitarian deployments and search and rescue.

If you have got this far then I congratulate you on a feat of unparalleled endurance!

Clearly, both the RAF and FAA have contributed significantly to operations since the end of the war, no one can doubt this.

The historical evidence leads to me the conclusion that land based and naval aviation are entirely complimentary but the campaign by some has over inflated the value of aircraft carriers, made extensive use of selective arguments and in some cases used juvenile language to try and argue that one is somehow ‘much betterer’ than the other, it’s like saying my dad is bigger than yours.

The definition of ‘British Combat Airpower’ is also rather selective for it assumes that combat power is derived purely from strike fighter aircraft, this is complete nonsense of course, logistics and intelligence are equally as important, if not more so.

There is no doubt in my mind of the value of naval fixed wing aviation but instead of putting forward a balanced view those made by some of its over enthisiastic supporters are highly partisan, make a selection of cheap shots and have little or no reflection in the reality of history, without any operational or political context and with language that more or less tries to belittle the contribution of the RAF and its personnel, it is really not the way to make a compelling case.

I think it also actually fails to properly highlight the huge contribution made to British operations and the art of combat flying by the Fleet Air Arm and its predecessors and thus scores a spectacular own goal.

There is some of underlying truth in what the campaign says, naval aviation in the Suez campaign for example was much more responsive, of course it was, it was only a few minutes flying time away from Port Said, but that fundamentally misses the point that Suez was a brilliant all arms operation that made maximum use of the capabilities of all three services.

It is one thing making a case for your service, it is one thing to highlight the significant historical achievements of the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm, it is one thing to highlight the undoubted flexibility of naval aviation but it is quite another to denigrate another service with little or no basis in fact, make a collection of childish arguments that say more about them than the service they seem to be spending so much energy on denigrating and see naval aviation in the wider context.

I find it rather amusing that the collection of anti RAF ranters are doing a much better job of promoting the RAF than even the RAF would ever hope to do.

Carry on fellas, your doing a grand job.

I wonder if the articles in question have been removed, you know what, I can’t even be arsed to check.





Click to access Journal%2035A%20-%20Seminar%20-%20the%20RAF%20Harrier%20Story.pdf

Click to access Journal%2030%20-%20Seminar%20-%20The%20Falklands%20Campaign.pdf

Click to access C0054AE0_1143_EC82_2EE9013F84C9F82E.pdf

The Falklands conflict twenty years on: lessons for the future

Osprey – Essential Histories 049 – The Suez Crisis 1956

Suez 1956: Operation Musketeer

Certain Death in Sierra Leone, The SAS and Operation Barras 2000

The Royal Navy in the Falklands Conflict and Gulf War: Culture and Strategy

Air War in the Falklands

Argentine Air Forces in the Falklands Conflict

The Official History of the Falklands Campaign Vol. 2

Britain, NATO and the Lessons of the Balkans Conflicts

Kosovo: Lessons from the Crisis, MoD

The Lessons of Bosnia

European Contributions to Operation Allied Force

Disjointed War

Conflict in the Balkans

Britain’s Air Arms in Action 1945-1990

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
May 25, 2012 11:13 am

The one that got away!

Seriously, the tribalisim of both sides of the fence is to be expected – especially from the upper ecelons and retired/arm-chair people – but it still is ridiculous to those in the forces doing the real work… outside of the customary sh!ts n giggles…

“This is inter service rivalry at its worst, it is desperately depressing …”

Amen. Now then, I can hear the running footsteps of the old school commenters approaching :D

May 25, 2012 12:15 pm

One interesting fact is that the RAF GR3 pilots were able to land on aircraft carriers without any prior training. Everyone claims that F35B is/will be easier to fly than the harrier, so why do we keep seeing arguments that RAF squadrons will need to keep qualified for naval operations.

May 25, 2012 12:24 pm

@TD: great summary. I think the key point about carrier air is that it makes amphibious and long distance operations either practical or a lot easier. The FI is the poster boy for this obviously: an operation that would not have been possible without carriers. What would we as a country look like if we had had to acquiesce to the loss of British territory because we didn’t have them?

Merging the RAF with the Army and RN does make sense for me, because a military organisation has to be large enough to grow it’s own top brass. As the numbers of RAF fighter pilots remorselessly decline, that point has been reached IMHO.

May 25, 2012 1:42 pm

Great post TD, I will read it more thoroughly later!

What I took from this is the need for balance and pragmatism. Service rivalry isn’t something that we can ever totally remove from the equation, but the fact is that conclusions have to be based on operational need and logical practicality, not on petty disputes and childish jealousy.

I see no problem in people wanting to change the RAF or even talk about the idea of it being absorbed in-to the other services. However I think that what’s important is what a service offers, not the framework it works under or the mentality it projects. Air power should be available from both land and sea! Any kind of decisive swing in either direction would result in an unbalancing of resources and the narrowing of real world options.

My opinion in this whole RAF or FAA argument is that I would ideally like to see the Army and Navy take control over most of the air assets available to us. However I accept that this isn’t likely to happen and that the mere idea is a massive step that cannot be taken in one broad stroke.

So I think the right approach would be to give the other services a slightly larger share of the pie (Chinooks to the AAC for example) where it is logically feasible, whilst also trying to streamline the RAF’s framework (oh dear, I sound like an 80s yuppie!). Maximising it’s co-operative usefulness whilst moving away from a ‘boys in blue’ Battle of Britain mentality would be no bad thing.

The one thing I can’t abide is the idea that I am sure still exists in some circles which is that the RAF is capable of winning campaigns on it’s own, because it just isn’t! The whole ‘deep strike’, strategic penetration’ rubbish makes it sound like the Dambusters. The last time an airforce tried to dismantle a national infrastructure was in Iraq, and we all remember how that turned out.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 25, 2012 1:43 pm

@ Jim – Indeed, expeditionary air ops, whether on land or carrier are a lot easier with STOVL aircraft…

May 25, 2012 2:08 pm

Fascinating read! I think this specific problem is related to the broader difficulty of selection bias in thinking about military history. The big and more recent conflicts (Falklands & Gulf War for Britain, Vietnam & Gulf War for US) get the preponderance of the attention, while the many smaller or older conflicts are almost entirely ignored. The result is a very skewed view of military history that can lead to some very strange policy preferences.

May 25, 2012 3:48 pm

@ TD – Great post
If I take anything from it, it is that having a combined arms force able to project sovereign power has been vital for us on many occasions since World War II, far more than many think. While many of these situations were the result of the withdrawal from empire it is interesting to note that the conflicts we have fought post 1990 have been very similar.
All of these operations were conducted in what we might call 3 dimensions. However what happens once a nation like ours loses the ability to conduct full scale operations in 3D. Do we concentrate our forces on one or two of the dimensions to retain some sovereign capability or do we spread across all three knowing that without a substantial ally (the USA) we will be unable to act at all.
Interestingly almost all the operations we have conducted on our own from Suez and Kuwait 1961 to the FI and Borneo seem to be far more in line with strategic raiding than global guardian. A land force of medium brigade sized backed in early operations by sea power with land based air coming in after.
Looking at air power the concept of moving in and out of theatre with sea based air power also seems to have been used on many occasions. This would seem to support the concept of F35B FAA and RAF Squadrons to me. Initially deploying from a carrier before moving to land for long term op’s then eventually returning to the carrier once we disengage.
I am not sure where I stand on the inter service debate and the future of the RAF. I can certainly see a benefit of the Army operation all the helicopter’s it uses. I am not sure why the RAF ever took on this role.
I am concerned about carrier operations with all RAF personnel as I feel eventually inter service rivalry may one day see the carrier without aircraft again. The RAF has taken over carrier operations twice in history and both times saw the RAF leave naval airpower in tatters. I understand why the RAF did what they did both in the 1930’s and in 2010 and they may have made the right decision.
However the aircraft on an aircraft carrier are part of a system. Carriers should not be viewed simply as moving airfields to be used if there is no land base in range. That being said I can see no reason why Joint Force lighting cannot succeed. Having FAA Squadrons fully versed in A2A and CAS with RAF squadrons specialising in Deep Strike and CAS. I do believe however that Joint force lightning should come under the command of the navy rather than the RAF. If it is to be employed as part of a task force on most occasions then surely this makes sense.

May 25, 2012 4:18 pm

: I suspect you need to specify “command” more carefully. JFH was under FAA operational command and RAF admin command originally, which didn’t stop it being immediately gutted by the withdrawal of F/A-2.

Given that we’re going to get a limited number of F35B (50-60), and that there’s plenty of time to train pilots, I’d put the lot under the FAA. The RAF can get F35A.

May 25, 2012 4:24 pm

“Do we concentrate our forces on one or two of the dimensions to retain some sovereign capability or do we spread across all three knowing that without a substantial ally (the USA) we will be unable to act at all.”

^ The key question right there Martin. ^

May 25, 2012 4:27 pm

The only problem with the RAF is the officers. I wish they’d get an attitude adjustment, and stop wearing plastic off the peg clothes in the Mess (what they do in their service council house is surely up to them). It would help if they were not all called Kevin, as well. ;) They could up their flying skills by importing a few NCO pilots from the AAC, and learn something from the Junglies about landing in the correct field and not having to be coaxed into action by the application of a well-aimed Schermuly flare. Oh,and stop the passed over Specialist Air Crew from being quite so snotty when mostly they are the cause of a problem, not the answer to it. ;) (and in case that was missed :) ).

What a very good post TD. Try as I might, I cannot think that anything other than fully purple is the way to go in the future, has been for several decades past (and where we as a nation went wrong was in perpetuating single service divisions unnecessarily).

My uncle was one of a few National Service pilots during Suez (can’t have been many), flying Hunters from somewhere in Germany. One of the Hunter Squadrons in the Suez area was 2 pilots short of establishment. Apparently, there were over 30 volunteers to take the vacant places, he among them. The crisis turned out to be too short for any volunteers to be posted in.

May 25, 2012 5:59 pm

Same niggles as before really with this.

During 40s, 50s, 60s, and even 70s the UK had a much larger footprint across the world so there was greater access for the RAF to airfields. Your tone suggests the much smaller FAA was a bit part player when it could be argued they (along with AAC) still bore a considerable part of the East of Suez (outside Europe) air effort.

Again the RAF pilots in the Falklands and their kills. Well as I have said before as soon as CVA was cancelled the draw down began on FAA FJ pilot numbers. During the FIW the “family” of combat aircraft being flown was Harrier. The larger and established Harrier community was No1 and No3 RAF so where was the fledgling SHAR community going to get extra pilots from? Again were these RAF kills achieved from RAF cabs flown from land bases? No. So we just sort of forget the crews of Hermes and Invincible and all the other ships that got the planes into theatre?

And similar could be said about your Sierra Leone assessment….

“Also aboard were 42 Commando RM, 4 Sea King, 2 Lynx, 2 Gazelle, 2 Chinook, 7 Sea Harriers and 7 GR7’s.”

So the RAF again forced entry into theatre? The Chinooks and GR7s flew all the way from the UK did they? No. Yes it is an example of jointery or purpleness but you are presenting as if the RAF did all by themselves. Again if the SHAR had received the same level of interest as GRx that could have been 14 FAA AV8x flying into action in Africa. Of course if I mention the cost savings of flying one type in this instance I am being anchor faced at best or just stooopid. If I suggested the reverse, as happened, GRx for all JFH squadrons then that is sensible.

As I have said several times as somebody trained to read documents in a critical and unbiased way in one of the best history departments in the UK (on a par with Oxbridge for research) the blog isn’t just poking fun at those who pro-navy to ridiculous extremes but is actually verging on the anti-navy.

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
May 25, 2012 6:02 pm

Anti RAF vitriol? Do I sniff an unmistakable, shall we say Sharkey, aroma? Truly the man is an arse no matter his qualities as a pilot or leader.

Personally, I am in favour of disbanding the RAF – not because I have any axe to grind with the service, it’s personnel or it’s attitude but because I don’t see why a third service is needed. Now that my position is clear, I would point out that cherry picking historical conflicts to show your favoured service in a good light or to denigrate your hated rivals does nobody any good and PTT would do well to remember that.

As an aside, my first thought when I heard of the (recently reversed) decision to go with the F-35C was that it was a bid by the Navy to ensure that it retained control of all fixed wing aircraft that fly off it’s carriers

John Hartley
John Hartley
May 25, 2012 8:03 pm

Surely, the critical point, is the ability to reach the enemy. This can be done by tactical aircraft from local friendly airfields(if available). Or Carrier borne aircraft, or long range bombers/transports.
I still think we should put airstrips/ deep water quays on those dots still British (St Helena, Pitcairn, South Georgia).

May 25, 2012 9:53 pm

Hehe… in view of the intro, every time my eye scanned across the top of the page, I honestly kept reading that little line on its own:-

“Being objective is very difficult.”


‘Boeing ojective is very difficult.’:)

You always need some kind of balance of interested parties competing to some extent, to give the system chance to thrive: “Over-specialisation breeds in weakness,” as everybody’s favourite philosophical hot combat cyborg noted.

Trick is to not let it get too internecine. Dunno; there’s been some counter-productive decisions and dirty tricks for sure (all round), but by everybody sticking to their self-interested guns we’re ending up with a two type FJ air force (and I don’t mean ‘Airforce’) comprising some Sci-Fi-level uber-Harrier for carrier (f**king carrier!) and austere forward base work; and an upgraded (properly, hopefully) multi-role air-superiority fighter that has (will have) few rivals in the world (when taken as a complete package).

I’ve been a bit down where Defence is concerned, these last few horrible years, but every time I stop to think about the extremely complementary potential of having F-35B (plus carrier) and upgraded Typhoon, I have to stop and pinch myself: That’s f**king awesome! Well done to all concerned, and there ain’t many countries can match that.

Just a little unusual blast of cheerfulness and optimism there.:)

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 25, 2012 9:59 pm

It’s always interesting to read about some of the last century’s less well known operations, but I don’t think that past involvements of RAF and FAA assets has any direct relevance to how we should construct our forces today.
Had we set a clear strategic path towards operating the QE ships as strike carriers, and stuck to that course, then the demands of that strategy upon armed forces of our scale would inevitably had led to a shift of emphasis towards the RN and FAA regardless of how important the RAF has been in the past. If such a path led to the RAF operating a couple of QRA sqns and an airline, then I think it would be quite reasonable to question the need for it as a separate service – but it’s a question that should be led by the situation, not by childish rivalry.

May 25, 2012 10:21 pm


yes but carrier strike is such a clearly ridiculous path for the UK that the rest of your argument, while well-expressed, means nothing.

If we want to strike at something, there are several dozen pre-existing alternatives, bought and paid for. More importantly, after any strike (many of which would only be necessary to justify the vast cost of the capability), what do we do next? The answer is not to be found in the carrier, but in the raggy old helicopters and gash old vehicles that are all the rest of the services can afford.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 26, 2012 1:55 am

The problem most people seem to have is a failure to realise that 99% of the time capabilities are complimentary. In Sierra Leone capabiities complemented each other. Often an aircraft and a “friendly airstrip” provides the quickest means of response but must be tempered by something a US Ranger I once worked with said to me. It looks really good jumping out a plane or landing in your C17 and spilling out the back inside 12 hours of the balloon going up but you are out on a limb until the heavy stuff arrives. Hence the phrase “fly light die early”.
Often the initial airborne reaction is best but will require backing up/ For instance the NEO in Beirut had RAF and FAA helos taking people out in dribs and drabs for days even the FF/DDs were only taking hundreds. It toook the LPD to lift out 1200 whilst acting as a deck for Chinook to really break the back of the problem.

May 26, 2012 2:26 am

@ TD
— Good post. You dont half have a knack for making some of my evenings disappear without trace. Always nice to see the record set straight and to read more about the little ops that tend to go unnoticed.

@ Challenger,
“The one thing I can’t abide is the idea that I am sure still exists in some circles which is that the RAF is capable of winning campaigns on it’s own, because it just isn’t! The whole ‘deep strike’, strategic penetration’ rubbish makes it sound like the Dambusters. The last time an airforce tried to dismantle a national infrastructure was in Iraq, and we all remember how that turned out”
— Airpower on its own? No. You’ll nearly always need someone to go in and finish the job up close and personal. But calling deep strike and strategic penetration rubbish is, well, rubbish.

You brought up Iraq. Iraq was a perfect example of just how much damage can be done to an enemy regime through the application of strikes, be they bombs or cruise missiles. How badly disjointed did the Iraqi’s end up after having large chunks of their command and communication chains mauled? Then when the air attacks switched to their ground forces, how many tanks were ‘plinked’ from above?

Seems like an odd example to bring up of the ineffectiveness of “strategic” bombing campaigns.

@ wf,
“because a military organisation has to be large enough to grow it’s own top brass. As the numbers of RAF fighter pilots remorselessly decline, that point has been reached IMHO.”
— Really? Even if we exclude everyone except for fast jet jockeys from the senior ranks of the RAF, you’re still talking about enough pilots to cover over a 100 fighters, plus extra in just the Typhoon force, let alone if the RAF gets a Tornado replacement.

The broader point would be to ask; why can’t a Transport pilot become a Chief of the Air Staff? Why not a helicopter pilot? Why would you exclusively only select FJ pilots for senior roles? That approach (FJ only) would seem to me to be the most counter productive method available.

@ x
“Again were these RAF kills achieved from RAF cabs flown from land bases? No. So we just sort of forget the crews of Hermes and Invincible and all the other ships that got the planes into theatre?”
— I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember reading that part of the article where the RAF were only credited with 25% of the kills. That would seem to suggest by default that 75% of the remaining were achieved by the FAA, would it not? This is perhaps the biggest gripe I have with some of the more ardent naval types.

Nowhere can I remember reading an article by an army General or an army pressure group that advocates disbanding either the Navy or the RAF. Nowhere have I heard an Air Marshall or some light blue pressure group advocating the winding up of the Navy or the Army (except in the humourous conext of ‘wind up’).

Ardent supporters of the Navy are the only service I’ve seen that’s actively advocated for another whole service to be removed, while simultaneously eyeing up the majority of the funding earmarked for the other service in order to massively expand its own empire.

The Navy is the only service I’ve seen so far to spend so much time trying to downplay the achievements and efforts of others while boosting its own profile, while at the same time having the cheek to keep using the phrase “silent service”. The way that some of the Naval commanders conduct themselves in front of Parliamentary committees, including some of the statements they make/submit, would make my spoilt, drama queen little neice blush with embarassment at how childish they’re being.

I think I’ve actually gone beyond the point of being annoyed – not least because service rivalries are put ahead of what is best for the nation, its defence, and its budgets – but because it’s gotten to the point of being unintentionally hilarious.

At the same time as bemoaning that the crews of Hermes and Invincible are not getting enough credit in the article, you’re trying to sh*t on the achievement of those RAF pilots for their air combat record on the principle that they were flying aircraft with RN roundels on the outside instead of RAF ones, and that the runway they took off from happened to be attached to a RN vessel.

This one article gives the RAF pilots some credit compared to the background of bile and bullshit that the PTT regularly puts out, but you can’t even let this one mention slip?

It’s getting bloody tragic if you ask me. With escort numbers and sub numbers on the decrease, I’m beginning to think this isn’t the RN going into the desperate survival/justification mode that they often accuse the RAF of having been in since WW1.

It just seems that the Dark Blue is the only service incapable of living with the others and accepting the fact that other people do important things for the nations defence that must be equally funded.

May 26, 2012 5:17 am

“Auster’s from 1903 Independent Air Observation Post Flight and 1913 Light Liaison Flight were deployed from 1951 until the ceasefire, 2 were lost to ground fire and over 3,000 sorties were completed. Both these flights were mixed RAF and Army, with the pilots usually being ex Royal Artillery.”

Lack of fact checking here. ‘Ex’, that is either singularly underinformed or an obnoxious assumption :-) AOP pilots in Korea were RA and RAA (Luscombe KIA), not sure about RCA and RNZA but there were probably some. None were Ex. There may have been a few outsiders, but basically all AOP pilots were serving artillery officers from 1940 until 1957. The only known RAF pilot was in the flight of 3 a/c that went to France in 1940 but did not join the action.

Peter Elliott
May 26, 2012 9:11 am


I wouldn’t get too worked up about the tendency of some people to publish nonsense.

I’m quite happy to have found a mixture of informed, dissinterested analysis and salty humour on this site. If a site doesn’t push my buttons I just don’t go there.

In terms of influencing the wider debate the right thing for you to do is focus on producing good balanced stuff on here. That’s the best way of building credibility and exerting influence. As you suggest the more lurid campaigning sites are actually self defeating – so best leave them to get on with it.

May 26, 2012 9:29 am

“It just seems that the Dark Blue is the only service incapable of living with the others and accepting the fact that other people do important things for the nations defence that must be equally funded.”

Change “Dark Blue” to “Dark Blue fanboi’s”, since the real sailours I’ve worked with generally have the same opinion as you Chris.B.

May 26, 2012 10:31 am

@ Mike,

“Change “Dark Blue” to “Dark Blue fanboi’s”, since the real sailours I’ve worked with generally have the same opinion as you Chris.B”

Point taken, perhaps wasn’t specific enough. I think my post would include Fanboi’s, the PTT, some of the current senior officers in the remarks they make to official and journalistic sources, and some of the ex-officers who appear often on various outlets (Sharkey, PTT again).

May 26, 2012 11:06 am

.B: I specify FJ pilots as the main source of top brass because war is about fighting, and those that were involved at an intimate level with the former are generally best at commanding them at flag level. This holds true for the other services (how many REME or RLC generals have held operational commands?), and it will hold true for the RAF as well.

FJ aircrew are now in the low hundreds, and when the Tornado drops out we lose the WSO’s too. Game over (no, I’m not a fan of the “UAV’s will take over the world tomorrow” tendency)

May 26, 2012 11:54 am

@ wf

“Game over”

— What?

You have Typhoon and then you have the Tornado replacement. Right off that bat that will leave you with about 200 FJ pilots, plus remaining Wing Commanders etc. You’re telling me you can’t select one of those pilots every few years to become the new Chief of the Air Staff? Why?

And why couldn’t a transport pilot take the lead? I imagine he would need a deputy and the deputy could easily be selected from the FJ ranks.

The upper rank structure of the RAF might be reduced in coming years but there is absolutely no reason, none, that they couldn’t generate the needed senior leadership.

Think about the Navy by comparison. How many ships are there to command, including submarines? How many officers in any one year can achieve the rank of Captain? Certainly many, many less than could achieve the rank of FJ pilot in the RAF. Yet I can’t imagine the Navy will have any problems generating senior officers for the forseeable future.

That seems like a very bizarre statement to me.

May 26, 2012 1:36 pm

Chris B,

the correct comparison (to FJ pilots) is between numbers of officers in the Andrew entering the Warfare branch each year, not the amount getting promoted to Captain. FJ pilot is not a rank, BTW, only a qualification that some of the more spatially gifted Kevins attain. It says nothing of their judgement.

May 26, 2012 1:38 pm

Nice article, i’m sure i read the original last year (and laughed). Pity about the in house rivalry, maybe if the top 10% were dis-honourably discharged they would get the message.(Yes im sick and tired of it to the extreme).

@ James: why don’t we want strike capable aircraft carriers? I would agree that strike ships(eg tomahawk equipped) would be more sensible with the carrier being the “floating airfield” for CAS etc.

May 26, 2012 1:44 pm

@ James,

“FJ pilot is not a rank, BTW, only a qualification that some of the more spatially gifted Kevins attain”

— I know, but is concerned about a lack of FJ pilots that can go on and achieve senior ranks. I’m saying there are going to be around 200 of them at a time, probably more. In one of the great oddities of the RAF, each flight has a squadron leader and each squadron a wing commander, not to mention the various officers performing other tasks such as technical stuff away from the front line. There should be a plentiful pool of experienced officers to draw from going forward.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 26, 2012 3:07 pm

Why on earth should only a FJ pilot be the “boss”? It is just one of the services that the RAF provide. The RN is slightly different as every other Branch other than warfare is a support branch but the equivalent would be to say only Submariners or AAWOs or ex Amphib drivers could be the Fleet Commander.

May 26, 2012 4:05 pm

@ apats i agree but then most militaries around work that way. Cas is always fj pilot perhaps a wider group of branches should be looked at i agree. But i would say that cns and cgs are all chosen from an equally narrow peer group.

May 26, 2012 4:16 pm

To be honest, all 3 services have some form of “black mafia” to whom the high command positions are reserved. In the Army, command of combat Brigades is restricted to combat arm or combat support arm officers (i.e. Cavalry, Infantry, Air Corps, Artillery, Signals, and Engineers). Divisional Command is restricted to only officers who have commanded a combat Brigade. There are of course one and 2 star positions of logistics officers, but they don’t lead to being CGS. In the RAF, it seems to be restricted to pilots and navigators.

As for the RN, I believe it to be the case, but I cannot put my finger of a specific. I spent an interesting couple of hours talking with Tim Lawrence (then a 1 star and Divisional Commandant on JSCSC) who spoke about this sort of thing. He left me with the very strong impression that the Andrew operate a similar scheme, so that if you are not Warfare Branch or FAA, chances of commanding a ship are slim, and of course no one makes CNS without having commanded several ships. He himself rather hoped to command Lusty at some point, but I don’t believe that happened.

As for the future, there’s a man called Commodore John Kingwell who I knew as a very young Cdr (late 30s). He’s my pick for CNS at some point, and he’s got the clear head for CDS as well. I think he now commands the ARG, but I’m not in touch with him. Tremendously talented, extremely modest, entirely dedicated. He says that he’s only the son of a Gloucester dustman (which is true), I and many others on JSCSC 3 thought he’s going all of the way to the top, and deservedly so.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 26, 2012 4:22 pm

James, it is true that you will have to have commanded several times. The only way to Command as a non Warfare or FAA Officer is a WE Officer who completes PWO (I am pretty certain). I can think of 2 who have gone on to drive MCMVs via this route one of whom was subsequently promoted.

May 26, 2012 8:13 pm


Really looking forward to getting the time to read this ;-)


May 26, 2012 11:21 pm


On the subject of deep strike I don’t think I was clear on what I was really getting at. I’m not denying it is a useful skill to have in ones armoury, I just don’t think it’s a priority. It sustains a mentality about air power and the RAF in particular that is of a 1940s vintage and not relevant to the situations we find ourselves confronting in 2012.

I agree that Iraq is a good example to use in this debate. I won’t deny that destroying radar sights is a very handy thing, but that is suppression of air defence. I would also say blowing up armoured columns or ammunition dumps has a dramatic effect on the course of a campaign, but again that’s not really deep strike.

There were lots of targets in Iraq that were valid, but did going after these things win the war? Id say no, it maybe shortened the fighting by a few days.

The American ‘shock and awe’ bombing of the middle of Baghdad and other major cities isn’t something I can ever be comfortable with. Taking out bridges, telephone lines and power cables, levelling a building because a general or politician was suspected of being inside for a few hours, I find these actions disturbingly illogical when you’re main purpose is to bring stability and security to a country after the fighting is over.

I want to reiterate that I believe these types of attacks aren’t totally useless. But I equally don’t think they are a really a good use of money and resources. I’m never going to think that millions of tons of fuel and ridiculously expensive Storm Shadows are worth the results. Often the only clear results are to murder some civilians (in operations that are often about hearts and minds) and dismantle a nations infrastructure when a few days or weeks down the line we will want to put it back together again. Can we really deny that those sorts of strikes were a contributor to the chaos that followed the Iraq War?

I strongly believe that aviation should be there to support troops on the ground and ships at sea and nothing more.

May 27, 2012 3:00 pm

Not that I expect anybody to really care, but I hate to be misinterpreted; so just to clarify something I wrote above:-

“… we’re ending up with a two type FJ air force (and I don’t mean ‘Airforce’)….”

I can see that by disregarding everything else in the post, and with a bit of pathetic and wilful twisting, that this could be read that I’m suggesting disbanding the RAF, or something equally insane and absurd.

Just to clarify that I meant that I think that somehow or other (in the most cost-effective way possible that our ingenious civilisation can devise), some of the F-35Bs should be the FAA’s, with the RAF getting most of them (but not really wanting to kick that debate off again).

So it’s generalised air force, comprising the RAF (predominantly) and FAA (to a lesser extent); and not exclusively Airforce (ie RAF).

Sorry for any offence caused etc etc.

May 27, 2012 6:14 pm

@ Challenger,

I completely agree with you in respect of air power being unlikely to be sufficient to win a war by itself. But “deep strike” still has an enormous contribution to that.

While the utility of blowing up a sewage treatment plant is most certainly dubious, dropping bridges and hitting command centres etc is not. If you’re enemy relies on civilian phone exchanges to handle the amount of traffic needed, then the phone exchange is a legit target which will have an impact on the enemy.

Brining down a bridge can cut a supply line to the front. That potentially can save a lot of lives and hassle for the men at the front of your armoured forces.

Taking out a command centre and killing senior officers plus their staffs, along with their ability to organise their forces can have a huge impact on the ability of the enemy army to effectively organise itself and fight back, what our colonial cousins might call “effects based operations”.

And given that with newer weapons like laser guided weapons and brimstone, those aircraft can then switch roles to provide ground support.

It may seem exspensive at times, but without those strikes how many more men would die in the ensuing land battle? How many more tanks would you have needed?

Anything that helps the Monarchs army to defeat the Monarchs enemy quicker and with less casualties should be considered a good thing. Penny pinching over the cost of bombs and a bit of aviation fuel is a bridge too far I think, even for a cost consious individual such as myself.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 27, 2012 8:00 pm

Don’t forget that ‘deep strike’ also translates into other capabilities. Libya for example was hardly an example of a deep battlefield, but someone deemed it necessary to fly strike missions beginning in England and even South Dakota. The shorter-ranged your aircraft are, the more reliant you are on inflight refueling to cover the same distances.
Deep strike can also translate into persistance in the battle area. Providing the same availability with fewer platforms.
As for the cost of stand-off strike missiles, multi-million pound sorties may not seem so expensive if one considers the costs of achieving the same effects through other means, or of leaving high values targets untouched.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 27, 2012 8:31 pm

Hi, James, I don’t agree that British strike carriers are ‘a clearly ridiculous path’. It’s a perfectly valid method of projecting a military effect at long range, for a country that is generally reluctant to throw thousands of ground troops into optional wars. It is clearly ridiculous though to tinker with the idea of strike carriers if strike carriers aren’t at the very centre of your politicians’ military and aggressive foreign policy strategies – as the demands of a couple of strike carriers on our armed forces would necessarily make that the cornerstone of our whole conventional force. I wasn’t making an argument for strike carriers though – just that it requires such a major shift before you can reasonably validate scrapping one of the services.

May 28, 2012 8:49 am

RAF aircraft were also involved with a search for a missing 4/7 Dragoon Guards tank

I’m sure I parked it over there…

May 28, 2012 10:21 am

“This holds true for the other services (how many REME or RLC generals have held operational commands?), and it will hold true for the RAF as well.”

The reason is that in the army you have to have commanded at the previous level, ie you can’t command a bde unless you’ve commanded a bn. EME and RLC officers can and do comd log type bdes, log bdes are operational but they are not combat.

May 28, 2012 10:30 am

The RAF’s historical problem is being hoist with their own petard. Trenchard basicaly insisted that the job of the RAF was strategic bombing, a stategic concept that proved to be wrong (ie it failed to achive its touted objective). Fortunately the RAF was also forced to consider ADGB, I say fortunately because if there hadn’t been a centralised air force then ADGB may not have been effective and the outcome of BoB may have been very different. The ponderable point is the relevance of this today.

May 28, 2012 10:35 am

@ Obsvr said “if there hadn’t been a centralised air force then ADGB may not have been effective”

If I was marking this post I would need to see some support for that statement young man. :) ;)

May 28, 2012 10:39 am

This article by David Hobbs, which you believe started it all off, any idea when it was published? Nothing is ever really removed from the web, I’m sure with a decent target window the wayback machine ( could help us locate it.

I first remember hearing of the calls to get rid of the RAF when the idea was raised by former Colonel Tim Collins in 2006 who argued that as an administrative structure the RAF was superfluous and that its tasks could be split between the Navy (the fighty bits) and the Army (the transporty bits).


May 28, 2012 10:59 am

Lewis Page speaks for getting rid of the RAF too.

I see no logic in the RAF either. But at the moment UK defence is in such a poor state debate on peripheral issues isn’t worth the bother.

May 28, 2012 11:51 am


At least we can agree on some things!

Yes air power alone cannot win wars, it has to be in support of a larger objective.

In terms of deep strike I agree that there are always worth while targets to be found, I was just suggesting that there is always a limitation to this. As you say a sewage treatment plant, perhaps not, but taking out bridges and command centres, if it shortens the war and saves lives then fine. There will always be a trade off here between saving lives on your own side and inflicting civilian casualties on the other. Laser designated bombs and smarter missiles may reduce the risk but I don’t think it will ever be something that can totally go away.

Id rather see aircraft optimised for close air support with some deep strike capability included than the other way round. I am sure that the pairing of Typhoon and Lightning will achieve this and become a potent, balanced mix of capabilities.

I am more concerned about the RAF mentality and how they will utilise the capabilities provided.

I guess I have stated quite a simple opinion in a very complicated way! It seems to me that the RAF still in 2012 tries to position itself between the twin alters of air defence and strategic bombing, immortalised and embodied by the glorious history of the Spitfire and the Lancaster. I don’t think this is a particularly relevant or healthy attitude to maintain.

I’m saying instead that the main objective of air power should be to support the boots on the ground towards the greater good of the mission. It’s perhaps not as enthusiastically relished by some because it isn’t a particularly glamorous or independent way of waging war, but it is essential none the less.

May 28, 2012 12:02 pm

@ Challenger

‘Id rather see aircraft optimised for close air support with some deep strike capability included than the other way round. I am sure that the pairing of Typhoon and Lightning will achieve this and become a potent, balanced mix of capabilities. ‘

Not done because it’s hard to do, much easier the other way around. Similar in the other thread about the T26, easier to get kit to ‘step down’ rather than up, if that makes sense. I’m not sure how you’ve come to that conclusion which one of those aircraft is optimised for close air support as it’s primary role?

‘I’m saying instead that the main objective of air power should be to support the boots on the ground towards the greater good of the mission. ‘

Like you say yourself not all targets are in the immediate front line so some ‘deep strike’ will have to take place. It’s always in support of the mission, just maybe not immdeiately obvious, but that doesn’t lessen the role or mean any other objectives are being dodged somehow.

May 28, 2012 12:17 pm

Lewis Page and Tim Collins are the two that spring to mind when I think about disbanding the RAF.

I agree that the RAF isn’t essential as an independent element. Most of what it does could be hacked off and absorbed by the AAC and FAA. Tactical helicopters should for instance be under army control because they are the people that need to use them.

I think what’s needed is clarity instead of the current overlap and confusion of resources. So either have all air assets under one organisation or have two services with their own miniature air forces available.

However how likely is it that we can achieve a complete dismantling of the RAF in the next few years? Not very, to put it mildly!

Id like to see a compromised solution instead, a kind of stepping stone in the right direction. Have the RAF keep air defence with Typhoon and the strategic airlift fleet with it’s associated tankers. These are the two roles that aren’t navy or army specific and so can stay independent, everything else though could be transferred over. The aircraft would need the personnel to switch with them, but if pilots and ground crew love their jobs and want to serve their country then it shouldn’t matter what uniform they wear.

May 28, 2012 12:27 pm

‘However how likely is it that we can achieve a complete dismantling of the RAF in the next few years? ‘

You make it sound like some sort of movement ;)

‘The aircraft would need the personnel to switch with them, but if pilots and ground crew love their jobs and want to serve their country then it shouldn’t matter what uniform they wear.’

Well that would be one way of announcing it.

May 28, 2012 12:28 pm

@ Chris B

It isn’t a question of airpower just organisation.

Any who as I listen to the racing I am perusing the interweb. Apparently the EU Common Fisheries Policy costs the UK £3.3billion or just over 13 T26…… :)

May 28, 2012 12:30 pm

RE “Like you say yourself not all targets are in the immediate front line so some ‘deep strike’ will have to take place.”
– I think we are all, at least a bit, victims of RAF propaganda
– CAS – battlefield interdiction – deep strike
– when the capability shrank mainly to the intermediate form, it was then called by the “more glorious” name… and still is

May 28, 2012 12:49 pm


Ha-ha, by we I didn’t mean a bunch of crackpots and bores like us!

We are in the realms of fantasy, but I meant that even if it was hypothetically a real prospect I couldn’t see it ever getting off the ground because of the resistance it would provoke, not least from the tabloid media and of course the RAF itself.

May 28, 2012 1:25 pm


yes. “deep strike” is to me some completely dastardly and shocking action that hits directly into the centre of the enemy’s gravity. It could be something kinetic, equally it might be the public announcement of an unexpected alliance with a neighbouring country that the enemy had not expected.

The amount of people in the forces, let alone on the web who confuse “deep strike” with geography and being a long way away is shocking.

May 28, 2012 1:47 pm

@ James

Although I didn’t explain myself properly, I think it was me that tripped up on the correct meaning of the term. Genuine question is that the Joint Service definition?

May 28, 2012 2:05 pm


not at home, not close to the old manuals, but yes, pretty much. It all started out from the early 90s definitions of “Deep”, Close” and “Rear” for operations, which I believe were first coined by the Army Doctrine Committee in Upavon – I may be mistaken in that however. Those definitions were fairly quickly adopted as Joint – certainly by 2000.

Deep = affecting the enemy’s centre of gravity. Aimed at setting the conditions for strategic victory.

Close = time-limited, possibly temporary. Aimed at putting the enemy at a local disadvantage, normally in order to prevent him from recovering from a previous deep strike, or supporting a future deep strike.

Rear = supporting our own forces. Aimed at mitigating the enemy’s activities on us, or supporting future close or deep operations.

So you can have a deep operation in any part of the battlespace. Two examples from 1982, both attacking the Argentinean military centre of gravity which was their ability to launch strikes against our ships:

1. MI6 agents stopping Argentina from acquiring more Exocets in Turkey, Morocco and the Phillipines.

2. The introduction of food poisoning into the hotel the French technical team were staying in Rio Gallegos, so stopping them from being able to complete their work on Exocet integration at the air base (mostly successful – but not entirely).

Two examples of close operations from the same conflict, again not geographically confined:

3. Obtaining radar data from a British-supplied, Chilean operated radar on top of the Andes.

4. Bombing the runway at Stanley in the Black Buck raids.

However, a common fallacy is to confuse these with geographical descriptors.

May 28, 2012 2:51 pm

“Ha-ha, by we I didn’t mean a bunch of crackpots and bores like us!”

But Challenger, thats the only types you get such narrow ideas from. Everyone gets on with the real world, meanwhile its only the web and from certain parties where you get such strange motions. Most, such as X’s outside all things navy, are narrow because they base what they say/think on their opinions/experiences and nothing else, not seeing the bigger pictures.

If there is calls for one service to go, thus loosing the 3 legged stool thats worked so well for a century, then there is an even stronger case for them all to be brought into one uniform service.

Its rather strange, and as already commented, only really comes from one side. Its odd that you dont hear similar calls from other nations (some much worse off militarily and economically) regarding their own forces.

May 28, 2012 3:02 pm

@ James

Thanks, as they say every day is a school day :)

May 28, 2012 5:19 pm

“I completely agree with you in respect of air power being unlikely to be sufficient to win a war by itself.”

I’m afraid I dont.

But it depends upon your definition of “win a war”
Airpower drove the Taliban from government, but no amount of land power, for any time period, has made them accept defeat. Even now, they happily fight on, knowing they can outlast us.

Unrestricted airpower has been tried before, and failed, but we’ve come a long way since 1942 when 20% of bombs managed a 5 mile CEP.
Realisiticaly, it was bombing that broke Japans back, they were still winning the land war in 44, and never suffered the sort of reversals Germany suffered at the hands of the Soviets.

Destroy the 25 biggest of those, which if you discount the QRAs, is no problem what so ever, and you take out 50% of the UKs electricity production.

The UK might refuse to surrender at this point, but it would be in no position to raise and arm 20 armoured divisions for the conquest of France.
Our offensive capability would be limited to terrorism, and even that would be deeply weakened by lack of money.

May 28, 2012 5:32 pm

@ Challenger,

Much easier to convert a “strike” aircraft to perform CAS than the other way around. The F-111 is a perfect example. During the GW1 it took out more tanks and enemy vehicles than even the venerable A-10, using laser guidance to “plink” enemy tanks from medium altitude. The issue is one of advancing technology. In WW2 a pilot needed to get down in the grass in order to even see the target, let alone hit it. A modern fighter aircraft carrying a Sniper or Litening pod with a camera can zoom in on targets from several thousand feet now, getting a better look than they did in the past when they flew right over the target!

It’s thus easier to build a modern, multi-role aircraft that can do air to air, strike and close air support, just by changing the weapons it carries.

re; the dissolution of the RAF,

This is a subject that has been done to death on here and I’m surprised it continues to crop up every now and again still. Basically you save nothing. You would still need all the same personnel, even up to the senior ranks. You would literally not save a penny. If anything it would cost more as both the Navy and Army established their own extensive air branches to match the previous ones of the RAF.

Then begins the bun fighting.

So the army wants money for a CAS aircraft, but the Navy wants an all singing, all dancing fighter. So they end up going to war over the new joint fast jet budget and how much of it they each get to spend.

Then comes the war over who gets to do strike missions. The Navy will want to do it to justify the aircraft carriers, but the army will argue that they are better placed to conduct such missions because the strike role is in support of their operations.

Then comes the argument over transport. You think the Navy would be happy with the army having control of a significant amount of lift assets? I don’t think so. I’d imagine the Navy would take the approach of “you don’t need those big C-17’s, we can ship all your stuff to where it needs to be anyway, that money could then be better spent on frigates….”

It’s a fools errand. Anyone in the army who thinks they would win control of large chunks of the former RAF assets is off their rocker. You think the Royal Navy is going to sit back and allow the new army air force to operate non-marinised helicopters? Not a chance. “We fly helicopters off our ships every day! We transport people and goods by helicopter every day! Why not just let us take charge of the helicopters! We can do it more efficiently than the army can! Our airmen aren’t subject to the same restrictive harmony rules as the army air corps chaps!”

There’s a reason that you don’t get involved in long term relationships with a woman who is willing to cheat on her boyfriend/husband with you, because if she’ll do it to him then that makes it more likely she’ll do it to you. Thus the army should be very wary about getting into bed with a service that is planning to strip another of all it’s assets and subsume it.

Lots of people have tried having army air services and Naval air services. They nearly always end up with a seperate air force, not least because once you put the fate of your air power into the hands of the other two services they become very keen on the bits that support them and not so keen on the bits that don’t support them. In the case of air defence of the UK for example, neither side is especially keen on investing the money in a proper AD network and the units needed.

May 28, 2012 5:52 pm


“Realisiticaly, it was bombing that broke Japans back, they were still winning the land war in 44, and never suffered the sort of reversals Germany suffered at the hands of the Soviets.”

– …Combined with crippling sinkings by submarines and 1,075 merchant ships (2,289,416 tons) knocked out of the war by mines from Oct 1943 culminating in Operation STARVATION, the mining blockade of Japan.*

* ‘Most Dangerous Sea’ by Lt Cdr Arnold S. Lott USN, US Naval Institute, Annapolis, 1959.

May 28, 2012 7:24 pm

Meh, thats still economic warfare rather than a land battle and occupation.

“In the case of air defence of the UK for example, neither side is especially keen on investing the money in a proper AD network and the units needed.”

May 28, 2012 7:46 pm


Reading your paragraph on the Black Buck raids it does raise some questions as to why (nowadays) the RAF has no long range bombers?

These working with escorts provided either from the launch point (with tankers) or near the target (from a carrier) should be able to provide a much more cost effective, long range capability than a few dozen carrier based jets.

If these could also loiter for 1-2 hours (with their escorts) we’d also be able to provide CAS.

I just can’t figure out if these “bombers” would have to be B52 (i.e. big and cheap) or B2 (i.e. stealthy) like.

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
May 28, 2012 7:55 pm

“So the army wants money for a CAS aircraft, but the Navy wants an all singing, all dancing fighter. So they end up going to war over the new joint fast jet budget and how much of it they each get to spend.”

Why would they have a Joint Fast Jet budget? Unlike the RAF and the FAA, an RFC and RNAS wouldn’t be competing for the same assets.

“Then comes the war over who gets to do strike missions. The Navy will want to do it to justify the aircraft carriers, but the army will argue that they are better placed to conduct such missions because the strike role is in support of their operations.”

The Navy. No argument.

“Then comes the argument over transport. You think the Navy would be happy with the army having control of a significant amount of lift assets? I don’t think so. I’d imagine the Navy would take the approach of “you don’t need those big C-17′s, we can ship all your stuff to where it needs to be anyway, that money could then be better spent on frigates…”

And you don’t think that the Navy argues this about the RAF already?

“Lots of people have tried having army air services and Naval air services. They nearly always end up with a seperate air force”

Like the US all through WWII. Reason for creation of the USAF? Pretty much the same reason for the creation of the RAF – a reason that no longer exists in the UK.

“In the case of air defence of the UK for example, neither side is especially keen on investing the money in a proper AD network and the units needed.”

Disagree. Both the Army and the Navy would be very interested in air defence over their area of operations be that some hot sandy middle eastern rat hole or Our Green and Pleasant Land.

Nobody has ever given a convincing argument for retention of the RAF that I have read – at least not one that didn’t use the term “air-minded” at least half a dozen times.

As I’ve said before, I have no axe to grind with the RAF and I’m willing to be convinced of it’s utility but at the moment I see no reason why the Army doesn’t have the Chinooks, A400M’s etc and the Navy all the fast jets – yes, even Typhoon . . .

May 28, 2012 8:01 pm

Pete Arundel,

Do you not place any value in having UK airspace defended?

Perhaps you should just look at the RAF as though they are the Navy’s airwing?

May 28, 2012 8:03 pm

A couple of Squadrons of Army-flown A-10s would complement AH-64D very nicely. A bit quicker into action, longer loiter time, not really very complicated so easy enough on the logistics front. Plus, if Army-flown, there are several reasons why CAS would be better / quicker / more focussed than if flown by a Kevin. It comes down to understanding the context and being in the same chain of command.

I know it is about as old as the hills, but what is wrong with the A-10?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 28, 2012 8:09 pm

James, Nothing at all but can we afford a single use aircraft?

May 28, 2012 8:13 pm


The A10 is great.

The Army would need an airfield to operate them from (at home) and a 1000m airstrip within 250nm of the action.

May 28, 2012 8:14 pm


A much better aircraft to choose would be the AV-8B ;-)

May 28, 2012 8:43 pm

@James: getting some surplus A10’s would be great, although I suspect that the time for them is drawing to a close. If you want heavy COIN air support, a Reaper carries lots of bombs and has unrivalled endurance.

@Simon: sadly, the A10 is still underpowered. Taking off in less than 1500m with a useful load is sadly not possible, although an easy engine upgrade might make it so

May 28, 2012 9:10 pm

@ Pete,

Look at your list of answers again and then have a word with yourself. The RAF and the RN are effectively having to agree over a joint tornado replacement, FAA mainstay. You think the Army would just be issued with its own budget for buying CAS aircraft? Not in a million years would they, not least because a certain other service would likely be arguing that they could provide CAS with their jets if only the army would stick out of the way.

All the arguments that could be levelled at the RAF could equally be levelled at a FAA that controlled all the aviation assets, except the army would probably lose much of the air transport it currently enjoys, along with losing the non-maritime Chinooks in favour of things like Merlin that have a dual use for Naval operations.

You must be absolutely bonkers if you think the army would get its fair share of the aircraft/aircraft budget. Not a chance in hell, which is precisely one of the reasons why we have an airforce, to serve as the wedge between the airborne ideals of the other two services.

You say nobody has made a case for the RAF, but the RAF exists. If you want to disband it, you have to make the case for that not the other way around. Every argument I’ve seen so far usually centres around “it’ll be cheaper” when we all basically acknowledge that it won’t at all, in fact likely becoming more expensive. You’re going to have to work a lot harder than that me old chum.

@ Simon,
Try getting a “regional bomber” approved in this era of cuts etc. The PTT will have a heart attack. I was actually looking at the Vulcan specs the other day just for a baseline. There’s room to replace the engines with the smaller, lighter, but more powerful EJ200. I reckon you could probably knock the weight of the B.2 version down from 93k kgs to about 73k using new materials etc? Range would be pretty handy, especially if you stick a fuel probe on it. Maybe 12-16 bombs, either GPS or Laser guided. Maybe 6 Storm Shadows?

@ James,
It’s unlikely an A-10 would be able to respond quicker. She’s not exactly the fastest bird in the sky.

Generally it’s a well appreciated plane, but lacks a probe compatible with UK refuelling and is a bit of a one trick pony for a country that’s counting the pennies. You can do much of the same with different tools, though that gun is always going to be hard to replace.

May 28, 2012 9:21 pm


Bomb doors in the bottom of Voyager?

…bit of a “one trick pony” there in my mind.

May 28, 2012 9:23 pm

@ Everyone.

I just love the fact that the A-10 is the only gun in the world that comes with a freebie plane. And the gunner gets a titanium chair and armoured boxer shorts! What’s not to like? I’d like the UK upgrade to have some Piccatinny rails around the nose so that we can mount some lasers and probably a loudspeaker.

I do confess I am 1.5 make it 2 bottles of Nuits St Georges downrange, but the above appeals to me. Probably sensible not to post anymore tonight, so if anyone wants to suggest buying some aircraft carriers or uselessly stunted jets, now is probably a good moment.

Ace Rimmer
May 28, 2012 9:43 pm

Challenger: “Have the RAF keep air defence with Typhoon and the strategic airlift fleet with it’s associated tankers. These are the two roles that aren’t navy or army specific and so can stay independent, everything else though could be transferred over.”

I’ve advocated this before, call the RAF the Royal Strategic Airforce and like you say, give them all the heavy stuff, plus air defence, and have a Tactical Air Corps for all the choppers and mud movers. Unfortunately this was before all the Harriers went West, although I can’t wait for the day a Royal Marine/AAC corporal flies a fast jet, just to see the expressions on the Rupert’s faces….

May 28, 2012 9:54 pm

@ Simon,
Again, Voyager lacks air to air refuel, at least compatible with our current systems thanks to that shit fest that is otherwise known as the Future tanker thingy. Not sure you’d want a high value asset like a refuelling aircraft making attack runs over or close to hostile territory.

@ James,
A-10 is a beauty and has a wonderfully unique engine whine, but just a bit outdated as a concept. Now if you wanted to bring something like the Hawk or Tucano up to a standard where it could serve as a low(er) cost CAS aircraft for semi-permissive air environments, then you’d have my ear.

May 28, 2012 9:54 pm

@ Chally

When the RAF fly their C17 and C130 about the world transporting stuff strategically, um, whose stuff do you think they are moving mostly like 95% of the time?

May 28, 2012 9:57 pm

We need SU25.

Ace Rimmer
May 28, 2012 10:01 pm

Having had a quick look through the comments above, one thing not mentioned is the creation of a Marine Corps, UKMC? A singular organisation utilising all necessary assets required to perform an amphibious operation including rotary and fixed wing. Ok, the FAA with Harriers did the role very effectively, but is their role any different from USMC pilots? I think not, apart from a fleet defence perspective. This may conflict with my comment above, but if the services in their current form cannot make it work without political inflighting, then rip it up and afresh.

Ace Rimmer
May 28, 2012 10:08 pm

X, Su-25 Frogfoot would be ideal for Afghanistan, on a previous thread I said we should’ve bought a squadron off (say) the Bulgarians and handed them over to the Afghans when we withdrew.

May 28, 2012 10:17 pm


Come on! I didn’t mean that the air force doesn’t move army people and stuff. What I meant was that the heavier aircraft transport in and out of a battle zone in a strategic manner.

This is in comparison to for instance a Chinook, which moves men and materials around the place in a tactical manner.

That was the point I was making.

May 28, 2012 10:22 pm

@ Chally

So you are saying you trust AAC pilots with nap of the earth flying, under fire, and at night.

But you wouldn’t trust somebody in an AAC uniform to switch the autopilot on and fly between two points?

And this “strategic manner” business? Is that like tacticool but more bad ass?

May 28, 2012 10:52 pm


Well I have always understood strategic to mean the whole picture whilst tactical deals with the details within.

So strategic means deciding what gear needs to be loading on a C17 to be sent in-to Afghanistan, but tactical means an on the spot decision of where to distribute that stuff once it’s there and how best to utilise it once it’s in place. Surely that makes some sense?

My core point is linked to my core frustration, which is concerning the overlap and confused distribution of assets.

The RAF will nominally control all fast jets, but the FFA will have ‘access’ to them whatever that means and have it’s own pilots in the mix. Both the RAF and the Navy have their own tactical transport helicopters, but not the Army who deserve to fly them most based on how much they use them surely? Oh and whilst on the subject of helicopters the AAC has gun ships, even though all other types of fire support are part of the RAF.

If we do get a new MPA in the future the RAF will want to fly it and are most likely be seen as the natural choice being that they flew the Nimrod. This is despite the fact that it provides what it says on the tin, maritime patrol, not terra firma patrol!

Hmm, what else. Well the RAF Regiment has never made much sense to me. I’m not going to even try to understand which pilots train where and when, two services operate SAR platforms and UAV’s seem to be something that everyone will eventually get their hands on even though the roles of each will be broadly the same.

I hope I am conveying my point here, which is that clarity and simplicity can help to build effectiveness. I’m not saying services aren’t complimentary, of course they are because they are all part of the armed forces and should all be working towards a common goal.

Whilst I am going id also like to say that I think all 3 services are guilty of petty, selfish inter-service greed and rivalry. I think that to a certain extent it’s natural. However I won’t deny I think the RAF is a little guiltier of this than the others. In addition I think it is a bloated service that doesn’t get the maximum capability out of the people it has, the equipment it has or the money it receives.

Which is why that in an ideal world Id happily have the RAF absorbed by the other two. This not being an ideal world I think about compromises and more progressively gradual solutions. There are plenty of options available, that’s what this site is about, talking through them in order to gain a greater understanding.

Wow, that was a long one, I need a rest after that!

May 28, 2012 10:57 pm

@ Chally

Thanks. I do know the difference between tactical, operational, and strategic levels.

I had the point a long time ago. :)

May 28, 2012 11:02 pm

“Every argument I’ve seen so far usually centres around “it’ll be cheaper” when we all basically acknowledge that it won’t at all, in fact likely becoming more expensive.”

How so? Surely the army/navy would not replicate the command structure of the RAF? The squadrons would just move into the sides of the current Army/Navy pyramid. One less officer college for a start…

Can anyone give me one sensible reason why the RAF are flying helicopters? The Navy should own their ASW ones, the Army should fly all transports/gunships (with a volunteer Commando Regiment if necessary for ones that spend all the time with the Marines)

I dont however think we need to disband the RAF. They should lose all the helicopters, and the FAA should get all the F35s. Then the RAF loses its equal status and just reports to Joint command as Home Defence, Joint Transport, and Joint fixed wing flying training. Practically everything the RAF does apart from Home Defence is supplied to the other services, so they dont need to be on an equal footing.

May 28, 2012 11:08 pm


Finally someone I can agree with!


Well I wasn’t sure so I thought Id spell it out!

May 28, 2012 11:10 pm

If anyone thinks the Kevins would be welcome in the Army, they are wrong. I’m pretty sure the Andrew wouldn’t want them either. The kit, yes, the Kevins, no.

It would however be fun to offer the RAF Regiment to the Marines. It’s nice to see terror on the faces of the RAF Regiment.

May 28, 2012 11:17 pm

@ James

I have only heard of transfers out of the RAF, nobody ever transfers in.

Ans I have been assured many times on this very site that RAF bods would love to go sea if so ordered. Heck some of them may even volunteer.

@ Chally

I am off to get some “tacitcool” drink…. :)

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 28, 2012 11:18 pm

James, now that is just mean, but funny!

May 28, 2012 11:30 pm

…any offers for the RAF Movers, or should we just pay North Korea to take them? Some of them may be useful as traffic cones.

May 28, 2012 11:39 pm

@ ChrisM

So you’ve disbanded the RAF and switched the kit over to the Navy and Army. You now need pilots for these aircraft. You need ground crew. You need the air traffic control people. You need the squadron leaders and wing commanders. You need the people to handle the extra admin load introduced. You need people to manage the various back office programs such as weapons development and systems development. You need senior officers to command and take responsibility for the various sub branches. And you need people to represent the air arm as a whole.

Or in other words, you need all the jobs that the RAF currently has. Except you need two large streams to cover two services. Or in other words, you’ve just added people to the chain, not removed them. A pointless, counter productive exercise that will take years, doubtless cost millions, and achieve precisely f**k all.

“…the Army should fly all transports/gunships”

Why? What is it about a green uniform that would make an AAC pilot inherently more capable than a helicopter pilot wearing light blue, especially given the high standard of flying achieved by light blue chopper pilots (as evidenced by some of the photos and videos of the rather interesting spots that Chinook pilots have managed to manoeuvre into).

Again, you’ll achieve nothing except disruption and increased short term cost, for zero savings and zero change in operational capability. Conversely Apache has shown adaptability into other areas which would be of little interest to the AAC, such as their use in low level operations against Radars. The Dutch assign their Apache to their air force and have had no real issues with that.

Let’s put it this way, would you agree that the Bay Class and the Albion class should be run by the army? If not, why not, given that these assets are primarily designed to support the army? Would you advocate the handing over of the Marines to the army, given that Marines do most of their work on land?

@ Challenger,
“This is despite the fact that it provides what it says on the tin, maritime patrol, not terra firma patrol!”

Does an MPA sail on the seven seas or does it fly above them? Given your train of argument it makes absolute sense for the RAF to operate the MPA as they fly.

May 28, 2012 11:43 pm

@ x

“@ James; I have only heard of transfers out of the RAF, nobody ever transfers in.”

— You obviously need to spread your ears a bit further. I think it was the Puma report or it might have been a thread somewhere else about Merlin, that made the point that a significant number of pilots from the AAC and RN had transferred over to the RAF.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 28, 2012 11:46 pm

RE: Bombers and MPA’s. I’ve mentioned this before but that never stoped me..

One way to re-build a (semi-)strategic bombing force would be the Transport-Bomber concept with modular loads/weapons/sensors.

If the transport aircraft fleet is capable then of transport, strike (land and naval), possibly CAS/gunship, Maritime patrol/ASW, SAR, AWAC, ELINT, ISTAR, C3, etc, it not only increases it’s support capabilities to the other services but dare I say help guarantee the RAF a role/future?
For example, it would appear logical that a dedicated MPA should be part of the FAA. However, a swing-role transport/ISTAR/MPA aircraft appears to make more sense with the Air Force?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 28, 2012 11:48 pm

Chris B, I know of a few RN pilots that transferred after being chopped.

May 29, 2012 12:39 am

Is that RN pilots who were chopped and went light blue, or light blue who were chopped and are now RN? I’m guessing the first, but it’s a little unclear, sorry.

@ Gareth Jones,
Really with a big bomber you would want very different things than you would out of a transport aircraft. Performance being one of them. A transport aircraft really needs to be optimised for load carrying and range. A bomber would need to be built for speed, range and survival in hostile skies.

And again to bring up MPA, why is it logical for it to be FAA? It’s not directly supporting the fleet in any way for the majority of its time. It’s an asset that predominantly supports the civilian authorities in monitoring shipping and SAR, while also aiding in clearing a path for the CASD etc. With the RAF maintaining the only current large, fixed wing training stream it makes more sense for them to handle it and just stick a few RN personnel in the back, perhaps sonar specialists.

I don’t mean to tar you specifically Gareth but I do wonder sometimes where people come up with the odd conclusions about who operates what kit.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 29, 2012 12:45 am

Chris B, RN officers who joined to fly and got chopped. In fairness they wanted to fly so rather than transfer to another RN branch they went to the RAF.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 29, 2012 1:00 am

@ Chris B. – true, which is why I said (semi-) strategic – its main strike weapon would be cruise missiles, although if the airspace was very permissive it may drop other weapons… it’ll still be more of a transport than a bomber but could add capaibilites…

There is also the question of which type of transport aircraft would be best for each role: military, high wing, rear ramp aircraft or civilian (originally), low wing, passenger aircraft. Is there a natural split in the roles? Do you need both types or could you get away with one?

RE: FAA and MPA – I believe most states MPA’s are operated by their navies (sometime coast guard); the UK is somewhat unusual with the RAF operating them (or they did…:()

May 29, 2012 1:23 am

@ Challenger

‘This is despite the fact that it provides what it says on the tin, maritime patrol, not terra firma patrol!’

It actually spent a long time over land, afghanistan in the main. Aircraft often spend time supporting all sorts of areas, I think that’s the problem here people are chopping stuff up willy nilly with little regard to it’s wider use.

@ Chris M

‘How so? Surely the army/navy would not replicate the command structure of the RAF? The squadrons would just move into the sides of the current Army/Navy pyramid.’

Something that’s often repeated on the internet but once you look beyond the flying sqn and understand the whole RAF not just xyz sqn the opposite is true. You gain very little and end up with a whole mess to try and sort. The idea that you just cut a whole organisation up and dole out the prizes like some sort of xmas party is ludicrious and shows a lack of understand about what they are actually saying.


‘I have only heard of transfers out of the RAF, nobody ever transfers in. ‘

I think someone has been pulling your leg.

@ GJ

‘RE: FAA and MPA – I believe most states MPA’s are operated by their navies (sometime coast guard); the UK is somewhat unusual with the RAF operating them (or they did…:()’

Someone did a list (might have been on here) of MPA platforms around the world, airforce operating MPA is more common than you would think.

May 29, 2012 1:54 am

Aye, I’m with you now. That was the general gist of the comments I’d heard, whether it was that Merlin forum or the Puma report is beyond my memory (think it was the forum to be honest), that a few RN and AAC pilots decided to make the switch because they wanted to fly and felt making the jump gave them the best opportunity to do that for a long time.

@ Gareth J,
It depends. Canada, Spain and Holland all operate their MPA through the air force (and somehow the Dutch airforce have gained operation of ship board helicopters, which I didn’t know). It just makes more sense to me to make it an RAF task. Most of what it does isn’t really supporting the Navy per se, more like the old Coastal Command.

Erm, as for transports bombing I guess the cruise missile out the back is a possibility, but it does somewhat cap the range as the aircraft can’t wander very far into anything resembling hostile airspace, so you’re then limited by the 250km advertised range on SS. If you want to do that sort of strike, you’re better off going the full monty and building a proper bomber. Trouble is the damn things would probably clock in at the £100m a piece mark, before we even start talking about development costs spread over the airframes.

Transport versus transport wise, the low wing civvie jobs have limited height capacity due to the split into two decks and without a rear loading ramp you’re not putting anything other than pallets and maybe small vehicles (land rover) on a low winger. Of course you could buy some of the old 747 cargo versions, but even then they’re not ideally suited for military cargo what with the height off the ground.

@ Everyone,
Am I the only one seeing incorrect time stamps? It seems like the “TD Clock” is an hour and half or so behind. This post being posted at 0254.

May 29, 2012 2:06 am

@ Chris B

‘that a few RN and AAC pilots decided’

More than a few, there’s quite a few aircrew of all sorts that come across as well as other into ground trades and branches. I’ve worked with quite a few who have jumped ship. Never heard of anyone going the other way and leave to go into the navy/army, no doubt it’s happened mind, but it’s very rare.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 29, 2012 2:27 am

@ Topman and Chris B – I stand corrected. I thought the RAF kept the old Coastal Command due to a kink of history but like you point out it is more common than I thought.

I think making more use of the RAF’s transports (and ideally getting some more) by making them multi-role is a good way to maximise the utility of these national assets – my question over the two types (high wing v low wing) was about the different roles e.g. MPA is often performed by low wing aircraft, being designed for long-range efficient cruising, etc; however, high wing planes do offer some advantages not usually shared by the other type, such as low-speed handling, ability to throw things of the back ramp, and easier to swap pallets/equipment.

Is there a set of missions best performed by low wings, such as MPA, AAR, AWACS, etc, and others best performed by high wings or the roles can be performed by either type, with different pro’s and con’s?

May 29, 2012 9:06 am

@Topman – you insist you couldnt make cuts by disbanding the RAF, without giving any logical reasons. Apparently you would need to hire more people to do stuff that the RAF does. Sounds to me like you are saying the RAF is inefficient.
There is already an AAC, you would just add some regiments to its current structure. And bin some of the RAF command.
In my plan you would bin most of the RAF high command, with the squadrons reporting to Joint Commands.

MPA would be a Navy task, as it is command of the sea. However as it is multi-engine air and ground crew, and rarely deploys it is more sensible to put it in the RAF career structure, but under Navy operational command.
Transport helicopters are tightly linked to the Army and deploy with them so it would be sensible to have their harmony regs, command structure and ethos as part of the army. I just can not see any reason for them to be in the RAF.

May 29, 2012 9:18 am

@ Chris M

I don’t put reasons mainly because it’s been done to death and I can’t be bothered to do it all again. If you believe it’s that simple then, in the most pleasant way I can say it, you’ve little idea of what you are proposing nor of how aircraft are operated, what’s required and how the RAF are structured. Try looking beyond the flying sqns and at the whole makeup.

May 29, 2012 9:28 am

@Topman – to prevent duplication can you link to where it has been done to death?
When two companies merge they make synergies by binning loads of management and duplicated processes. Just the same in this instance. You wouldnt need the top levels of the RAF as their work would come under the other structures. You wouldnt need an RAF officer college, you wouldnt need any RAF bands,separate HR, separate uniforms, etc etc etc.
If you dont disband the RAF surely it is still more efficient to remove the helicopter stream from them?
And ignoring costs, surely the transport helicopters would be most efficiently and effectively managed by the service that uses them almost exclusively?

May 29, 2012 9:34 am

Hi Chris B,

“The Dutch assign their Apache to their air force and have had no real issues with that.”
– the last round of (their) defence cuts brought about an interesting concept:the 3 marine bns and the 3 paracommando (light army, or ranger) bns are seen as one force; again , that did not need them transferred under one admin command, just training together and developing/ evolving a joint doctrine

In your post that then followed, you raise the Puma report. It was interesting as it evaluated the pro’s and con’s of the so-called (self-contained) Puma Force and whether the concept should be adapted more widely

May 29, 2012 9:42 am

@ Chris M

I think somewhere on here and I put up a bit on Gabby’s blog about the same issue. Just to cover your issue about helicopters, the army already do as they hold the budget and control of JHC through Land, you would think that but evidence suggests otherwise. I’ll admit it does make perfect sense online, but in reality it’s different. For example it sounds perfectly logical that army would want to invest heavily in helicopters as they use them. Yet one of the first things they did when getting hold of the budget was remove a big chunk out of it. Look at the faff over wildcat the AAC got lumped with it, why? They didn’t have enough clout within the army and got dragged along with the navy’s needs. The AAC isn’t really a teeth arm it’s officers don’t get to the top. That has issues if you want a/c to remain important, I’m not argueing for a mafia either just balance, which I don’t think is there. It’s not really the main aim of the army so doesn’t recieve as much attention is people think. As to used more effectively, going by the report into the army’s use of helicopters (which I think is online) during initial Op Telic that is wide open to question.

May 29, 2012 9:52 am

I see the old for and against the RAF as an institution has reared it’s head. The usual suspects have appeared (me included) and the usual arguments advanced(ditto).


Why would (say) the RN desire to keep the RAf’s squadron structure?

One of the criticisms of the RAF is that (like the other services, but more so)It structure no longer properly addresses what it is required to do or actually does.

For example. The huge disparity between deployed numbers of Aircraft and those actually available to fly is such that the traditional 12-18 aircraft squadron is next to useless, generating perhaps 2-4 aircraft at the end of the runway ready to go. When interventions like Libya/Afghan, even QRA require rather more aircraft to operating ‘in country’.

Rather as the size of military units grew in the Napoleonic era from, companies regiments to brigades and then divisions. as the numbers required to have the required effect grew, so did the scale of deployment and command/support structures.

In effect we have the reverse going on to the same effect. The effectiveness of modern strike aircraft is such we need less of them, but the support of them is now so technical that they need huge support structures, to produce a few flyable aircraft.

Recent history seems to be that they need to be deployed ‘by the dozen’ flyable airframes which I suspect would need say (as a guestimate) a 36 aircraft single unit. 2- 3 times the current squadron size. For example (and I never thought I would say this)! If we are having the elephants, to keep 12 aircraft at see we will need 36 or so per Elephant. Seems sensible to me to have one such unit per elephant rotating 12 aircraft pilots etc on deployment.

Now that holds for support unit size as well, given likely economics of scale support unit sizes would have to adjust.

In effect a lot of the support for the RAF structure, is rather like the RN’s fixation with fats pointy ships.

We have always done it this way, so that’s the way it is done, and anyone who does it will have to do it this way.

I remain to be convinced that is the case.

May 29, 2012 11:06 am

Isnt the fact that the army dont own the helicopters/crew part of the problem with JHC? They can cut the budget on other services’ helicopters and staff, not hurting their own cap badges. If all the transport helicopters belonged to the army then that would give the AAC more mass and influence, and give the army no excuses if the helicopters didnt perform to expectation.

May 29, 2012 11:13 am

Unlikely, just a bigger budget to shuffle around.

May 29, 2012 11:21 am


I didn’t think I’d be round and round on this one again so soon. ;)

‘Why would (say) the RN desire to keep the RAf’s squadron structure?’

I believe the FAA have a similar number to each sqn type for type.

If I understand you are wanting a structure that supports larger units to be deployed ? If that is the case it already exsists in a Wing. Used in Op Telic formed from the whole fleet. Day to day such a formation is a bit big to deal with, but as and when the need arises it can be easily formed. This is usually the case with fj, but with for example C130 they worked under a wing day to day concept as you suggest. They maybe something in it, as for example that’s how the Saudis their Tornados in wings of about two dozen.

May 29, 2012 11:44 am

– that is why the FAA should get all the F35s, and all based in the South West (reopen St Mawgan?? or will they all fit at Yeovilton?)

May 29, 2012 12:54 pm


Why would a: (for want of a better word) Wing sized squadron,(perhaps better dealt with by simply dispensing with the squadron altogether); Be too unwieldy day to day?

Are not most FJ units fairly statically based and maintained?

As for The FAA doing it that way anyway:-

I suspect a big element of ‘Big brother RAF does it that way’ so for a whole host of interoperability/ cultural/ logistical reasons it makes sense to do it that way.

I suspect if the RAF moved the way it did things, FAA would follow.

I just used squadron size that as an example of why Just Becuse the RAF does it that way, why would anyone who took over their roles automatically do it that way?

I suspect if RLC took over air transport, they may have some views on organisation that were very un-RAF like.

For example the whole history of civil aviation since the early 80’s, has been non ex-airforce business types; taking over running things; and vastly cutting costs from the national flag carrier, ‘Airforce’ in Civies’ organisational model. See BA / Air France’s struggles with the likes of Virgin and RyanAir.

Likewise a USMC attitude towards pilots as ‘ A Marine that happens to fly an aircraft some of the time’, If applied by the Army to CAS and other battlefield support operations may well produce different structures.

May 29, 2012 12:57 pm

@ Topman

According to one former well known RN commander the FAA can maintain 1000 airframes with just one chief, an AB, a Sea Cadet to make the tea, and a ship’s cat to answer the phone. True. Honest.

We need someone gullible, sorry I mean addicted to the internet to find out the FAA strength and numbers of airframes and then compare that to the RAF squadrons per aircraft number. Less cats.

May 29, 2012 1:04 pm

@ X

They might be able to but that would depend, does the cat get a rum ration?

I’d be more surprised if someone hadn’t already done just that and then gone on to question how much the cat food costs and it’s precise content or some other such…

May 29, 2012 1:06 pm

Chris M

It will be a bonkers situation, for the f35 B not to all be based at the same central base, for training/maintain’e/ logistics/ command control personnel – you name it.

It should be dark blue- will probably be purple, for the sole reason that If you think for one minute the RAF will let a sexy pointy bit of kit like the F35 slip though their fingers……

May 29, 2012 1:10 pm


Td did a lot of work some posts ago on this and (If I remember correctly), came to the conclusion that there was not much in it when you factored the support element given to FAA BY RAF.

That is completely different question to RAF structure etc- e.g. the IDF air arm reputedly does what it does, for a lot less men per aircraft than the RAF. Still we all know how shit there are.

May 29, 2012 1:29 pm

This is a defence blog concerned with the safety of our nation.

On no account should cats get anywhere near sophisticated weaponry!


1) They are members of one of the APEX predator families.
2) They are born knowing where the Jugular Vein is.
3) They know where we sleep – they tend to sleep where we sleep.
4) I have met enough clever ones, to know when they develop an opposing thumb we are toast..

I remember an old cartoon:-

Picture a big hollowed out Volcano Lair with the standard big futuristic, meeting table and chairs.

The CAT number one surrounded by his hench-cats is reading from a list.

1) Automated Mouse farms- Check
2) Automated Salmon fisheries – Check.
3) Automated Dairy Farms- Check
4) Automated Food canning factories- Check
5) Tin opener that does not require Opposing thumb- Check.

(Slight Pause (Or Paws)).


We have been warned.

May 29, 2012 6:18 pm

@ Gareth Jones,

Low wing vs high wing,

Predominant issues include; 1) loading the aircraft, 2) location of the wing box (where it meets the fuselage), 3) operating environment, 4) ease of maintenance,

I’ll start with four and work back, confusingly. In the private airline industry, reducing costs is critical to the health of the airline. Low wing aircraft make it easier to access the engines for routine maintenance, which saves a packet on maintenance.

Civilian aircraft are also guaranteed to be taking off and landing at concrete airports with fewer worries about things like debris, something which a military transporter can’t guarantee.

A low wing aircraft sees the wings meet at the fuselage quite low. If a civvie aircraft were high wing it would cut into the available cabin space and cause some issues with the layout of the aircraft.

A low wing aircraft needs longer undercarriage (which is also an issue with rough landings) which causes serious issues with loading it with cargo, especially in the case of very heavy objects like vehicles. A low loader is much better for that.

@ ChrisM,
“When two companies merge they make synergies by binning loads of management and duplicated processes”
— That’s actually a misconception. That only really works when two businesses do almost identical functions, such as when one construction company takes over another.

If you spread RAF equipment over the other two services, they will need people to take on all the needed functions. You’ll need a head of helicopters, in fact you’ll now need two. Same with fast jets, same with transports. You can’t just eliminate jobs without eliminating the functions that these people perform.

“And ignoring costs, surely the transport helicopters would be most efficiently and effectively managed by the service that uses them almost exclusively?”
— The RAF is the service that uses them most. The army are effectively passengers. They don’t run the maintenance, they don’t do the navigation, they don’t fly them. If you switched the helicopters over, you would need to bring in all those people from outside. And for what? What have you gained? Nothing. It’s not like the RAF hoardes the helicopters in a warehouse somewhere and only lets the army play with them once a year. As much of the fleet as can be is provided for use.

It’s just a complete waste of time, an anti-RAF wet dream that doesn’t serve the best interests of the personnel on the ground. And that’s what worries me the most with all these anti-RAF fanatsies. They have nothing to do with what is best for operations, it’s about service rivalries.

That’s a completely unacceptable angle to be approaching these decisions from.

— I think you’re having the precise same issue that I used to (and sometimes still forget about) and that’s confusing administrative formations on paper in the UK with the elements that are needed and put together for operations. It doesn’t matter what aircraft are put in what admin formation here, as long as we can generate the needed abilities on the front line, which so far we have.

I’m not really sure what else you would expect the FAA to do? It cant bypass maintenance cycles. It cant bypass airframe hours. So in other words it’s going to find itself in precisely the same boat as everyone else.

May 29, 2012 7:19 pm

Chris B

I do not suggest that numbers of support staff to aircraft maintanence etc will differ that much: – Although I repeat, published figures, (whose relaibility and impartiality I cannot confirm)suggest,various highly effective forces do those jobs with a lot less people.

It is the top heavy admin structure which we need to lose. If every time we want to put 12 functioning aircraft int he field, or on the elephant, if we have to involve 2-3 different small groups of aircraft rather than one big one it costs more.

I make the point:- 1 Pay scheme / personel / uniform / vehicle fleet managment / base support admin etc, will be cheaper. Mergers of complimentary organisations the world overpull off this on a daily basis. Why a Light blue dark blue or green merger would be any different, and economies of scale not be obvious I fail to see.

After all, TD’s scrap the FAA and AAC, and give it all to the light blue requires exactly that in order to work.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
May 29, 2012 7:29 pm
May 29, 2012 7:31 pm

@ Chris B

The AAC/FAA/RAF all do the same stuff – they fly things – so there will be synergies. The AAC and FAA wouldnt need Heads of Helicopters – they already have people who do that.
The RAF dont use the Chinooks most – they just fly them for the users.

I dont want to abolish the RAF, just want them out of the helicopter business and out of the F35s completely (assuming all F35s are Bs and carrier capable). The RAF would then keep its name, but would not be an individual service equivalent to the Army or Navy but effectively report to Joint Headquarters as a provider of Airlift (or into the RLC if you really want some fireworks…) and Home Defence and maybe all flight training. You could then take the whole top off the organisation and make the pyramid flatter for what is left.

May 29, 2012 8:21 pm

@ ChrisM,

I’m sorry, but your last post must be some kind of bizarre joke.

“The AAC/FAA/RAF all do the same stuff – they fly things – ”
— In the same way that you and Michael Schumacher do the same stuff right? After all, you both drive. How much difference can there be?

“The AAC and FAA wouldnt need Heads of Helicopters – they already have people who do that”
— They wouldn’t need them because they have them? Eh? Now start adding in other aircraft streams. All of a sudden the FAA and AAC will have head of fast jets, heads of fast jet training, heads of transport, heads of large fixed wing training etc, you get the point.

You can’t just take all those jobs that the RAF provide and say, we wont need that anymore. You will. The AAC will need someone responsible for large transports. Whoever takes over the RAF’s ISTAR will need a head of ISTAR. Just because you’ve changed the uniform doesn’t mean you’ve eliminated the capability, and in most cases it’ll need to be duplicated in both services.

If you really want to save money, and this is going to cause a riot, the best way would be to fold the FAA and AAC into the RAF.

“The RAF dont use the Chinooks most – they just fly them for the users”
— In the same way that your local bus company doesn’t use its buses the most, it just drives them for the customers right? No? That’s right, the bus company owns the buses, drives them, provides maintenance for them, tasks them as needed across the various elements of its business sector.

Your plans just make very little sense. I’ll ask you the same two questions that I ask of everyone else that proposes a similar thing and if you wish to engage in a further discourse on the subject then I expect two bloody fantastic answers that don’t touch on any of the points I’ve brought up so far, for example corporate expertise or the cost of transference for no appreciable gain in capability. After all, what’s good for the geese is good for the gander, huh?

Question One; Why not amalgamate all the available sea lift such as responsibility for the Point Class, Albions and Bay’s into a command that is then given to the army? The RN would have absolutely no say or control of it what so ever. The Royal Marines would also be transferred to the army. After all, the army are the main users of this lift, are they not?

Question Two; Why not scrap the Royal Navy almost entirely and party out its kit to the other two services? The RAF would take control of the Carriers and any ships needed to protect them. They would also be responsible for all helicopter aviation at sea. The Army would take control of all sea lift assets and would be given some escorts as well to protect them. The Royal Navy would be reduced to operating the CASD and the submarine force, for which it wouldn’t need any senior organisation and instead could just report to the Joint Headquarters as providers of sub surface action. This would flatten their pyramid massively and save a fortune would it not?

I await your response with great anticipation and an almost childish sense of glee, safe in the knowledge that these two questions are the equal of your proposal but just the other way around, and both are equally as ridiculous. The only conceivable reason you could possibly give for rejecting them is because they involve the massive reduction of the Royal Navy and not the RAF, which of course is an impossible position to defend because it would mean your entire argument was built around single service bias and not rational thought of what is best for the nation and its defence.

In your own time.

May 29, 2012 8:26 pm


I would really like to see the RAF out of the helicopter business in particular, simply because unlike most of platforms they are exclusively there to provide for troops on the ground. Hence why I think the Army would get the most out of them.

The rest of it I’m not so sure about. Half the time I want to abolish the RAF all together, the rest of the time I go all soft and just favour a bit of an adjustment, on the lines you and others have suggested.

Their is also the problem of whether the FAA could handle that kind of additional number of aircraft. Even if personnel cross over it’s only worth it if it brings about greater efficiency and flexibility of resources, otherwise their isn’t much point.

It seems to be that as British military power has receded over the last half a century it has left behind in it’s wake several irregularities of command set-up and an illogical division of resources. Id like to see this corrected as much as possible to increase clarity and hopefully effectiveness, something that is very important in these times of austerity when every penny counts and every capability has to be squeezed of all it’s worth.

So I don’t really mind what solution is dreamed up, as long as it brings results!

May 29, 2012 8:33 pm


Having just read you’re long post to Chris M you do make a fair bit of sense.

As I just said, I really only want clarity and simplicity (as far as possible). So maybe the best way to achieve this is a real division of resources (which you joked about, but I am taking quite seriously).

The most extreme case would be to have ALL aircraft in the RAF, ALL troops (including RAF regiment and the Marines) in the Army and ALL boats of any kind in the Navy. That may be a bit radical and would no doubt cause a riot, but perhaps it isn’t such a bad an idea?

May 29, 2012 8:49 pm

@myself, 10 minutes ago.

Actually looking again you could aim for near total division of assets, I doubt total division would be possible or even practical.

For example it wouldn’t make sense for the ASW Merlin’s to be in the hands of anyone except the FAA, purely because they are so specific to the maritime role.

But broadly, it’s a concept that I wouldn’t mind talking about.

May 29, 2012 9:18 pm

They all fly stuff. Your point about me and Schumacher both driving is irrelevant. They all fly high tech military aircraft – extremely similar. If they arent then you are actually arguing FOR the helicopters to go to the AAC as they are so different from the jets.

You may need Heads of Streams, but some of them already exist in the Navy/Army, and they would report into current Navy/Army commanders instead of the RAF top brass. There is a lot of duplication.

A bus company is totally different as its customers are individuals, and not an army. A more relevant comparison would be Tescos logistics – they either own and operate the lorries or they competitively contract it out, with the contractor reporting to them.

The reason for the RAF being the “victim” is that it is a supplier to the other services, particularly the Army, not an end in itself. The Army wins wars, the RAF just help them out. The Navy controls the sea, and now the strategy is based around the carriers the Navy can do its own air support.
Giving everything that flies to the RAF takes command of the operators away from the users, which is illogical.

Specifically on Q1 – the army are not the main users of the Albions and Bays are they? The Royal Marines are. The Army help out with the numbers occassionally.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 29, 2012 9:58 pm

I thought the original reason for the helicopters being split between the services was that it was expected that Chinook air and ground crews would be woken from their slumber by room service tapping on their door, bringing tea and toast; while Lynx crews would be woken by another squadie pissing into their muddy hole – something that’s not been so apparent over the years that a purple helicopter force has operated from large, static airbases. On that basis, it is impossible for delicate, fragrant RAF personnel to be given AAC aircraft – though Army personnel can be taught to use indoor toilets, so could take over the RAF’s choppers.

May 29, 2012 10:42 pm

@ ChrisM

Oh dear, you’ve been well and truly guzzling the kool aid haven’t you?

“They all fly stuff. Your point about me and Schumacher both driving is irrelevant. They all fly high tech military aircraft – extremely similar”
— Yes, landing a C-17 and landing a Lynx Wildcat are identical aren’t they. How silly of me to not spot the similarity.

“If they arent then you are actually arguing FOR the helicopters to go to the AAC as they are so different from the jets”
— How do you figure that one out? One service operates both jets and helicopters, and has a corporate background of flying both going back to the very introduction of the helicopter into military service and beyond. The other does not. But you want to transfer all of that to the less experienced service, because somehow the experience of operation of multiple complex flying machines and intergrated air spaces makes an organisation less qualified than it’s smaller, less experienced sibling that leans on the larger organisation for a significant degree of its support? Okey dokey.

“You may need Heads of Streams, but some of them already exist in the Navy/Army, and they would report into current Navy/Army commanders instead of the RAF top brass. There is a lot of duplication”
— Yes… by the FAA and AAC. You seem to be missing the point that a larger FAA and AAC would require very senior commanders, for both services. The would need chiefs of their respective air arms, with the appropriate seniority to sit at the highest tables to talk budgets and strategies. That would double the cost of the functions currently provided by the RAF. The only other choice is to not assign these individuals, in which case the air arms will fall by the wayside as they struggle for funding and proper representation; precisely the reason why a seperate airforce was established in the first place.

“A bus company is totally different as its customers are individuals, and not an army.”
— No it’s not. It’s a perfect example. The bus company supplies a bus to a particular route to pick up whoever happens to be the passengers on that day (an infantry company). It has the biggger picture in mind and can shift buses around to better accomodate the passenger requirements in different areas, as well as organising connections with other “buses” or even the bigger “trains”. Helicopters do other things except shuttling soldiers around in the same way that a bus company is not the exlusive preserve of the commuter at the bus stop.

“The Navy controls the sea”
— HAHA, Have a word with yourself. Even user x, an ardent Naval supporter, is not that silly.

“The reason for the RAF being the “victim” is that it is a supplier to the other services, particularly the Army, not an end in itself. The Army wins wars, the RAF just help them out”
— What do you think the Navy is then? It’s a supplier to the army as well, providing safe transport across the sea as one of its primary roles. Of course this is a simplification. The Navy does other things, as does the RAF. The provision of QRA has nothing to do with the army, and nor did the intervention in Libya (except on a very sneaky, strategic level). Your assessment of the RAF is fundamentally flawed and shows a serious lack of study.

“…and now the strategy is based around the carriers the Navy can do its own air support”
— On a very limited basis, presuming the carriers make it into service.

“Specifically on Q1 – the army are not the main users of the Albions and Bays are they? The Royal Marines are. The Army help out with the numbers occassionally”
— The primary purpose of these vessels is to deliver the army by sea, transporting their tanks and other heavy equipment along with the Points. The main purpose of the Royal Marines is to fight on land. Using your rational both the transport ships and the Marines should be part of the army.

But as I said, I knew when the shoe was on the other foot all your original arguments would suddenly be swapped about. If it’s RAF kit we’re talking about then you’re all “ohh, that should be given to the prime user” but when its Navy kit suddenly its “ohh, you can’t touch that, that belongs to the Navy”.

It reveals the sad and somewhat depressing nature of your comments, i.e. that you don’t really care what is the most operationally effective or cost efficient method. All you care about is taking things away from the light blue and giving them to other people, for some arbitrary reason that defies explanation.

How does that help defence? Why should a significant chunk of the armed forces been completely upheaved and moved around, providing zero additional operational benefit and zero cost benefit just because you don’t like light blue shirts.

It really bugs me. It’s beyond petty and goes into the realms of spiteful vindictiveness.

May 29, 2012 11:13 pm


It’s entirely reasonable for M to advocate that support helicopters go to the Army, their allocation to the RAF is owed more to a half century old budgeting problem than considered decisions. Forgetting the existence of RA crewed observation planes and the Glider Pilot Regiment is a little silly. It’s common sense that users are better able to decide what services they require than a third party, and support helicopters are hardly a priority for the RAF the way they are for the Army.

The existence of separate administrative chains of command within the RAF duplicates similar ones within the Army and RN. Removal of the former is unlikely to double costs.

The RM would probably be best off within the Army, and there’s a case for the Points and amphibs being similarly organised and funded. Air defence is unquestionably a largely RAF function, but that’s hardly enough to justify a whole separate service.

Ad hominem attacks by anyone don’t serve discussion. None of us know each other’s motivations and there is precious little point in speculating.

May 29, 2012 11:30 pm

B May 29, 2012 at 20:21

– I am not an RAF abolitionist but your challenge proved irresistible. I have kept my answers short and sweet but there is more where they came from.

“Question One; Why not amalgamate all the available sea lift such as responsibility for the Point Class, Albions and Bay’s into a command that is then given to the army? The RN would have absolutely no say or control of it what so ever. The Royal Marines would also be transferred to the army. After all, the army are the main users of this lift, are they not?”

– Your question is based on two flawed premises: First, Point Class apart, you have labelled floating weapons systems as ‘sea lift’ and tried to equate them with ‘air lift’ assets (presumably C-130s, C-17s, CH-47s, etc.). To the best of my knowledge, none of the RAF’s strategic or tactical ‘air lift’ assets deploy on prolonged, relatively autonomous operations and employ their own C4I, armament, combat personnel (RN & RM), aviation and boats for such tasks as MIOPS (Maritime Interdiction Operations), intelligence gathering, ASW, anti-piracy and anti-drug smuggling patrols, rendering humanitarian aid, providing disaster relief, NEOs, etc. Secondly, the Army is not the principal user of these vessels when they are performing most of their maritime functions. The Royal Marines are not called ‘sea soldiers’ for nothing.

“Question Two; Why not scrap the Royal Navy almost entirely and party out its kit to the other two services? The RAF would take control of the Carriers and any ships needed to protect them. They would also be responsible for all helicopter aviation at sea. The Army would take control of all sea lift assets and would be given some escorts as well to protect them. The Royal Navy would be reduced to operating the CASD and the submarine force, for which it wouldn’t need any senior organisation and instead could just report to the Joint Headquarters as providers of sub surface action. This would flatten their pyramid massively and save a fortune would it not?”

– Much of this is down to ethos. While plenty join the Royal Navy (and the Army) to fly, I’d suggest that few if any join the RAF to go to sea, much less leave their home bases for up to 10 months at a time every 18-24 months. The RAF is also unique in sending its officers into combat while just about everyone else stays ‘behind the wire’. The RN not only has an ‘all of one company’ concept but also treats its ships as integrated weapons systems of which the aircraft form one element. RN (and RFA) ships are not just floating airfields that wave their aircraft off then sit twiddling their thumbs until their return. With regard to ‘sea lift’ assets, see my answer to question one. Last but not least, I am amused if you believe it sensible (or indeed possible) to divorce sub-surface activity from surface and air activity in the maritime environment.

May 29, 2012 11:37 pm


Are you now or have you ever by any chance been a serving member of the RAF? I’m detecting quite a bit of anger in you’re defensive responses.

As Wf said we are here to discuss, if we can’t do that in an effective manner then what’s the point!

Yes exactly! People can advocate what they wish for the future, it’s totally open for discussion

What can’t be denied is that a lot of the budgetary allocations and structural framework can be argued to be anomalies, decisions made long ago that have questionable relevance to today.

Wanting to find a way of achieving some logic and clarity in a confused mess can be no bad thing!

May 30, 2012 2:28 am

@ Challenger

“Are you now or have you ever by any chance been a serving member of the RAF?”
— No.

The closest I would come to any connection to the RAF would be a Grandad who was a firefighter on one of the RAF bomber bases in WW2, not sure which one or whether he was even technically RAF or not, and an Auntie who is mad as two cuckoo clocks stuck together with crazy glue who once served in the WRAF. Other than that, nothing.

My issue is simple Challenger. I came here, to Think Defence, to talk about defence and try to find like minded individuals (and even some not like minded), to discuss the state of defence and perhaps to come up with solutions that maybe, if someone from a higher power in defence is watching, are taken on board.

I want to see what is best for the nation and frankly what is best for the men and women deployed on the front line, where death and serious injury are very real concepts that they live with daily, as opposed to being abstract concepts that we talk about here behind the comfort of our keyboards.

That may sound somewhat cheesy or hokey, but I don’t care. It is something which I believe in very passionately and maybe misguided, an idealist perhaps. I do not care what people think of this, because it is me, I am what I am and I think what I think, and I feel what I feel, so that is that and I do not care if people think it naive or optimistic or just down right laughable.

However, I did not come here to listen to people bashing one of the services and plotting its downfall on the simple premise that they don’t like it, or because they served in another service and are bitter because the RAF took all the shiny flying toys and they were left with the dull ones.

I have nothing but contempt for people that would advocate the destruction of a service that has a very good track record of doing what is needed of it on operations and providing the support that is part of its job description, just because people do not like the fact that RAF crews live on air bases or that they get shorter tours (with consequently shorter intervals).

If that is a problem for ex-serving members of the Navy then fine, they should not have joined the Navy. When I used to do 16 hour night shifts I did not complain to people about it because I was the one that agreed to do them in the first place.

So that is where I source my hostility from. Because there is no sound rational behind all these proposals for stripping away chunks of the RAF or completely disbanding it. Not one solid reason has been put forward. All I’ve seen and heard so far has been an incessant stream of ridiculous claims that have no basis in fact or reality, which only serve to demonstrate the profound lack of understanding on the part of those who make these comments, and which seem to be underwritten by a current of service bias that is only thinly veiled.

I fail to see why such irrational, petty, absurd, agenda driven arguments should be treated as anything remotely resembling a reasoned debate, when clearly they are driven by anything except a desire to find the truth and to help those in the service.

@ wf
“It’s common sense that users are better able to decide what services they require than a third party, and support helicopters are hardly a priority for the RAF the way they are for the Army”
— You’re right. It’s not like the RAF has requested, and been requesting for quite some time now, more transport helicopters from the MoD. Oh wait…

“Forgetting the existence of RA crewed observation planes and the Glider Pilot Regiment is a little silly”
— Maybe if glider planes and Observation planes bore any resemblence to the large transports, fighter planes and large ISTAR assets that are being advocated as being handed over to the Army, then you might have a point.

“The existence of separate administrative chains of command within the RAF duplicates similar ones within the Army and RN. Removal of the former is unlikely to double costs.”
— So the army and Navy have administrative chains dedicated to the through life management of C-17, C-130, Chinook, Tornado, Typhoon? No? Brimstone? Paveway? Aviation fuels? Air bases? I didn’t think so. Which means they will need ALL the same chains as the RAF does. Yes, even in the senior levels. You will need a Chief of the Naval Air Staff and a Chief of the Army Air Staff, along with all their relevant subordinates. In many cases you will end up with two streams – one army, one navy – to cover functions that the RAF currently does with one. You will save nothing and probably increase a number of the costs. This simplistic view that the RAF = a bunch of pilots and a few ground crew is misleading.

@ Dunservin’
— You should have left the bait if you knew what it was.

Regarding your reponse to question one, you’re quite right that those assets do other things, which is the point I was trying to make to Chris M that’s it’s not as simple as saying “well, Globemaster carries troops thus it should be managed by the army”. RAF lift assets do a number of roles, which include transporting personnel including Naval personnel. They also have roles to play in things like disaster relief, supporting the operation of Fast Jets, Search and Rescue (in the case fo the now former MPA) etc. And all the while that they’re doing this they are not solely supporting the army. You make my argument for me.

Your response to question two is precisely the response I was expecting. If I may quote you “Much of this is down to ethos”. So in other words, ethos is a legitimate argument when we’re talking about subsuming Naval assets, but not the other way around, because presumably the RAF has no ethos of its own or its ethos is irrelevant? How convenient.

While criticising RAF bods for not wanting to go to sea, you forget about the pilots that did just that in ’82 and performed very effectively in their new role. Now tell me how many of the armies Apache pilots who recently served in Libya off of a carrier signed up to go to sea? None I expect, but they just got on with the job at hand, as it seems current military types have an annoying tendency of doing, especially when that goes against the neat little propoganda paragraphs that often seem to find their way into the statements of senior serving officers when they give evidence to parliament. You over rate I think this concept about peoples willingness to go and do certain jobs.

As for this “… much less leave their [RAF] home bases for up to 10 months at a time every 18-24 months”.

First of all you’re right, the RAF don’t do 18-24 month tour intervals. I believe the current requirement is one every 16…

So you believe that RAF personnel sign up in order to sit around at home all day? I would say new recruits would have to be somewhat idiotic if they indeed believed that they would spend the next four to five years sitting around at Brize Norton with no requirement to move about or go abroad. I think you give them not nearly enough credit.

As for the 10 month tours that’s interesting, because an old friend of mine who has recently become one of the newest recruits into Her Majesty’s Navy should be landing on “those Islands” in the next day or so, and is spending two weeks with Dauntless, before jetting off to the Caribbean for about 2 and half months. This was described (he posted it on his Facebook wall no less) as being a, quote, “half tour”. Which would put a full tour at 6 months and would correlate with loose Naval mouths on other forums that the average Naval tour of duty (from