Why there will always be an Independent Air Force

There are a number of commentators, mostly Navy enthusiasts, but not all, who like to wax-lyrical about why the RAF should be subsumed into the other Services. Most of the debate I have seen is well intentioned, but ill-informed and often tainted by a severe bias and a sense of bitterness against the Air Force. Most of the discussion is tainted by a desire to secure fixed wing aviation for the RN as it is viewed as some kind of panacea. This is dangerous as it is a poor motive disguised as savings with a desire to improve the UK’s defence capacity.

A guest post from a new contributor, John.

There are a number of commentators, mostly Navy enthusiasts, but not all, who like to wax-lyrical about why the RAF should be subsumed into the other Services. Most of the debate I have seen is well intentioned, but ill-informed and often tainted by a severe bias and a sense of bitterness against the Air Force. Most of the discussion is tainted by a desire to secure fixed wing aviation for the RN as it is viewed as some kind of panacea. This is dangerous as it is a poor motive disguised as savings with a desire to improve the UK’s defence capacity.

I’ll start by looking at the ill-informed nature of some of the comments I see on social media and in blogs, as it strikes at their credibly when discussing air power and in a sense makes the case for personnel who have spent their entire professional life studying and developing air power to control the assets. Also some people seem to delight in stating factually incorrect things alongside any opportunity to have a go at the RAF, and its personnel, who are making huge sacrifices for the UK.

Misinformation and Sniping

One apparently informed commentator, tweeted a BBC Defence correspondent and claimed that the runway at KAF had been extended for the Tornado at huge cost to the UK. This is simply not true. Mirages were flying from KAF before the Tornado – the runway at KAF was not extended for Tornado.

Following the story about food quality at Akrotiri, some of the usual suspects jumped onto the bandwagon. Forgetting the Iranian IPod incident with the RN and the selling of the story to the Sun. First, this is disrespectful to servicemen and women – not banter from current servicemen, but from people claiming to be serious commentators on defence some of whom have not served a day in their life. Whatever these commentators think of the RAF, these guys are away from the families for months at a time regularly and having people have a go at them from their armchairs having never spent more than a couple of weeks away from home in leaves a bad taste.

Second, when food is being produced by contractors we all know that if you do not complain about standards then the private company gets away with it. Not a big deal really!

The Case For The Sea Harrier To Have Carried Out QRA

I have noticed people on social media suggest that the Sea Harrier should have been retained and taken on QRA from the F3 in order that it would continue to be available to the fleet. This is utter nonsense. It would in effect have meant the UK would have been protected by an interceptor that:

  1. Couldn’t intercept high level bombers over the North Sea.
  2. Didn’t have the range to reach bombers launching missiles over the North Sea.
  3. Couldn’t intercept supersonic bombers.
  4. Couldn’t reach London in time to intercept a hijacked airliner in accordance with requirements.
  5. Couldn’t support our obligations to our NATO allocated area.
  6. Didn’t have the fuel capacity to hold a CAP for the required time.
  7. It is also doubtful the Sea Harrier fleet could have spared the minimum 8 aircraft it would have required.

So the idea from the Navy enthusiasts was to keep an aircraft at the expense of the defence of the UK homeland (the reason the RAF was formed in the first place… more later) in order to provide air cover for the fleet. Lets look at that:

  1. There has been no time since then that the fleet has required organic air cover. Not in 2003 against Iraq or at all.
  2. The prospect of deploying without US air cover was highly unlikely.

With Argentina currently, and for some time to come, incapable of challenging the Falklands Air Superiority assured by Typhoon, we would have degraded home defence to protect a fleet that, at that time, did not need protecting.

I am not, by the way, saying it will not require air defence in the future and I am very supportive of the new carriers and their future usefulness to the UK.

In summary, it is astonishing that it has been suggested that we should have retained the Sea Harrier for QRA when it would compromise UK air defence in order to protect carriers that did not actually need protecting at anytime over that period. It reminds me of why the RAF was formed in 1918 and why the protection of London was removed from the RN in the first place. Misplaced priorities indeed. The first and most important task of the military is to protect the homeland and our people. Put simply there was nil chance of this happening; the British people would have been significantly less secure and we would have compromised our NATO allies in a very serious way. This really is cloud cuckoo stuff which shows a lack of understanding of the UK air defence system, safe response times, capability and wider NATO responsibilities.  It is also another favourite of the RN websites.

‘The USAF Only Lost The A in 47’

By the end of WW2 it has to be acknowledged that air power had provided the conditions for the allied forces to win in Europe. It is often stated that all this was achieved with the US having its air power controlled by the Army. Only a small amount of research would show that the USAAF was, in reality, independent for most of the war with a service chief on a level with the Army and Navy who attended all of the combined international conferences.

“In practice, the Army Air Forces became virtually independent of the Army during World War II, but its leaders wanted formal independence. Over the continuing objections of the Navy, the United States Department of the Air Force was created in 1947. On 16 September 1947, the Army Air Forces became the United States Air Force as a separate and equal element of the United States armed forces. Once the new Air Force was free of any army domination, its first job was to discard the old and inadequate ground army organisational structure. This was the “Base Plan” where the combat group commander reported to the base commander, who was often regular army, with no air power experience.” (Wikipedia).

The Tornado Harrier Argument

The case for Tornado was always far more credible than Harrier. The Tornado force of some 140 airframes had been in service for 30 years, although as with Harrier, the fleet had been significantly upgraded. The aircraft were to remain in service until 2024 (at the time) providing the UK with a longer term strike capability than Harrier, which was due to go in about 2016-2018.

The fleet was cleared to carry a much wider range of munitions than the Harrier force, including ALARM (at the time), Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles. The funding for the Harrier to carry such missiles (even if it could) had never been approved, meaning that it had a theoretical capability only.

The RN over the last 14 years could have made sacrifices to find the funding – under older arrangements it could have put forward plans to sacrifice other capabilities directly to fund the Harrier. It chose not to do so, preferring instead to try to find savings through joint work. In other words air power was not a priority.

Again, it is telling that the RN has chosen to put other capabilities ahead of funding the Fleet Air Arm. No matter how often people may cry foul about the RAF, the fact the RN was unwilling, or unable to find the money should not be forgotten either, ships will always come first.

The only difference following SDSR for the RN carrier fleet was losing ARK ROYAL early. The RN was always planned to be a single carrier fleet by 2012. OCEAN was due a two year refit in the period 2012-2014. So even if SDSR had kept Harrier, the UK carrier in service, most likely ARK ROYAL would probably have been required to re-role into an LPH to cover for OCEAN. In other words, if SDSR had kept Harrier, the RN would still not have a fixed wing carrier capability. It would instead be focused on delivering an LPH capability which has been shown by recent operations to be of more value to the UK than a carrier.

Navy lobbyists often write to Defence Committees claiming that Harrier could have been used in Libya if it had not been withdrawn from service in 2010. The 1st Sea Lord made it very clear to Parliament (on the record) that if Harrier had been kept (not withstanding its limited capability compared with Tornado) it would not have been able to deploy on ELLEMY. It simply could not support 2 Operations at the same time and would have been committed to HERRICK. However, the Tornado has capabilities the US and NATO value highly, and RAF tankers and ISTAR are always very welcome, and strategic air transport is a capability the French are very jealous of.  Harrier could never have been deployed to Libya even if kept and the RN only had 6 pilots qualified to fly at sea in 2010. Even without previous reductions the Harrier could not have mounted 2 operations at a time.

The very limited usefulness of the UK (at the time) small carriers when compared to Tornado should be understood. The International Fleet review recently claimed that if the UK had kept the Harrier then the RN could have mounted Libya alone without replying RAF personnel- not possible as I have just shown. What about no-fly zones? And all the other assets I have listed? Really? It is this sort of stuff that undermines the credibility of the Navy lobby with those in power.

Tornado Strikes Direct from Marham and OP ELLEMY

“CDS, I’d like to hit targets in Libya tonight”. “Sorry Prime Minister, we’ll have to wait a week or more as the carrier (which has no aircraft on it) sails round and we move weapons and personnel to Italy.”

Or, “yes PM, we will use Storm Shadow and be hitting precise targets within hours of your order”.

There were, of course, other good reasons to continue this form of attack on occasion.

The flexibility of air power was exemplified by a Tornado squadron. It returned from exercise in the USA on 14 March. UNSCR 1973 was issued on 17 March while the squadron prepared for operations from 16th to 18th. The first Storm Shadow mission was flown on 19 March and such sorties continued to the 28th while the first GR4s deployed on 21 March. In total, Storm Shadows were launched against over 60 targets. The Storm Shadow missions included one which was aborted minutes before weapon release owing to collateral concerns. This showed the superb situational awareness that existed.

The UK contribution of ISR contribution to Libya was significant:

  • The E-3D Sentry provided airspace control and co-ordination.
  • Sentinel offered wide area surveillance while its GMTI radar allowed the detection and tracking of multiple vehicles; the RN Sea King also provided GMTI                 capability.
  • Tornado proved its multi-role credentials through the use of the RAPTOR reconnaissance pod. Even target designator pods such as the GR4’s and                              Typhoon’s LITENING III offered useful images though the addition of a data-link to permit real-time sharing.
  • In specialist personnel, the UK provided staff to the CAOC and the assessment teams of the ISR Division18.
  • The RAF’s Tactical Imagery Wing was central to the analysis of ISR products.
  • The Nimrod R1 signal intelligence gathering platform was also involved.

Deep operations (many RN commentators who feel deep strike is not required should remember that deep strike capability also provides deep reconnaissance capability) were flown by Tornados against targets such as ammo dumps and C2 in the south of the country. A regime C2 target at Sebha was listed for attack to be hit within 5 hours by 16 bombs which were to strike within a 10 second window. It is a tribute to the abilities of all involved that this task was achieved. Great distinction was demonstrated with attacks against snipers. Precision weapons with well understood radius of effect were used to neutralise snipers with minimal damage to the building and causing no other casualties.

It was also notable that both Tornado and Typhoon went through the campaign without any urgent operational requirement raised; they were able to cope with a demanding operation using the systems and weapons already provisioned.

In seven months of 24/7 operations, Tornados flew 8,000 hrs and released 1,200 weapons. The PWIV fuze delay could be set in cockpit allowing optimum engagement of targets of opportunity. In short, it was a highly flexible and effective weapon system. During March over Benghazi, the GR4s faced dynamic targeting, ie reacting to fleeting chances in a fast changing situation.

The financial crisis was the greatest threat to the UK at the time. Yet the UK was able to support and then redeploy a force of over 10,000 personnel and equipment over that period from a land locked country – the biggest such operation since WW2. At the same time taking part in operations over Libya, Iraq, several in Africa and maintaining UK homeland defence and the South Atlantic.  On top of the UK military supported the civil powers on fuel and fire strikes and flooding. I am hopeful that investment will follow over the coming years and the UK is now in a much stronger position than most of Europe economically.

Why An Independent Air Force Is Vital To UK National Interests

Firstly, why the Royal Air Force was born of the RFC and RNAS. The merger was decided by statesmen, industrialists, generals and admirals, with no air marshal yet available to assist their deliberations. It was based on common sense and evidence.

It came about because the Germans identified that aircraft had a utility beyond control of the airspace over the battlefield – that it could be used to strike directly at the heartland of an enemy. With attacks on British mainland targets in 1917, the Germans were the first to exploit this new warfare. These attacks provoked an outcry that gave the impetus to the formation of an independent air force. This outcry was the primary consequence of the inability of the RFC and RNAS to co-ordinate their operations in order to provide effective air defence of London and the UK. But there were other reasons too, particularly the need to resolve disputes between the army and the navy over the supply of aircraft and engines for two competing air arms.

John Slessor was an early apostle of jointery and he made the very pertinent point that had the RAF not been created in 1918, it is a fair bet that the RFC, in the years between the wars, would have suffered the fate of the tank corps – and then what would have happened to Britain in 1940?

Largely due to the foresight, vision and determination of such men as Trenchard, the RAF was adequately prepared to fight and win the battle that saved the West in the summer of 1940.

It is safe to state that when most operations are considered air power will usually be the primary instrument of initial reaction and it demands less human and material commitment to achieve political objectives while involving fewer political risks.

The RAF is in the business of winning battles, and to do that you need people to do difficult and dangerous things; things that test not only the quality of their inner steel but also their loyalty and commitment to their fighting unit whether it be ship, regiment or squadron. The motivational and other reasons that persuade people to put their lives on the line are complex, but ethos and ‘tribal’ identity are certainly vital factors. And because of our history and the way we are organised, our ethos and identities in the British military are based on the single services. The Services therefore have to operate jointly where it makes operational sense in terms of military effectiveness and efficiency, while maintaining a clear sense of belonging and loyalty to the parent service.

When flying machines are regarded and employed as airborne tanks, the case for their being owned by the Army would appear to make itself. The trouble is that the mind-set of the land commander is apt to be locked unduly into the task rather than the flying. This matters. As noted before, air power in its several forms and its maturing competencies has proven itself to be militarily and strategically so desirable that all sides want some of it for themselves.

It is all too easy to poke fun at sea-ignorant generals and land-innocent admirals, but what history shows is that military competence in one geographical environment is no guarantee of a like mastery of warfare in another.

There is both a distinctive nature to the preparation for and conduct of warfare in the air and a unique strategic perspective derived from an aerial focus.  Air power can be and sometimes needs to be flying firepower, ambulances, and trucks functioning as an integral component in the land power combined-arms team. That said, in addition and often even instead, there can be a principally air-oriented character to warfare as a whole, as well as specifically in its aerial tactical and operational detail, that history has shown soldiers and sailors do not identify or grasp fully. Broad national security problems, as well as particular challenges, need to be addressed by defence professionals educated in the nature of airpower and its contemporary character at all levels. Air power as land power and airpower as sea power are not adequate as intellectual centres of gravity for determining how best to develop and employ airpower.

Air forces are different from armies in almost all respects save for their ultimate purpose in war. Armed forces necessarily specialised for each geographical domain do different things differently. It is not impossible, but it is improbable, that a lifetime of professional focus upon warfare on land or at sea will prepare a person as competently to understand how air power can be employed most effectively as would a lifelong commitment to air power. It is essential for the aerial dimension to be considered by the people and organisation who by education, training, and experience understand it best.  Air power is the key advantage the West has over the rest – why dilute it?

Support Helicopters

This is an area were some legitimate debate is worthwhile. The French navy has relatively few helicopters; the army has to manage these and this approach is not a great success compared to the British experience, where we are now regularly taking RAF helicopters and crews to sea. It was a good thing that the RAF ‘owned’ the helicopters in the first place because of the engineering back-up which the Army lacked at the time. Since then JHC has been formed and performed with distinction in Afghanistan. Anyone who witnessed the RAF Chinooks working with the RAF Regt and RAF Medics to evacuate casualties from the battlefield before linking into the RAF casualty strategic evacuation system to the UK could not help but see the UK military at its best. No one, least of all the solider on the receiving end has any complaints.


Some historical examples of why an independent air force matters:

Europe 1940

The decision to not send more fighters to France in 1940 was made by the RAF despite the Army and Churchill demanding more be sent. If they had been, Fighter Command would have squandered it’s strength before the German effort to win air superiority over the UK and Channel. This could have resulted in history taking a very different turn, as without air superiority over the Channel the RN would have suffered very high loses trying to prevent an invasion, even if they could. If the Army had controlled air power, the aircraft would have been sent.

North Africa

Close air support in North Africa showed that separate command and flexibility of air power is vital.  At the beginning of the North African campaign air power was used to support the army on the battle field and controlled from Army HQ. However, it was discovered that, while this was useful, having a separate and independent air HQ ensured that air power could be used most flexibly and effectively. So while the army may prioritise CAS to destroy some enemy tanks, the air HQ could redirect assets to attack fuel dumps many miles behind the forward edge of the battlefield thereby stopping an entire enemy advance across the whole theatre.  This centralisation of air power was crucial to winning in North Africa and is held as an example of CAS and interdiction. Air power is a theatre and global weapon and should not be confined to the immediate battle space – history has shown that this invariably happens when it is controlled by generals. This is why the Combined Air Operations Centre for the Iraq and Afghan operations is a separate Air Component Command and holds air assets centrally, other than a few tactical assets. This includes US Navy aircraft. It should be noted that for all the talk of carrier air, the USAF has conducted 3/4 of all raids on ISIS.


All aspects of air warfare contributed to the success of General Eisenhower’s armies on D-Day. The Luftwaffe that could have rendered impracticable the landings and subsequent exploitation out of a beachhead had already been defeated in the skies over the Reich itself. What remained of the Luftwaffe’s fighter assets was committed near exclusively to the continuing, losing battle to defend Germany from air assault. That bomber offensive that destroyed German air power was vital to winning the war despite what anti-air power advocates say now.

UK Air Defence

Ask the RN and Army 10 years ago and they would have not prioritised UK air defence as there ‘were no threats and no need to fight MiGs’. Recent events have made a mockery of that with the huge increase in Russian air activity over and around NATO AORs. An independent service is required to make the case for investment in the full spectrum of air power.  Would the RN have developed the Nimrod into the superb multi role platform she became? Doubtful, they would have focused on their priority, maritime patrol. I expect we will have a new MPA soon and the RAF were not behind behind the capability loss in the first place.


Air power is the advantage the West has had over the rest since the end of WW2 – we take that for granted at our peril… It is why we win conventional wars with minimal casualties.

Ships are not simply tools to move the army, which is why the army does not control the navy, the sea must be controlled and used for its own purpose as well – navy personnel understand this. The air covers both land and sea and is not geographically restrained.

An examination of a hundred years of air historical records clearly shows that the multirole strategic utility of air power cannot sensibly be challenged, but that understanding it is extremely complex. With air power now ubiquitous and indispensable, any conceptualising of warfare without absolute regard to air power is bound to disappoint; air professionals should be more confident in their hard-earned success. Joint warfare depends on and demands the geophysical parochialism that the single Services brings; the leadership challenge is for a unified and strategic grasp and grip upon the joint but separate tools in the military toolbox.

With aircraft now multi-role, would you give land based strike aircraft to the RN or Army bearing in mind they are also likely to be air superiority fighters? The same problem would arise. Would we have CAS assets operated by the RN in a land based campaign like HERRICK? The same question arrises, why would the RN understand the Army CAS requirement better than the Army? Surely the Army would argue that they should control CAS aircraft as ‘they best understand the use of air power in the ground environment’. We do not have enough aircraft for the Army and RN to have their own organic CAS and ISTAR assets. The Army has no desire to take on strategic air and no experience in running complicated airfields. Why create 2 competing air arms who will have to argue for funding with each other?

The truth is, air power crosses all boundaries. If you merged the RAF the savings would be minimal but the loses in intellectual capital immense and it would reduce the UK’s standing in the world. Furthermore, it would likely end in the merge of all 3 services into a defence force as, once the box is open, it will not be closed and politicians will ask, why do we have any independent services at all? So the death warrant of the other single services would be signed by their own biggest fans. The truth is that this is an old hobby horse of the (primary) navy lobby that will either continue to be ignored by those that count or done for small savings rather than operational effectiveness (the US will never do it) and result in the end of the other 2 services simply to spite the RAF. Some commentators often use the USMC as an example to follow – they should remember that they don’t have any strategic capability and rely on the USN and USAF for many capabilities. If we head in their direction we reduce capability and become, in the end, a single defence service.

Finally, No serous military nation has dispensed with the air force as an independent service. That is because serious minds, not amateurs, decide these things based on evidence at the highest levels of government all across the world.





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shark bait
shark bait
January 4, 2015 4:06 pm

I believe equipment should be procured and owned by the user. Adding another party increases complexity (cost) and causes comprises (shitness). However an independent airforce is still very important. I would propose a different model for discussion, around a smaller RAF and larger auxiliary fleet.

The RAF just operates fighters and bombers.(Typhoon)

The navy picks up F35 and MPA

Army takes ISTAR and Chinook

And the royal auxiliary takes transport aircraft and air to air refueling. They already provide ship to ship refueling, and land marines, so the structure could be extended to air to air refueling and dropping paratroopers.

January 4, 2015 4:17 pm

Would have to agree with the article. Nice to see a new commentator.

January 4, 2015 4:27 pm

‘And the royal auxiliary takes transport aircraft and air to air refueling’

You mean the RFA?

January 4, 2015 4:35 pm

I agree largely with shark bait, though I think the army receiving all ISTAR would be unfeasible.

We need an RAF, but one which no longer has control of assets which are primarily RN or Army specific: F-35B, MPA and Chinook, Puma.

The RAF should be resigned to ISTAR, Voyager, C-17 and A400M in support of the Army, with Typhoon and Sentry being the RAF’s strike and QRA.

This would be the perfect situation, whereby the RAF has no power over how or when the RN or Army gets to use their equipment. Of course, the AAC and FAA would need to be expanded, but the downsizing of the RAF would pay for this.

January 4, 2015 4:44 pm

“The Luftwaffe that could have rendered impracticable the landings and subsequent exploitation out of a beachhead had already been defeated in the skies over the Reich itself.”

Incorrect. The Luftwaffe deployed hundreds of fighters to France in June 1944 and still had the fuel and skilled pilots to employ them. The German emergency effort of disinvesting in bombers in favour of fighters did not take away the ability to strike yet.

They were ineffective because the bombing of the French railway network and airfields in France threw the deployment into chaos AND 6,000+ tactical allied aircraft were an overwhelming numerical superiority.

The true defeat of the Luftwaffe over German skies only happened over the May-September 1944 time frame, after which pilots with much-shortened training arrived in fighter groups which had plenty top notch fighters, but hardly any fuel.

January 4, 2015 4:44 pm

“such men as Trenchard, the RAF was adequately prepared to fight and win the battle that saved the West in the summer of 1940”
Not just the west , if the Luftwaffe had destroyed the RAF Fighter groups the North Africa campaign would have been a different story and in 1941 ( assuming the relatively unopposed Luftwaffe bomber fleet continue to attack RAF Fighter bases and aircraft production facilities) the invasion of the East could of had much more fighter bomber support.

January 4, 2015 4:46 pm

The problem with giving all the F35s to the FAA is that they will not always be used from a carrier and will replace the Tornado on many ops. The FAA has no experience of these types of ops. They will often by our first day of the war deep strike platforms operating from land bases. Ideal would be for the RN to have a couple of squadrons of B and the RAF to have a mix of B and A for conventional ops or to surge to carrier with B. Unfortunately we will not be buying A at this stage and there will not be enough Bs. This may change in the future.

January 4, 2015 4:49 pm

Finally, a commentator who gets it! Superb article, thank you.

Would be fascinated to hear your views on a) future integration of RAF assets into carrier air wings, and increasing interoperability, and b) why the RAF rejected WATCHKEEPER and attitude in general towards RPAS. Some things I hear through service channels seem to be hindering what I would view as the necessary way forwards to assure closer integration in these areas. But thanks again, great read.

Rocket Banana
January 4, 2015 4:56 pm

Although I agree with the general gist of this post I do think it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

Army controlled CAS makes a great deal of sense to me, as does Army controlled utility/lift.

Navy controlled air defence and strike also makes a great deal of sense to me when there is no nearby land base, especially if you consider how different living and flying (esp. CTOL) from a ship really is.

If, however, there is a land-based air strip then certainly, yes, get the air force there ASAP because it’s way, way, way more efficient in just about every respect. This is the fundamental reason why there will be an independent air force, because when it comes to defence it is easily the most effective, I’m just not so sure about offensive action.

The ability to “touch” the enemy very, very quickly with very long-range Tornado/Typhoon sorties only works for a limited time. Being able to forward position your assets becomes not only more efficient, but almost essential in any more contested campaign. I think the Black Buck raids demonstrate this completely, as do the 3000 mile Libya sorties. Utterly, utterly, unsustainable.

This is why (and I know many here – maybe all – do not agree) I think the RAF should concentrate on British Isles and Overseas Territories, air and maritime defence, rather than waste tax-payer’s money on upgrading Typhoon to a half-cocked expeditionary strike aircraft. Oddly, this puts MPA into the RAF’s remit.

January 4, 2015 5:00 pm

SO, I disagree. This is a good study and worth a read: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/AAF-Luftwaffe/AAF-Luftwaffe-7.html

January 4, 2015 5:13 pm

I am not ‘a serious commentator’ so i’ll have a go at replying….

Firstly I am not a Navy type and have no ax to grind on that score.

Also I too disliked the sniping about the RAF wearing ties in the combat zone, and its supposed 5 star hotel addiction, is more a reflection on the poor service conditions of our other 2 services.

I don’t accept military history as a a perfect guide to what we should do “in the future. It is the best place to start… But not in itself a crushing argument. There is also a clear difference between it being used as guidence for the wise; and it being used to encorage the obedience of fools.

So to start with the “we did it this way in 1918 because” and we should carry on doing it this way should always be subject to review using modern conditions both financial and millitary.

For example we dont have a strategic bomber force any more because:-

1. It was a failure in World War 2
2. It was rapidly made redundant afterwards by various developments in Air defence.
3. We could not afford it.
4. In continued to fail after WW2.

One of the main factors in the formation of the RAF and one of the area in which it ‘led the world’ in between the wars, has gone.

As to whether the RNAS and RAC would have let the airdefence of the UK suffer in between the wars? That is speculative. I will say that I think you are probably right to some degree, but it remains a ‘what if’.

Your other historical points I do take exception too. The performance of the desert airforce in support of advancing british troops was criticised at the time and soon after by people in a position to know. As for D Day, Harris had to famously be brought to heal to get his heavies to support the landings. The airforcechad and indeed still has its own fair share of service centred egos.

But enough of history…

You main arguement makes the (classic) Mistakes of confusing kit with doctrine and, and kit with the people using it.

(BTW the Air Defence Version. Of the Tornado was a flying peice of crap from the day it left the factory to the day it left the service, I used to get drunk with it’s pilots who were openly dismissive of it for doing anything else than catching bears, blue circle radar and all. Rumors persist only semi political intervention prevented it being ordered out of theatre on gulf 1).

Any sensible split of the RAF gives Transport (including choppers) to the AAC, and fighters and bombers,(and navy helcopters) to the RN. If you hav not heard criticsm of the RAF helicoper force from Army personnel, then you aint been talking to army personnel…

That means the RN running Typoons and F35.and all the support and recon that goes with them. You seem obsessed with the Harrier vs Tornado arguments- they are history Harrier has gone and Tornado is going, so I dont quite see what your point is.

This is all about jobs being done rather than who does them. I do not accept your point that a Typhoon pilot in Dark blue or his maintence crew are going to be less proffesional than if they wear light blue.

I know TD and I do not agree about this. We curently opperate 2 tiny and 1 small airforce. The 1 small one spends most of its time supporting the opperators of the other 2 tiny ones, and only does QRA on its own. (isnt T45 going to be intigrated into UK air defence soon)?

In his posts TD argues we should merge them into one. I disagree I think we should give airpower to the forces that us it, and split the RAF into the other 2.

Your point about the air defence of the capital in WW1 only stands because there were 2 forces trying to do it ‘their way’.

If air defence of the UK becomes a navy job there is no cause for conflict.

January 4, 2015 5:14 pm

CAS full stop makes no sense to me in this day and age. If anything the argument for the Navy or Army to subsume the RAF is weaker than ever.

January 4, 2015 5:18 pm

Also you seem to assume thta the RN would be unable to fly from a land base, forward or otherwise?

January 4, 2015 5:24 pm

@ Simon

‘Army controlled CAS makes a great deal of sense to me’

When the F35 comes into service and does CAS (which it will) should it then move to the Army?

January 4, 2015 5:28 pm

Should £100 million planes be dropping small warheads at great risk when we can fire a GMLRS rocket nowadays or fire from a drone?

January 4, 2015 5:30 pm

If they are needed to yes. The other two won’t always be an option.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 4, 2015 5:37 pm

The Kevins shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the Army or Navy until they can speak properly and don’t insist on wearing manmade fibres. That is as Joint as I can be.


January 4, 2015 5:37 pm

Nicely written, most of the history bits in articles here don’t go any further back than Vietnam.

Wonder about the Ark Royal bit. There was Lusty, the choice was going to be between it and the Ocean, to be THE LPH. You had to keep both, tohaveone available. So keeping Ark would have given a fixed-wing platform.

I think IXION’s Tornados in the Gulf reference is about their transponders not being compatible with the Americans… A lot of tarmac time followed.

Jointness can mean RAF in the cockpit and RN in the operators’ cabin? So mixing up people and kit,the comment made has some justification?

January 4, 2015 5:38 pm

Oh dear, TD, what have you let John do!?!1!

I see, a bit cheeky having the TD questionnaire before ya post this to avoid more accusations of Air bias and for being anti RN!


I jest of course.
Interesting and better counter than other blogs have done.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
January 4, 2015 5:41 pm

This is a nitpick, but the bit asking whether the Navy would have developed Nimrod into the great multi-role platform it ultimately became. I confess I don’t understand where that came from. The Nimrod did pretty much what MPAs owned by navies in other countries do. I’m not getting what capability would not have emerged had they been owned by the RN. If you mean bolting on WESCAM turret, I’m sure that’s something that the RN would have liked on the aircraft anyway, similar systems had been present on MPAs owned by navies worldwide for over a decade and it subsequently proved highly useful in a maritime role. You may be referring to classified, land specific ESM systems etc. If so would those not have also been funded via UOR for use in recent ops even had the aircraft been owned by the RN. Note that the USN P-8 will have the capability to carry SLAM-ER-ATA and L/JDAM, has an integrated laser designator, and a >22,000lb weapon load with every stores station digitally integrated. The USN thus is now well on the way to possessing a large proportio of the USA’s already impressive strategic bombing capability.

As for no major military nation having dispensed with a separate air force, Canada did (athough I believe it was recently reinstated). However some major military nations never went down the separate air force route. The Chinese divide air power between Army and Navy – was air power not divided up the same way in the former Soviet Union? Israel seems to have been pretty successful without a separate Army, Navy and Air Force.

I haven’t done the math, but I think Ellamy used up something like 15% of our remaining Stormshadow stockpile with our remaining holding around the 500 mark. That’s still a pretty impressive number, but I would still like to see us make our stocks back up, preferably with a more tactically flexible datalinked version.

January 4, 2015 5:42 pm

A largely pointless post about a largely pointless topic.

This argument has been settled, such is jointery at both senior leadership and operational levels that the RAF is in large part little more than an administrative/management agency. Grand arguments about strategic airpower have not been relevant since the RN took over the deterrent and the RAF is now little more than a tactical air force that seems to work rather well with the Army and Navy.

Unfortunately, whilst this post is also pointless it also littered with half-truths, inaccuracies and distortions (especially on the historical front) that suggest the author does not fully understand his subject.

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 4, 2015 5:43 pm

Yet another item of inter service sniping that just benefits the Treasury & the politicians who want to make defence cuts.

The UK military does not have enough aircraft. That is the main point. Who owns them is secondary. If they are not there in the first place, it is a pointless debate.

I am one of the few on this site who defends the RAF Regiment, who advocates the RAF getting a few strategic bombers, who is appalled the Battle of Britain memorial chapel may be boarded up to save £50K a year, yet I am hugely annoyed by the RAF constantly undermining the FAA.

There were around 50 Sea Harrier FA2, 16 of which were mid 90s new builds. It would have made sense to keep the new 16 in service & use the others for spares. Yes, they could have done QRA for the West & South of the country out of Yeovilton (a gap at the moment), but I don’t think many/any expected them to replace Tornado/Typhoon in Scotland. That is a false/twisted premise.

Likewise the Harrier GR9, 16 of those should have been kept for a single FAA Sqn, with the others used as spares. So a grand total of 32 FAA fast jets. Hardly huge. No reason to scrap the RAF Tornado GR4 as a result.

After May, whoever is in government will face tough choices. The deficit needs to be cut. Defence is not a vote winner, but the world is unstable with conflicts lighting up. The public will not re elect a government that leads them into a humiliating military defeat caused by underfunded/under-equipped UK Forces.

The old biblical phrase “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s & unto God what is God’s” applies here.

So light helicopters, attack helicopters, light turboprops, small UAV to the AAC.

200 FJ for the RAF, a combination of Typhoon, F-35 A or E, or perhaps LRS-B. Plus strategic transport (C-17, A400M,A330), large helicopters (Chinook), ISTAR/AEW & the VIP.

Perhaps a serious SAM such as THAAD/MEADS/SAMP-T, also RAF.

Then the RAF should back off & let the FAA have ALL the F-35B for the 2 carriers, plus the rest of the carrier airgroup (Merlins/Wildcat & perhaps V-22/CH-53K). Any future MPA should also go to the FAA, as I do not trust the RAF with it.

January 4, 2015 5:50 pm

Charming Hohum. We await your own original contribution in lieu of the usual critiques…

January 4, 2015 5:51 pm

@ Chris web

‘The Chinese divide air power between Army and Navy – was air power not divided up the same way in the former Soviet Union?’

They both have air forces, the SU had another arm just for air defence.

January 4, 2015 5:52 pm


I Was being polite about it.

As for its all being settled, most of the posts on here, (mine included), are pointlees.

The various chiefs of staff do not trawl this site for ideas.

Rocket Banana
January 4, 2015 6:00 pm


Apache and Wildcat will be British Army controlled.

F35 should be Navy controlled over the heads of an integrated naval ground force, possibly called the Royal Marines ;-)

Predator (et al) can also provide CAS and if GMLRS can offer the same armor killing or infantry stopping capability then great, no need for the current painting of what CAS is.

January 4, 2015 6:09 pm


With the army being larger (in this country and others) CAS will be used by them the most, so surely the army should have control of all assests capable of CAS? If they are the main user, no reason not to?

Rocket Banana
January 4, 2015 6:17 pm


Ahh, Devils Advocate… just because F35 is capable of CAS doesn’t mean that will be its main role.

If they were to choose a CAS platform would they choose F35?

…or would they stick with Apache, or buy Warthog or Bronco?

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 4, 2015 6:35 pm


What you want from CAS is a reliable supply of a lot of explosive/shells, on cue. That is not what you get with current UAVs, which are limited in the ordnance they can carry and slow to retask from A to B.

So design a UABombtruck, or let the role be done by other air systems.

No one has yet mentioned the FSCL. That is where control of the air changes. It has been a very useful concept, workable (and understandable) to both light blue and green.

January 4, 2015 6:35 pm

I know it might not, but it’s sometimes interesting to see why/where people draw the line when this subject comes up.

January 4, 2015 6:52 pm

The F-35 will be used for CAS just not in the conventional sense. I think it will on occasion dispense ordinance on ground targets but primarily will use its sensor suite and LO to operate at medium/high altitudes as an AWACS but over the FEBA or even over enemy territory. It will instruct itself/pass on the recommendation that other FJ/drones drop their ordinance or instruct artillery onto target as appropriate. It could operate in the role of a F-117 in some theatres both dropping ordinance and collecting Intel but unless a very high value target I think otherwise. The FAA/RAF F-35B’s when away from friendly airbases which can supply said FJ/drones will have to do the job themselves until a suitable Naval bomb truck drone is devised. It is not an air superiority fighter but it can look after itself at a push with decent AAM .
EDIT The operation of the bulk of fixed wing aircraft should be in specialist hands not spread piecemeal across the other services. The FAA should operate their own helis and FJ and MPA.

January 4, 2015 6:55 pm

“As for no major military nation having dispensed with a separate air force, Canada did (athough I believe it was recently reinstated)”

Canada actually transformed all branches into one Combined armed force.

dave haine
dave haine
January 4, 2015 7:07 pm

Actually the USSR, effectively had three…

Frontal Aviation- The Air Arm responsible for air operations in support of offensive ground operations, including air defence of those formations.

PVO- Strany- Responsible for Air Defence of the homeland, including ground based air defences (i.e. AAA & Missile batteries)


Strategic Aviation- Strategic Bombing and Recce, including ICBM etc.

All with separate chains of command.

But of course, the USSR always divided its forces by responsibilities, rather than environments.

January 4, 2015 7:09 pm

good read, thanks. reading this:

“”I have noticed people on social media suggest that the Sea Harrier should have been retained and taken on QRA from the F3 in order that it would continue to be available to the fleet.””

i agree its absurd, but did anyone with any credibility even suggest this? i don’t recall ever hearing that suggestion made…

The Other Chris
January 4, 2015 7:14 pm

Is the absolute delineation provided by FSCL becoming more blurred as CAS moves towards BAI or is it flexible enough to accommodate the depth of the battlefield and related roles?

Paul Fisher
Paul Fisher
January 4, 2015 7:27 pm

Interesting, exhaustive article which is a very skewed perspective of 21st century integrated war fighting! There is just not enough space here to drive the coach and horses. So just one or two thoughts. If the RAF is responsible for UK Air Defence, what items in the inventory will be used to counter a missile attack on our mainland? The first such attack was in the closing stages of WW2 (V2) – 70 years ago and not much has changed – a resounding silence! What are the UK’s national interests and what is the threat to them and how does the RAF mitigate these risks? No SEAD, no LRMPA, no operational 5th generation fighter and the list goes on and on…. The real question is just what is the role of the independent air force and why does it cost over £7,000,000,000 per year to achieve so little? How many aircraft has the RAF shot down since the end of WW2? The list goes on and on and on. Totally unaffordable. Abolish the RAF!, save money and get better funded air defence!

Rocket Banana
January 4, 2015 7:48 pm


So you subscribe to the USA’s stance on CAS bombers with on-call precision munitions?

I’m just not so sure that will work in a higher threat environment. It will also cost a fair chunk. I still think that a Predator drone (or similar) is a useful surveillance asset and can be used for anti-armor and some level of strike. This can be supplemented by GMLRS, guided artillery and things like Spear3 from F35.

I do however think that it’s a chicken and egg problem. We have two competing groups:

1. The British Army with Royal Air Force air power.
2. The Royal Marines with Fleet Air Arm air power.

Only one of these is a cohesive force. The other one, however, is the backbone of our defensive capability.

January 4, 2015 7:50 pm


You suggest that the RAF spends most if it’s time supporting the other 2 services. Below is a short lost of ops that the RAF have conducted since 1992 that have been solely air to predominantly air led and not the British Army or RN.

Air defence of Uk and Falklands.

Operation RESONATE (S). Policing no fly zones over Southern Iraq. Over 10 yrs.

Operation RESONATE (N). Policing no fly zones over Northern Iraq. Over 10 yrs.

Operation BARWOOD in which the RAF delivered over 32,000 tons of supplies to earthquake region in Mozambique.

Operation DEFERENCE was the RAF with mission to evacuate British nationals from Libya.

Operation ELLAMY. RAF Tornado and Typhoon aircraft conduct airstrikes in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 over Libya.

Operation NEWCOMBE was Britain’s response to the French-led intervention into another desert war of unknown duration.

Op LUMINOUS. No 1 Air Control Centre and Typhoons deployed to protect Cyprus.

A Sentinel aircraft deployed from the UK in support of French military operations in Mali.

RAF Tornado GR.4 combat aircraft deployed to West Africa to join multinational operations against the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.

Operation SHADER is the code name given to the British participation in the ongoing 2014 military intervention against ISIL. The operation began on 9 August 2014 as a humanitarian intervention, involving multiple aid drops and the airlifting of displaced refugees in Northern Iraq. As the crisis escalated, the Royal Air Force deployed Tornado GR4 strike aircraft and a Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft to provide aerial reconnaissance.

Haven’t time to go into your other points right now. I suggest you read your history again and have just spent 6 months in afghan with the Army I can promise you the support helicopter did a great job.

The Other Chris
January 4, 2015 7:57 pm

As an aside, I don’t actually care if services remain separate. The importance is to provide capability across the services, and preferably in more than one form.

e.g. Light Infantry, Para’s, Royal Marines. Similar capability but with very different methodologies. This keeps The Other Guy on their toes if they’re unsure what exactly, or in which combination, will turn up to oppose them.

What I do care about is when the services ring-fence and attempt to silo decisions, often to the detriment of other services. Given the point our Armed Services have reached (there are undeniable and substantial “gapped” capabilities in all three branches), hurting one branch ultimately could endanger the whole Country and our Dependents.

Case Study: Pushing to keep F-35B numbers at 48. Externally, this is normally pitched as either an increase in RAF aircraft numbers by a small number ostensibly via savings made on the F-35A but is more likely to be due to the desire to preserve RAF aircraft numbers in the face of budget cuts. Often performance differences are thrown into the ring, much debate over the last few years on this site alone has shown that to be a misnomer with regards to how the UK will equip and operate the aircraft compared, especially when compared to lack of aircraft availability (q.v. current Tornado and Typhoon squadron stretching).

To wit: F-35B does not hamstring the RAF. F-35A hamstrings the RN. Two separate fleets-within-fleet jeopardise both sub-fleets of aircraft as numbers dwindle over time to point where the fleets are unable to sustain operations numerically and disposal of an entire fleet becomes the only choice remaining (q.v. Harrier decision). Suggestions of converting F-35A to F-35B or vice versa have been officially stated as “possible” however this would undoubtedly be a very high-cost option just to keep numbers going in the future (q.v. the current very costly RAF to RN Merlin conversions).

A joint RAF/RN call for the full planned fleet of F-35B’s over the lifespan of the fleet strengthens and secures both Services sub-fleets, and benefits everyone.

Summary: An Independent Air Force (or Army, or Navy, or…) is fine, however the Country is at (past?) the point where coordination between services is now mandatory for everyone’s sake and compromise choices (as opposed to compromised decisions) is an absolute necessity. Services must give way to those with the core need for assets if both cannot be supported as a whole, while those with the core need must reciprocate by sweating these gifted assets in support of the other services (q.v. discussions on either the RAF or RN receiving a complete fleet of MPA/MSA assets, but these MPA’s being worked hard in the intervening years in a multi-role fashion to support the other services directly).

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 4, 2015 8:01 pm

Simon, I’m afraid your last comment leaves me largely baffled.

CAS is an emergency response asset, it is not something you specifically plan to use. Predators are too slow, don’t carry enough ordnance, tasked on other missions, the comms to a GCS from a FAC / forward observer not dynamic enough….

As for the Army / RAF combo vs the RN / RM combo, I don’t know at all what point you are making. All arms and services are trained to common procedures. In fact, mostly it is all NATO standards. So, for example, we had Dutch F16s quite happily supporting us in Bosnia, and USMC F18s in Iraq (other more recent examples available, my wars are getting a bit old hat now)..

Rocket Banana
January 4, 2015 8:11 pm


It depends how many Predators (or similar) you have loitering and the rate of demand for strikes.

I was under the impression that Albion is the command ship for RM operations, including air power (interdiction and CAS) and would assume (?) that fleet air defence remains with the carrier.

That is akin to the British Army running and coordinating Bomber Command and leaving Fighter Command to look after the FOBs and main base.

Is this how it works?

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 4, 2015 8:24 pm


From a Land perspective, that is not how it works. Others could possibly usefully comment from a Maritime perspective.

Bear in mind that one component (either Air, Land, or Maritime) is always the Supported Component, the other two Supporting. The supported component gets to say what goes on and largely how it wants to be supported.

So, for example, if Land is being supported, it would dictate the level of CAS it wants available, and the required response times, and areas of effort in priority.

At the lowest level, a FAC might require that a particular CAS mission comes in at high level, or low level, from the south east or at a specific time. UAVs are simply not responsive enough.

January 4, 2015 8:37 pm

Would have thought this lot may have a say in deployed air operations


January 4, 2015 9:00 pm

It’s important not to fall in to the same trap as the cut the air force crowd.

The idea that Germany was going to invade the UK in 1940 just doesn’t track.

D-day was launched with over a thousand ships, two mobile ports, hundreds of mobile breakwaters, under sea fuel lines, extensive efforts to map the beaches in question, predict the weather, you name it, D-day needed it.

That Germany were going to mount a cross channel invasion in open topped canal boats with a top speed of 4knts, no toilets and no cooking facilities, no,

Sea lion was never going occur, it couldnt occur, fighter command didn’t change that.

January 4, 2015 9:06 pm

An alternative argument is put here http://ukarmedforcescommentary.blogspot.co.uk/

A personal view would be MPA and all 48 F35b as an RN asset,
The RAF as initially an all Typhoon fleet of 8 squadrons, 3 for strike and 5 for air defence.

F35A for the RAF at some stage in the future, but a lot will depend on how good UAVs become.

January 4, 2015 9:13 pm

“CAS is an emergency response asset, it is not something you specifically plan to use. Predators are too slow, don’t carry enough ordnance, tasked on other missions, the comms to a GCS from a FAC / forward observer not dynamic enough….”

Oh dear RT. Would you mind awfully ringing up General Terry, the U.S. 3* running the show out in Iraq and Syria, and let him know that CAS is only for emergency use and that REAPER isn’t much cop? Might slow the show down a bit but hey, what the hell.

Idiot. Are you really ex-Army? Maybe from the sixties… What the f**k is a CAS stack for then if not to support offensive operations?

In case anyone forgot, IS/whatever is not a peer enemy. If we have to go up against the Russians, then tactics will be a tad different. Brimstone is perfectly valid as both a tank killer and as a low collateral precision strike weapon. So unless you want to throw away peer-enemy capability in favour of some airborne tractors with lots of rockets, you use what you have and get on with it. Expensive? That’s the price of maintaining parity among the top ten nations fighting over resources and influence. Cough up or resign the UK to being a third rate nation with a conscience and a predilection for whinging.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
January 4, 2015 9:23 pm

Oh dear TAS,

Close Air Support is reactive, it is not planned. So calling for it might be a good idea, but doing so is because something unexpected happened.

Having a CAS stack is prophylactic. If not needed, then they return to base or are retasked onto something else.

But then, what do I know? We used CAS in Gulf 1 and in Bosnia. For two years I was the SO3 G3 Ops in 1 Div, which had a DALO and 3 BALOs, all tasked from the Div HQ to provide CAS as and when. And all calls for CAS initially came through on the Div Aviation net, for spatial deconfliction before being allocated (or turned down).

Planned air strikes are BAI.

No then, some civility would be in order.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
January 4, 2015 9:36 pm

Can’t help thinking that the RAF would engender much greater support from it’s Dark Blue and Green critics IF it was seen to enthusiastically support a strong FAA presence with the Fleet and AAC presence with the Army…because it was concentrating on achieving world-wide UK air reach by developing and defending facilities here at home, on the BOT’s and in partnership with allies…building up a strong Reserve structure (including well-planned mechanisms to take-up both Aircraft and personnel from trade in any kind of world-wide crisis, when we would certainly need many more aircraft and pilots)…and looking ahead in respect of UAV’s, Skylon and satellite technology at the high end of the technology spectrum – and the ability to deliver a containerised “Area Combat System” (with missiles and UAV’s) to any more or less friendly airstrip using converted civilian aircraft over a weekend.

Worth bearing in mind that when the RAF most obviously stood “to the Right of the Line” it was on the basis of a great many RAFVR Pilots, and their organisational ability to focus our advanced civilian infrastructure on waging a world-wide war in the airborne age.

Furthermore, many of the new RAFVR (Geek) Units could operate in front of screens in tin sheds in Milton Keynes, thereby not offending against @RT’s sartorial sensibilities, or run up excessive travel expenses… :-)


January 4, 2015 9:43 pm

Weapons load up by two thirds, targeting topnotch.
Good range translates into loitering.

shark bait
shark bait
January 4, 2015 9:50 pm

Rec, I would agree with you, and there is no reason why Navy pilots and crew couldn’t leave their carrier and operate from an RAF or allied base if needed. MPA in navy hands is a no brainer too.

January 4, 2015 10:04 pm

Opinion: There is no reason why all three services combine into the UK Armed Forces. Redundancy exists in terms of headquarters and management which if cut out either means a cheaper forces to run or a bit of spare for the stuff that counts.

Question: If in naval terms anything above the waves is a target, what is the likewise analogy for the RAF, and Army branches of UKAF?

January 4, 2015 10:22 pm

I think everyone vastly overcomplicates this argument.

We’re a nation so obsessed with tradition we jump through innumerable hoops to keep single regiment/brigade cap badges, you really think ditching a whole force can get in the room with the table, let alone on it?

Ditching the cap badge that won the Battle of Britain is never going to happen.

January 4, 2015 10:41 pm

It appears there remains this curious belief that UK airpower begins and ends with a vital requirement to be continually on the deck,of a ship.

While it will be I’m sure an important and practised part of future UK training requirements it has been and will remain a minor part of UK capability in the most likely of any situations, as it is for everyone bar the U.S. navy

It’s like saying stagecoach should run P&O or british airways or visa vera because they all move people and cargo about.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 4, 2015 10:52 pm

@ Mark

Whilst i would like to add that i agree with the Op that we will always have an Independent RAF. i do not think you are naive enough to believe that HMG has spent the money it has on 2 carriers for their capabilities to be a minor part of the UK capability.
Much like the token Marham Libya ops the carriers will be used whether or not they are required because they have to justify their purchase.

January 4, 2015 11:22 pm

Apas they spent 4 billion on nimrod I would put anything past them just because they spent money in the past.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
January 4, 2015 11:28 pm

@ mark

Nimrod would be a mere drop in the political ocean in comparison, the carriers are the main component of UK expeditionary capability for the next 3 decades.

January 4, 2015 11:33 pm

Interesting article, re the discussion around the abolition of the RAF,I’m in no way knowledgable about the strategic value of each service but having been involved in the management and developement of a number of complex organisations I will say the following.

1) if it’s not broken don’t try and fix it, as you may bollox it all up.
2) massive change in complex systems always f&£ks everything up for a couple of years. So you need a stable low pressure time to allow the big changes to shake out and everyone to bed down.
3) when you change a system dramatically little things (like knowledge) fall between the gaps. You only tend to notice this when things go wrong and you needed the bit your missing.

That’s just what I have noticed when random governments come along and shut down big bits of the NHS, carve the defunct organisations up to create new bits to do the job that the other bit was doing fine before.

My advice for what’s its worth is leave it all alone ( unless we start losing wars in a big way)

shark bait
shark bait
January 5, 2015 12:02 am

Jonathan, I think you make a very good point. That being said, I think there could be some rearranging to streamline things, hopefully making procurement and operations more efficient and save some money.

unfortunately its clear that the forces have complex and and deep relationships with one another.

One could argue the Navy use lots of aircraft so fold the RAF in with them, they also land troops to why not add the army too.

Like wise the army use lots of helicopters and depend of air assess for lots of tasks, they also use ships to move their shit around so why not bring them under control of the army.

Again air assets are widely used from ships so why not bring the ships under RAF control?

my point is its a complex web of relationships. maybe you “if it’s not broken don’t try and fix it” is the best option

January 5, 2015 1:02 am

By 1918 there was a Wing per Corps and hence a RFC Brigade for each of the 5 armies in the BEF, plus a ‘deep attack’ wing directly under HQ BEF where there was a RFC Major General. It seems to have worked quite well, and had a reasonable rank structure (ie not inflated).

@ RT, actually the key players were the two Primary FACs per brigade and all the secondary ones (mostly on paper but the degrees compasses and UHF radios were held in units), but including all AAC pilots. You couldn’t generally have CAS without a FAC on the case to double check the pilots’ map reading. All air requests went straight up the chain of command through the air request system (including through the WingCo in Diamond 2 at Corps HQ who coordinated with the corps AD commander (DComd Arty Div)) on the ‘silence means consent’ principle. All air attacks inside the FSCL (roughly the Vistula) had to be coordinated with the ground commanders.

January 5, 2015 2:31 am

The problem with the RAF has always been its desire to gain total control of all air assets irrespective of there use or organisational sense.
The RAF control of naval aircraft until 1937 was an unmitigated disaster. A disaster it can be argued that the RN did not recover from until after the war.
Their constant claims that they can defend the “fleet” have always proved groundless and often costly.
As for the “Battle of Britain” this was an air campaign in which the Luftwaffe failed to achieve its aim. This gave Hitler the excuse for calling off Operation Sealion which would have failed disastrously for the Wehrmacht. The RN would have decimated the landing forces in their barges irrespective of their own loses.
Then we come to Battle of the Atlantic. Apart from the fact that Coastal Command was inadequately equipped at the start of the war, not a position unique to them they did form a good relationship with Western Approaches Command. It was the failure of the RAF to provide the necessary long range patrol aircraft vital to defeating the U Boat which was such a grave error. All because of their obsession with a strategic bomber offensive which at the time 1941-42 was a failure itself.
Turning to matters on land. Co-operation between the Army and RAF in North Africa only became successful, when HQ 8th Army and HQ Dessert Air Force where co-located and it must be said due to the attitude of the RAF commander. A commander who never received the credit he deserved from the RAF.
As to operations in North West Europe, the lessons of the desert campaign where ignored and had to be re-learned.
Returning to 1941-42 why did the RAF insist on hoarding fighters in the UK conducting wasteful (they lost many more fighters than the Luftwaffe) and pointless operations over France, rather than sending them to where they were needed in the Mediterranean and Far East?
Of course all this is ancient history, its different now. If only it was.
Joint Force Harrier an excuse to bring RN fast jets under RAF control then to get rid of them. Be little different with the F35B, the RN will be lucky to see more than the occasional deployment of the nominally FAA squadron, Oh and TAG’s just an excuse to not provide proper carrier air wings.
As for the Army they have never managed to get a proper assault helicopter, Blackhawk for instance. Instead the RAF is happy to waste £10 million a time updating a fragile top heavy 70’s designed load of ……
Despite all this I would still keep the RAF as a separate service
However the support helicopters should be transferred to the AAC, with the Navy taking responsibility for MPA if and when we can afford them.
As for the F35 this is a bit more difficult. The Navy needs some semblance of carrier air wings for its two potentially operational carriers. Therefore I would allocate all the F35B currently on order, 48 I believe too the Navy. This should allow them to deploy either one squadron of hopefully 16 to each carrier or two squadrons to one. This gives them at least some credibility rather than what I expect to happen that they will end up with some Merlin’s with the occasional visit of Apache and the even rarer deployment of F35.Effectively being very large Commando or ASW Carriers.
Looking further to the future, if the money is found for further F35 buys they should be the C variant and issued to the RAF. This is so that when sense prevails and the carriers are converted to cats and traps (probable a forlorn hope but you never know) the RN and RAF just swap aircraft.
I can dream!

January 5, 2015 4:20 am

@ Chuck

Oh dear a display of under-education.

BoB was conducted jointly by two commands: RAF Fighter Command and Army AA Command. At its peak the latter comprised 12 AA Divisions in 3 AA Corps. It’s amazing how many under-informed people have succumbed to RAF propaganda.

Changing step, the pre-WW2 killer argument for an independent airforce was first and foremost strategic bombing. This could probably be extended into the 1960s and the V force.

However, WW2 strategic bombing could hardly be described as an outstanding success, it didn’t have much effect on GE military production (by either destruction or diversion) and it didn’t tie-down hordes of fighting-men manning AA guns, GE AA found they could use old men and boys! However, it probably had a limiting effect on Luftwaffe tactical airpower through resource diversion. It’s difficult to see the bomber offensive as anything other than a criminal waste of UK resources (and with 20/20 hindsight was also a war crime). The best that can be said is that it seemed like a good idea at the time and helped morale at home (but the same resources put to other uses could have had the same effect).

This invites the question “if the reason for an independent airforce was strategic bombing, why does it still exist?” Ie why were today’s justifications considered inadequate/irrelevant in the 1920s?

January 5, 2015 5:10 am

Drop the insults.

People who fought in that battle on the ground and in air helped raise me. I’m well aware of the history.

Is my post any less relevant because I didn’t mention the excellent work of the Royal Artillery, Royal Observer Corps who gained the distinction “Royal” for their effort in the battle, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, RAF Volunteer Reserve, GC&CS, Y Service, Coastal Command, Bomber Command, Dowding, 600 foreign pilots, Vickers, Hawker, Supermarine, Rolls Royce, Browning and innumerable others I sadly cant name off the top of my head?

January 5, 2015 5:51 am

Can buy the “History by whitelancer” except that IF you raise a good part of 175 divisions and then mass them on someone’s Borders, a little diversion on the side is called for:

“As for the “Battle of Britain” this was an air campaign in which the Luftwaffe failed to achieve its aim. This gave Hitler the excuse for calling off Operation Sealion”

comment image

January 5, 2015 6:23 am

Chuck, se also need to give Crédit to the British Sporting spirit, checking gvmnt stupidity:

“Over the 18 years of its existence, the Schneider Trophy race did much to influence progress in aviation, most dramatically in the increase in speed — from 45.71 mph in 1913 to 340.08 mph in 1931. A.F. Sidgreaves, managing director of Rolls-Royce, declared that it had compressed 10 years of engine development into two years. – See more at: http://www.historynet.com/aviation-history-schneider-trophy-race.htm#sthash.OaXYImXn.dpuf

1931 was the decisive year
“it looked as if Supermarine would not have his S.6B ready either, for the firm was low on funds, and the Air Ministry refused to spend any more money on a racing event. At that point, however, Lady Lucy Houston intervened, contributing 100,000 pounds sterling to ensure that Britain did not win the race merely by default — and to give herself a forum to castigate Britain’s Labor government. Even Mussolini himself could scarcely have surpassed Lady Houston’s rhetoric. Every true Briton would rather sell his last shirt than admit that England could not afford to defend herself, she declared. – See more at: http://www.historynet.com/aviation-history-schneider-trophy-race.htm#sthash.OaXYImXn.dpuf

So the Merlin engine eventually came about, saved by this Private Venture

January 5, 2015 7:10 am

I knew about the races but had never heard of Lady Lucy, sounds like a hell of a woman. Great article.

January 5, 2015 9:13 am

A lot of merit in all 48 F35bs being RN only, the French Navy manages and effective airwing of two front line squadrons for CDG with just 40 Rafales.
The C version for the RAF (another 48) would be a good move, if money allows, in the interim an all Typhoon RAF force, keeping the tranche 1s.

It’s all down to money, and something else, the willingness of all 3 services to work together and back each other.

Rocket Banana
January 5, 2015 9:18 am

I’m going to write this down here again, as I got a little sidelined with CAS.

If you go back to bare bones this nation requires (as a military capability) the following for defence of the British Isles:

MPA (P8)
Interceptor with maritime strike capability (Typhoon)
An air base (or several) for the above to operate from
An army and all their “toys” just in case the attacker gets ashore

That’s basically the British Army and the Royal Air Force. Notice the lack of Royal Navy. We could however add in a coast guard and/or sonar tugs to the above.

The same force can also be deployed on our Overseas Territories:

AWACS (C295 or Merlin)
MPA (C295 or Merlin)
Interceptor with maritime strike capability (Typhoon)
An air base for the above to operate from
A small army and all their “toys” just in case the attacker gets ashore

Notice the smaller and cheaper aircraft for patrol of smaller areas.

We then need to defend Britain’s interests and investments which means, again, exactly the same, except this time we need the air base and army barracks to float into position:

AWACS (Merlin)
MPA (Merlin)
Interceptor with maritime strike capability (F35)
A floating air base for the above to operate from with all the paraphernalia that is needed to protect it
A small floating army and all their “toys” in order to get ashore (RM, amphibs, etc)

Finally, we need to gather intel and patrol our SLOCS, which means being in as many places as we can continually. This can be simplified to a need for tankers and frigates, lots of ’em.

Now, I will admit that the “interceptor” could (and probably should) also be able to support the army with interdiction and CAS missions, and in the “floating” case should also deliver some (or all) of the strike capability. However, I tend to bury the CAS requirement in the army “toys” above in the form of Apache, Wildcat and Watchkeeper. Perhaps I shouldn’t.

I know this is hugely simplified, but I hope you can see the division between the RAF+BA and the RN+RM. They are the same thing, except one is land based and the other floats. Full integration is required between the components and in my mind all should be under the same command and control structure for each “chunk” above.

Bottom line is that there really isn’t any delineation between the air, sub, sea and land forces, only the line between land-based and floating.

PS: I’ve deliberately omitted CASD.

Mike Roberts
Mike Roberts
January 5, 2015 9:35 am

Two points:
First, it is a dubious debating technique to shoot down an argument nobody has put forward. I have not seen anyone suggest that Harrier should have taken over the QRA role from ‘F3’ or any other airframe. Tornado F3 is long out of service, I presume John means Typhoon. In fact, for a long time Harrier was a more potent air defence asset having AMRAAM which the RAF did not initially buy, but no matter, nobody ever suggested it.
Second, John I am afraid your grasp of history is lacking. The RNAS was conducting strategic bombing of Germany, specifically iron and steel manufacture, from bases in France in 1916 using Handley-Page 0/100. The RAF came into existence as a political measure to get Lloyd George out of a hole of his own digging. Even his own memoirs skate over the reasons, but having ordered the Navy to send its home defence assets to France leaving London undefended when the Gotha raids started, he would be the last person to take the blame. A packed committee headed by Jan Smuts recommended the formation of the RAF because the two services apparently did not understand air power. The First Sea Lord opposed it, even its nominated head (Trenchard) opposed it initially. It was a 100% political decision.

January 5, 2015 10:14 am

Mike R – ref Lloyd George skulking away from taking the blame – surely not! A politician manipulating national services and changing policies to protect his own career? That would never happen; it would be immoral!

Presumably the ‘Royal’ prefix was in part to appease the RNAS personnel who would have been upset to lose such royal connection, but mostly to give the new service more gravitas and importance in the minds of the electorate a century or so back.

In my dealings with FAA in the 90s, the officers were very pleased to point out the Sea Harrier had a higher ceiling and better radar than Tornado F2/3, and was in their view a much more capable air defence fighter. That may have been coloured by service rivalry…

January 5, 2015 12:16 pm

I don’t see any particular reason to be charming on this subject. The Independent air forces question was a fascinating one between 1917 and 1947, there was some interesting back and forth about who should operate what helicopters and MPAs through to the 60s but all these issues have been settled by various joint force structures (notably JHC and Joint Force Harrier to be reincarnated as the F-35B pool) not to mention the increasing “jointness” brought about both by doctrine and C4ISR developments. That the RAF now has no real strategic capability also makes the question redundant.

January 5, 2015 12:45 pm

It isn’t just the more visible platforms. How many long range comm’s and signal Intel tasks went the RAF way to bolster its portfolio?

January 5, 2015 12:53 pm

Personally, this article is too anti- Royal Navy while Gabriele Article is too Anti-RAF.

January 5, 2015 12:55 pm

A few words on the Battle of Britain and the claim that it was RAF ‘propaganda’.

RN ships were very vulnerable to air attack, as proven the following year by the loss of the Prince of Wales and Repulse. There were still many senior naval types who really believed that air cover wasn’t all that necessary even then. If the RAF had been beaten then the Luftwaffe would have controlled the skies over the channel and would have caused huge damage to the RN fleet if they had tried to intervene in a German crossing.

To add to their extreme vulnerability from air, our bigger ships would not have had enough sea-room to manoeuvre as a fleet off the Kent coast, Groundings on sand-banks would have cost more loses than the enemy, and made the fleet sitting ducks. Most of the attacks on the German invaders would, therefore, had to have been by elderly destroyers and torpedo boats, of which we had precious few, with so many being lost at Dunkirk. German e-boat strength at that time was superior to ours, with newer and faster boats and better weapons. Lend-lease hadn’t started, and many destroyers were simply not up to anti-aircraft warfare. Even cruisers with their heavier guns would have been tragically vulnerable to Stuka dive-bombers, again proved a year or so later at Crete where we lost about 6 cruisers and hundreds of men in a mere evacuation, let alone preventing a full-scale invasion.

The British Army, or what was left of it in Sept/Oct 1940, was defeated, spread all over southern England, consisting largely of around 750,000 demoralised troops recently evacuated from Dunkirk, minus their heavy equipment, and often their small arms. Almost no artillery or heavy transport, let alone tanks, were recovered. What few small arms they had consisted mostly of ageing .303 Lee-Enfields from the First War, and very little ammunition. Still trying to regroup and re-equip in the autumn of 1940, the army was in no position to fight off an invasion. So comparing it to D-Day is fanciful. At D-Day we were attempting to invade ‘Fortress Europe’ and a still relatively large and battle hardened and well equipped German Army.
It is true to some extent to say that the presence of the Royal Navy bluffed the Germans into hesitating, but it is even important to acknowledge that the main reason the Germans didn’t come in the last two weeks of September was because they didn’t believe they had command of the skies. It was the RAF that denied them that.

Yes, the Kent beaches would have been a potential killing ground, but a year later the German Army was were losing more troops in Russia than they would have ever lost in Kent. So they had more men, with better kit and weapons, and moreover, theirs was already a victorious army with extremely high morale. After Oct 1, the weather, winds and tides and a fast recovering RAF meant that they had effectively blown it. By the following spring, it was too late. It is without doubt that the RAF ‘won’ the Battle of Britain. The vast majority of professional historians, nor those that took part, would claim otherwise. But it is also true that the presence of the Royal Navy, by it’s strength and reputation, consolidated that win.

Looking back now, it would be fair to say that the Germans had effectively lost the war by the early October of 1940 in failing to capitalise on what they had achieved already but we didn’t know that then, and neither did they. That is a fact that has been accepted by all historians. But we should also remember that, in accepting the premise that the RAF did undisputedly ‘win’ the Battle of Britain, all 3 Services played an important part. The anti-aircraft guns on destroyers and small ships of the fleet in places like Dover, and the Dover Patrol itself out in the channel escorting coastal convoys, did shoot down a number of enemy aircraft and the anti-aircraft batteries all along the south coast and in the countryside around our airfields, manned in the main by the army notched up a decent score. And finally, the crews of the trawlers, minesweepers and sundry other craft who regularly fished downed pilots out of the channel, to bring them home so they could fight again, usually within hours. Additionally, the RAF manned some air-sea rescue craft of their own and also played a major part in recovering their own aircrew.

The Battle of Britain was a joint-service effort, though without the RAF preventing the Luftwaffe securing the Skies, there certainly would have been an invasion, navy or no navy. But it was a Battle for Britain, and all of Britain’s Armed Forces took part.

January 5, 2015 12:57 pm

Mike, a number of articles have appeared recently (and in this thread) that suggest that Sea Harrier should have taken in QRA from F3 in 2006 in order to keep it in service.

January 5, 2015 12:59 pm

Ranting and raving about the Smuts report and who did what during WW2 is all terrible fun but not really relevant to anything- it just underscores the pointlessness of the debate.

There was no correlation between the development of an independent air force or otherwise and the development of sensible and effective air power policies. Then the real world kicked in and solved the problem anyway.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
January 5, 2015 1:32 pm

Great article

RAF and RN should both receive priority.

Tiny Toy
Tiny Toy
January 5, 2015 2:17 pm

Just for a bit of balance, here is the other side of the story:


Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
January 5, 2015 2:36 pm

An interesting article. I completely agree with an independent Air Force, for many of the reasons which are articulated in the article, but I would want to get a grip on the politics. My concern is that the RAF has the power to lobby for, and influence the delivery and specification of capability to the Navy and Army, in a detrimental way, and which I think has been based more on politics / empire building than on a truly objective basis.

You can’t expect politicians to police the inter-service politics, especially given the absence of any Defence Secretaries with any defence experience and credibility and considering the limited tenure they seem to have these days. So I would drop the top RAF service rank to Air Marshal, and focus the service on what it does better than anybody – all things flying. I know it sounds naïve, and shallow, but for their own good, they need to be taken out of the loop at the top level and simply get on with supporting the other 2 services and the air defence of the UK.

I’ve first-hand experience of senior RAF Officers, and I think the bulk of them take a cup of nonsense at Air Rank, and let the Service down badly. Give the F-35Bs to the RN to be optimised for RN weapons fits, and either let the light blue have F-35As or Tranche 4 Typhoons; MPA / MMA to the Navy, support woccas to the AAC, and I think it’s all much better balanced. Work-face Kevins then spared from the meddling of their seniors and betters.

At operation levels, the RAF supports the other two services well, yet this evaporates at senior levels, to the overall detriment of ‘the capability’. Surgically remove this pantomime, cut out many of the senior posts and I can’t see anything but advantage for this fine service of professionals, the vast majority of whom just want fulfilling military careers.

You only have to watch and listen to the last few holders of the top RAF post to get a handle on what I’m saying – pompous, meddling, lightweight political schemers. It’s not needed and needs cauterising.

January 5, 2015 6:10 pm

Some good quotes:

Montgomery had an innate understanding of the qualities airland co-operation and he understood precisely the role of the RAF. He handsomely acknowledged his reliance on the air arm by stating ‘any officer who aspires to hold high command in war must understand…the use of air power’. He amplified with, ‘… concentrated use of the air striking force is a battle winning factor…it follows that control of the available air power must be centralised, and command must be exercised through RAF channels…’

‘…command of air assets must be centralised and maintained within the specialist realms of the Airman’. Montgomery amplifies this point with his remark, ‘the commander of an army in the field should have an Air Headquarters…[but] air resources will be in support of his army, not under his command’. He recognised that dedicating air assets solely to army support reduced their inherent flexibility hence, diminishing their overall combat effectiveness within the joint campaign.

Chris Werb
Chris Werb
January 5, 2015 6:38 pm

In 1940 the Germans had next to no bombers trained in anti ship attack. IIRC one squadron of He111s which had sunk a couple of their own destroyers by mistake – they had managed to sink a total of four RN destroyers during the entire Dunkirk evacuation over a much longer period and often in near ideal conditions. Most of their own destroyers had been sunk off Norway by the RN, leaving 10(?) surivors. They did not have enough capacity to lay mines, nor enough u-boats to stand the remotest chance of sealing off an invasion route. Many of the barges to be used for the invasion had such low freeboards that they could have been sunk merely by the wake of a destroyer – of which we had rather more than a precious few. I somehow think the RN were aware of the presence of sandbanks off the SE coast of England. The Germans had zero percent chance of conducting a successful invasion in 1940.

January 5, 2015 6:56 pm

If I could ask a question for historical reasons without going too far off topic?

John, you state that the KAF upgrade was not carried out to enable its use by Tornado, what was it carried out for?

Was it USAF lead or just requring resurfacing etc due to wear rather than extension?

January 5, 2015 7:01 pm


We can be generous by saying the German Army had half a chance of landing an initial wave using the element of surprise, but yes any reinforcements and the supply lines across the channel would have been cut to pieces, the RN and RAF would have gone all out to make sure the landing forces were isolated and didn’t have a hope in hell of ultimate victory irregardless of how they fared on the beaches in the short-term.

The rather comprehensive fortifications built through 1940, coupled with the full weight of the RAF bomber force would have added to the comparatively weak strength of the British Army and make the landings (if any German barges survived a channel dash) seriously difficult.

Even things like poison gas and flaming oil systems were put in place! In short, their was no possible scenario that ended with a German victory. At most they may have made some initial, limited progress and made us fight for every inch of ground at great cost before they ultimately lost the day.

I think some simulated war games in the 1970s involving British and German officers from 1940 bore this out.

January 5, 2015 7:07 pm

if anyone has ever watched the excellent world at war series they touch on the time around the Dunkirk evacuation. The statement that stuck in my mind was, the only full equipped division in the UK was Canadian the army had lost most of its equipped. The germans would not have been attacking an atlantic wall which had years of preparation. The treat was very real in 1940 and what followed at Crete a few months later would suggest naval casualties would of been high. Lets just be thankful they never got the chance to try.

The royal mint are commemorating the action for it 75th anniversary http://www.royalmint.com/shop/75th_Anniversary_of_the_Battle_of_Britain_2015_UK_50p_BU_Coin

January 5, 2015 8:00 pm


“To wit: F-35B does not hamstring the RAF. F-35A hamstrings the RN. ”

This is not true, as the F-35B cannot adequately perform UK QRA and so after 2030 when Typhoon goes out of service there will be a lack of homeland defence.

Why? Because the F-35B has a very poor combat radius and pretty pants supersonic performance. Simply getting to places quickly and persisting there is a key part of QRA. Its all very well putting on the burners to intercept a Bear over the North Sea, but when you run out of fuel ~10 minutes later you’ve just lost a £100m aircraft and need to pull the pilot out of the water.

January 5, 2015 8:18 pm

TOC, Hannay – with short time on station as suggested for F35B, maybe we can have a quiet word with BAE to see if they could knock a few squadrons of EE Lightnings together for us then? The name’s much the same, loiter time in the low minutes sounds about the same too. But I’m guessing it would sprint faster and look much more scary… comment image

January 5, 2015 8:58 pm

Clearly the author of this piece (an RAF officer) is going to not going give objective consideration to RAF restructuring. If you have given your professional life to an organisation that has a proud ethos and history, understandably you are not going to like suggestion that it be merged with another service or even have minor changes made to its structure. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. Predictable RAF objections do not mean that we should dismiss the potentially huge gains that could be made in terms of cost saving and long term operational efficiency. It would be a lengthy, complex and painful process that would met with much resistance but there is a growing tide of opinion that is questioning the need for independent airforces.

The patronising opening of this piece tries to dismiss all who call for restructuring of RAF as “amateurs” or mere “naval enthusiasts”. In fact the idea has currency across the world with much support from both the khaki and dark blue as well as academics and independent defence analysts.

The author has made the shocking discovery that people on the web or social media do not always gets their facts 100% correct and therefore concluded there is a conspiracy to spread misinformation about the RAF. There has always been inter-service rivalry and spats but it is disingenuous to suggest the RAF is above this – rather the opposite, the RAF has used spin and misinformation very effectively for its own ends for years. The RAF is notorious for its luxurious approach to accommodation so there ’s bound to be wry comment when the BBC publishes a letter from RAF personnel complaining about conditions in Cyprus. Objecting to mild criticism from “those who have not served a day in their lives” which probably encompasses two thirds of Think Defence readership – are only those who have served in the forces entitled to an opinion on defence issues?

This suggestion is also painted as a personal attack on the dedicated RAF personnel on the frontline. This is not the case – it is the leadership of the RAF that are under scrutiny. Sensible commentators acknowledge the contribution of the RAF over the years. RAF Chinooks did a fantastic job in Afghanistan – this does not mean that the Army could not one day have operational control of those assets. Whatever you think about the decrepid remnant of the Tornado force, the pilots currently flying over ISIL territory take big risks and are to be admired. Fundamentally the argument is not about the colour of uniform people wear but about who has operational control and makes procurement decisions. It is aconvenient for the writer to blur the distinction between airpower and airforces. It is also not about destroying exiting capabilities, rather transferring their command to others. Many of the sensible commenters on this post agree the RN should control F35B and Army should control its battlefield helicopters and transport aircraft. If that were that case then why not go the whole way and divide all the remaining capabilities between the Army and Navy?

The obvious fact is that carrier aircraft can operate from land bases AND aircraft carriers while non-carrier aircraft cannot enjoy the vast increase in mobility that the carrier gives. Of course we need land based air but defintely not at the expense of all carrier based aircraft. The ability to strike Libya on day 1 from the UK with a 5000 mile air-air refuelling circus maybe a useful capability (and a fine exhibition of airmanship) but the small amount of ordnance delivered hardly compares to the sortie rate that a carrier in the vicinity could (and the French did) generate.

Just imagine for a moment if we had cancelled Typhoon and spent the approx £20-30Bn on a couple of US-style aircraft carriers with fully balanced air groups and a generous number of F18s. We would be a serious world power able to exert influence second only the US. Yes F18s are slightly inferior to the Typhoon in some ways but could perform QRA as well as project power across the globe. Such radical a suggestion would cause uproar, not least because it would be harmful of UK and European aerospace industry, but lets dare for a moment to look at the bigger picture of what is best for UK defence, not industry or the RAF. I’m sure there will be lots of reasons given why this “could not possibly be done old chap”, blah blah. Anyway this is just hindsight and we have now bought and paid for Typhoon, insanely expensive but a good aircraft which we must make the best of now.

No serious commentators have ever suggested that Sea Harrier (axed 2006) could have carried out QRA so this seems a spurious axe to grind. The Sea Harrier was however, an excellent fighter that bested the F3 and many supersonic, supposedly superior NATO fighters in dogfighting exercises but it did have speed, numbers and range limitations.

The most ludicrous claim in this piece is that the RN did not prioritise funding the Harrier so therefore it does not understand or prioritise airpower. The RN was very foolish to allow the creation of the Joint Force Harrier but would have loved more upgraded Harriers if it had the resources. The RAF had a long-term plan to ensure the survival of Tornado if push came to shove by running down the Harrier force. It should also be noted the RN has virtually mortgaged its whole future upon building 2 aircraft carriers – what bigger demonstration could their be of their commitment to airpower!

Its unsupportable to claim that if the RN was given the mandate to operate say QRA or the Army given control of transport aircraft they would soon axe them and spend the money on ships/tanks. The overblown claim that “only the RAF understands airpower” is a constant theme. Yes the FAA has been cut to the bone and lost many of their hard won but skills and knowledge but this could be regained either from personnel transferred from the RAF or over time.

You can read a very strong case for the abolition of independent airforces here written by an non-aligned foreign commentator with vast knowledge of UK armed forces. Of course he has not served a day in his life so his opinions are nothing compared to those of an RAF officer… http://ukarmedforcescommentary.blogspot.it/2014/12/why-air-forces.html

January 5, 2015 9:10 pm

@Aubrey’s Shadow

“I’ve first-hand experience of senior RAF Officers, and I think the bulk of them take a cup of nonsense at Air Rank, and let the Service down badly.”

Ha you think that is unique to the senior officers of the RAF!? I would take a cup of reality!

The Senior officers of all three services are all back stabbing, conniving and highly the political! They will merrily do all it takes to forward their own service to the detriment of the other two. All the better if they can proclaim that the equipment and procurement programs of the other two services are white elephants that need scrapping or defunding whilst their own equipment and procurement programs are vital for the ongoing security of the nation!

Occasionally two services will join forces to gang on the other if they think its in their interest…but it is a temporary truce and they will all have their fingers firmly crossed behind their backs.

Also this behaviour can trickle down the ranks and onto the armchair General/admiral/Air Marshal Walter Mitty cheerleaders like Re….oh no that would just be childish.

Just my personal opinion of course ;-)

January 5, 2015 9:13 pm

Was “wit” spelt right?

January 5, 2015 9:31 pm

“It should also be noted the RN has virtually mortgaged its whole future upon building 2 aircraft carriers – what bigger demonstration could their be of their commitment to airpower!”

Yep it just forgot about funding aircraft to put on them always a wrinkle.

January 5, 2015 9:47 pm

One thing lead to another….

The Other Chris
January 5, 2015 9:53 pm


You’re talking about a Typhoon replacement, which the F-35A isn’t either.

Jeremy M H
January 5, 2015 9:56 pm

It has always struck me that this debate is generally approached backwards. Everyone starts from assuming there should be distinct forces and then argues to dump one for any number of reasons.

The reality is that you ought start with the objectives of your national defense and then determine the best defense structure to get you there.

In my view having an independent Air Force happens for a couple of reasons. First you need one of you are contemplating strategic bombing or air defense on a nationwide scale in any nation of substantial size. Both are missions that necessitate a certain level of institutional knowledge and planning.

The second is using an Air Force as a means to protect and promote what is an important aspect of combat capability from being short changed. Some organizations find ways to do this internally. The USN did in the 20’s and 30’s. Others find they can’t protect important emerging tech within the present system and split it off into its own service.

I think that any confusion the RAF has comes from two things. First they have long since lost the strategic bombing role that would justify their mission. Secondly the air defense role has been pushed well to the back burner.

Institutionally I would say the RAF is guilty of overreach. There is no compelling need for it to control helicopter based troop lift. I could take or leave the MPA thing honestly but controlling carrier based aircraft is just silly. Someone should see that the RAF and RN work together on these things but it’s silly to not simply provision the flight decks with RN crews. There isn’t a compelling reason for those things beyond he RAF wanting more budget and assets.

What it really seems to come down to is a fight for survival around declining budgets. It’s an ugly situation that doesn’t seem to benefit anyone all that greatly.

January 5, 2015 10:41 pm

Save the RN.

Other than Robert M. Farley can you point me in the direction of the independent academic opinion in favour our ending independent air forces worldwide? A few papers from defence colleges or RUSI maybe? A government study?

You say no one said about Sea Harrier doing QRA, yet it is proposed in the article you have provided the link for.

I don’t claim your option is not valid, but think it’s rich you slating our pers for complaining about food when you don’t serve and have it experienced ops. RAF pers have served in austere conditions all across the world.

Despite the evidence you still don’t seem to have accepted that Tornado was more capable than harrier and harrier would not have been able to operate over Libya even if kept.

Harrier by the way could not be performing the role Tornado is over Iraq right now.

Anyway, it’s all good debate and very enjoyable. I respect your passion and I know you have the best interests of the Navy at heart.

Rocket Banana
January 5, 2015 11:10 pm

If the RAF had foreseen the collapse of the financial institutions, the massive leveraged risk we were exposed to, and the long-term effect of quantitative easing, maybe they would have opted for Rafale or Super Hornet instead of Typhoon, Tornado and a token Harrier force?

January 6, 2015 3:34 am

@ Chuck, mate, when I want to insult you it will be very clear. Pointing out that RAF Fighter Command was only one of the two main combat commands in BoB is not an insult, just a reminder of ignorance or deliberate obscuration :-)

@ John, mate, you’ve lost the plot. There were relative few AA regts in the BEF (6 AA Bdes, including those specifically protecting RAF airfields, plus some corps LAA regts). This totalled about 10 HAA & 7 LAA regts and actual eqpt losses were 85 x 3 in, 74 x 3.7 & 101 x 40mm, ie quite a lot got out through ports in W France – another popular myth is that the entire BEF was evacuated via Dunkirk.

There were AA regts around the world but most were in AA Comd in UK, in May 1940 in UK there were 86 HAA regts, 50 LAA regts, 57 searchlight regts. In terms of guns this means up to 2064 x 3.7 and 2400 x 40mm, although I suspect quite a lot less than the estb numbers, and some of the HAA btys around naval bases were actually 4.5 inch not 3.7. Then of course we must remember the UP (unrotated projectile) batteries, it’s often forgotten that the British Army was using ‘modern’ rockets before both the Germans and the Russians, never mind the RAF!

As I said, the idea that BoB was solely the RAF is propaganda. For those that want to educate themselves on the bigger AA picture than the RAF propaganda one I suggest Routledge’s ‘History of the Royal Artillery – Anti-aircraft Artillery 1914-55’.

January 6, 2015 4:08 am

You could of done all that without calling me under educated. No need for it. You can make your point without name calling or insinuations. It wasn’t your analysis of the battle I took issue with.

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
January 6, 2015 8:38 am

Point taken; I should have said that actually the experience extends to all 3 Services’ senior officers, but that by far the worse are the top 3 or 4 ranks of the RAF – IMHO of course….

I think @Jeremy M H hits the nail on the head –

“Institutionally I would say the RAF is guilty of overreach. There is no compelling need for it to control helicopter based troop lift. I could take or leave the MPA thing honestly but controlling carrier based aircraft is just silly. Someone should see that the RAF and RN work together on these things but it’s silly to not simply provision the flight decks with RN crews. There isn’t a compelling reason for those things beyond he RAF wanting more budget and assets”.

I think that’s the top and bottom of it, hence the nonsense seen by the top ecehelon of the RAF, and the damage it does to an otherwise excellent Service.

January 6, 2015 9:56 am

The second is using an Air Force as a means to protect and promote what is an important aspect of combat capability from being short changed. Some organizations find ways to do this internally. The USN did in the 20’s and 30’s. Others find they can’t protect important emerging tech within the present system and split it off into its own service.

this is important; the Germans went with “like the army, but with aeroplanes”. we did “get all the trades and career paths in-house”. and look who cracked first.

The Other Chris
January 6, 2015 12:40 pm

Silo Mentality once again. Thinking of each Service in separation.

Why shouldn’t the RAF control the majority of the assets that are used in the vertical lift troop transport role?

Those assets are not exclusively used for that role alone: SAR, CSAR, Cargo, Artillery/Vehicle Transport, Medevac, Casevac, VERTREP, etc., etc.

Supply the assets to the Service that either has the greater need for their primary role (i.e. that asset will be used 80% for that purpose) or is best positioned (e.g. via experience, equipment, position of overview, whatever) to control the assets and then ensure that the Service sweats those assets in aid of and in coordination with the other Services.

Think Defence
January 6, 2015 12:50 pm

My vote is for the RAF to absorb the FAA and AAC

January 6, 2015 1:03 pm

TD – one RAF senior officer attending a Middle Wallop display was heard to grumpily mutter “If God had intended the Army to fly, he would have painted the sky brown…”

Peter Elliott
January 6, 2015 1:27 pm

The debate is futile actually. All the meaningful savings have already been taken by the various Joint Force arrangements. Tinkering further with badges and uniform colours will just upset good people and achieve nothing.

Much more to the point is the relationship between the Services, the Politicians and the Treasury. Until that is fixed there can be no meaningful discussion of Capabilities vs Tasks vs Budgets. We are of course the voters who vote these clowns into office so ultimately it’s up to us. Which is of course what we are trying to do in a small way on this site to shape the public debate.

January 6, 2015 1:53 pm

@PE, quite agree.

Forgotten by now that half of the money for buying into the major partner position on the JSF/ F35 prgrm came from RAF FOAS budget. So they have a legitimate interest in the use and capabilities of the fleet, whatever the overall number will turn out to be

Jeremy M H
January 6, 2015 2:43 pm


Part of the problem with that is how Air Forces tend to run things.

Lets look at the people who have ascended to the highest post in the RAF.

Pulford- Chinook Pilot
Dalton- Fast Jets
Torpy- Fast Jets
Stirup- Fast Jets
Squire- Fast Jets
Johns- Fast Jets
Graydon- Fast Jets
Harding- Bombers
Craig- Fast Jets
Williamson- Fast Jets

That gets us back to the early 1980’s. The good news is that we can hope the RAF is finally embracing its role as it pertains to providing tactical transport. But I think the potential problem is readily apparent. Is it even remotely shocking the tens of billions were found for the development and deployment of Typhoon while the helicopter people still were tooling around in Puma’s.

This isn’t a criticism of the RAF, it happens in a great many services. Hell for years the USAF might as well have been two air forces so great was the divide between TAC and SAC. But the people placed at the top tell the story of what the RAF is focused on, to the exclusion of almost anything else. Until just recently you are telling me that no MPA pilot or squadron commander and no helicopter commander was qualified to move to the top? Only guys who flew fast jets? Is it really pure chance that MPA was gotten rid of and the vertical lift force was at best a patchwork solution?

You don’t have to break things out of the RAF. But the appearances aren’t real great when you fit who has moved to the top with what capabilities are still around and the capabilities that appear to have been shuffled to the back.

Mechanical Tom
January 6, 2015 2:59 pm

@Jemery MH

In fairness to the RAF, it’s not like the Army or RN chefs have come from logiatic or support units. They all come from combat units or roles. Fast Jets * are the combat bit of the RAF, so it’s natural that the top man was going to come from that background.

* Also worth noting that fairly recently FJ squadrons made up the vast majority of the RAFs major units. Even without any background bias, a simple numbers game would of ended up with the majority of ACMs being from a FJ background.

Jeremy M H
January 6, 2015 3:13 pm

While that is very much true those services in the army and RN are very much support forces for the core combat mission. No tanker will drastically cut logistical capability because it relates directly to what they do. For the RAF the MPA force and vertical lift force has almost no impact on the fast jet force.

It is a very different dynamic don’t you think?

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
January 6, 2015 3:24 pm

And when we say ‘flew’ fast jets, we pretty well do mean that, as Navigators – General Duties Branch ‘fast jet’ aircrew’ – have somehow not shown the same propensity to navigate their way to the top in anything like the same numbers as FJ pilots, or even in the same proportion. Can they not have got the same necessary qualities ?

So what odds for an RAF, Asian, non-graduate, female Air Traffic controller making it into the top job this century ? :)

January 6, 2015 3:28 pm

Adm Z was a helo pilot and perhaps his lean towards his CBG centric Navy.

January 6, 2015 3:43 pm

@Jeremy MH

If as you suggest there’s a link between all the CAS’ with a FJ background and an appetite for saving the FJ force at the detriment to all others, none of them did a very good job.

I did note you did say there was nothing special about aircrew only making it to the top in the RAF, however it’s so common in all sorts of large organisations that self select to get to the top. It’s so wide spread and broad it’s more of a comment related to human nature than anything specific to the RAF.

Jeremy M H
January 6, 2015 3:47 pm


The thing is I don’t disagree with the approach of having most senior level commanders being the ones who perform at the sharp end of their service. It makes sense as that is the end product to deliver.

But the RAF is fairly unique in that it was tasked to deliver support service for other services beyond fixed wing airlift. There is probably a reason most other nations don’t put their helos and MPA in the Air Force. The same human factors apply elsewhere and most everywhere else has made a different call on how to organize things.

January 6, 2015 3:51 pm

There is probably a reason most other nations don’t put their helos and MPA in the Air Force.

Not sure about RW, MPA is about 50/50 navy/air forces last time I looked. I think there was a thread on here about it.

January 6, 2015 3:52 pm

I think I have mentioned it before, but to add to @Jeremy M H’s and @Mechanical Tom’s points, I see one of the big issues with the RAF as a service is that the ranks from which the Air Marshall’s should and are drawn are rapidly declining into the low hundreds. Both the Army and RN have thousands of combat arms officers from which to draw their command and staff officers. It may be an administrative point, but it’s a telling one.

@TD: I look forward to the comments from you when the AAC goes all officer when it joins the RAF. After all, they need to bulk up the numbers of officers, so costs be damned :-)

Jeremy M H
January 6, 2015 4:28 pm


Well it might be in raw numbers of nations. But here is my list of powers that matter and are peers of the UK and where they keep their MPAs.

U.S.- Navy
French- Navy
Germany- Navy
Japan- navy
Australia- Air Force
Italy- Air Force

I could look further but this is really the list of powers that are really in the game as far as western nations go. As I have you don’t have to put them in the navy. But most relevant maritime powers do, particularly in the west. The two nations you conduct the most operations with both do this. Austalia doesn’t but has managed to keep the capability unlike the RAF. Soviet derived structures are different enough to not be worth trying to compare in my view.

I am not going looking but I would gather this difference is even more pronounced when it comes to putting the prime troop carrying helicopters in the Air Force. No one on that list is farting around with transport helos in the Air Force. It’s just a silly setup.

January 6, 2015 4:43 pm

Its rather ironic that the raf is being accused of being obsessed with fastjets when the origins of this thread lie with naval bloggers with a huge chip that the navy doesn’t have any fastjets.

Particularly when the navy’s own commander signed of on removing it’s fastjets and the mpa.

January 6, 2015 4:44 pm

The RNAS started using touring cars to retrieve downed pilots later turning them into armoured cars. Initially the Army spurned the idea of armoured cars but later took up the idea having the concept proved by the 20 squadrons of the RNAS and eventually took them over , crews included all but 20 squadron which worked on a secret project. There wad a problem that the Navy to recruit crews made them at a minimum Petty Officers as their skills were in short supply in civi street . The Army however when they set up their rival armoured car outfits kept most of the crew as private soldiers or corporals except the commander. When they took over the RNAS squadrons they almost had a mutiny when they announced the demotions :-) No. 20 squadron RNAS went on to develop and field the first tanks which the Army also spurned initially as an idea.

January 6, 2015 4:50 pm

A good point, Jeremy. The only oddity in that list is Italy, as they actually have something akin to the FAA.

Then again, their F35s will be co-located in one base (at least the ‘B’s) so they actually come close to the Brit arrangement with that, and the MPAs (if we are going to get any).

Jeremy M H
January 6, 2015 4:57 pm

Agree it can work for MPA and even could work for carrier air to have the RAF run all those things. You just need someone above the services to say you must put 24 aircraft on each carrier and provide appropriate training aircraft reserves and make that stick.

I think that and even the MPA are different but workable with a strong hand above the services. I think the helicopter thing is just bizzare though. It makes no sense to me given how they will be employed and no one else seems anywhere close to that arrangement.

Rocket Banana
January 6, 2015 5:21 pm

If the RAF were simply told that they needed to provide fast-jet cover for the fleet and CAS/interdiction cover for an amphibious RM battalion then how would they go about delivering that capability?

If you made it the RAF’s responsibility then so-be-it. It think they’d probably buy F35B and ask the Navy to build a couple of carriers with nice hotel facilities ;-)

They’d probably also request that the size the carrier can operate two complete squadrons with appropriate attrition and maintenance reserves for long engagements.

Alternatively they may say we can provide 24-7 cover any point on the globe by another mechanism.

I’m not fussed, as long as they don’t try and sweep certain areas of the world under the carpet.

January 6, 2015 5:32 pm

So if it floats its Royal Navy
So if it fly’s its Royal Flying Force
Anything else its the Army’s
:-) Sorted !

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
January 6, 2015 6:05 pm

Personally, I am persuaded beyond doubt that the nation’s Air Force commanders make decisions which are service biased beyond the demands of logic and professionalism, and which send risk up-stream. This is not at all ‘Air Force bashing’ per se; you just have to look at the evidence, the desire for control of all things with wings, regardless of the logic, and despite all objections. Look at the lamentable public performances of the commanders, and the void of intellectual argument; you could weep, honestly.

My final curtain call would be to give MPA/MMA to the Navy, though I’m not as excited on this one as I could be, put the support helos where they quite obviously should be and let the Navy play with F-35Bs, unencumbered by RAF-inspired compromises. Then leave the RAF to do the rest, and work out some good plans to get all their remaining aeroplanes AAR-compatible with each other as a good starter project.

January 6, 2015 6:23 pm

Oh dear, coming very late to this (gone back to work :-( ) – I expect everybody has said everything by now, so will just say: Welcome to TD, John, good to have some new blood on the site. Is it true you’re ex-RAF? I think they’re under represented by commenters here. Good job about TD’s otherwise unhealthy bias!

“My vote is for the RAF to absorb the FAA and AAC” indeed.

I find it odd that the marines are in the navy but the paras are not in the RAF :-)

Aubrey's Shadow
Aubrey's Shadow
January 6, 2015 6:47 pm

Actually……I’m ex RAF, so perhaps not as under-represented as it may appear.

January 6, 2015 7:51 pm

It’s was asked about the KAF runway. I don’t think it was ever extended. RAF Tri-Stars were landing there back in 2002 so there would have been no need. Certainly not done for Tornado.

The Other Chris
January 6, 2015 8:00 pm

As long as your Service uses a gas turbine and/or a distributed data processing and communications network, you’re OK with me.

If you have anything that goes at least sub-orbital, you earn bonus points.

The Other Chris
January 6, 2015 8:14 pm

Thought it was extended during the repairs in 2005? Lengthened to get more than just Harriers running from it then could be operated at the longer length when the repaired section was usable again?

January 6, 2015 9:33 pm

@the other Chris

You may be right. RAF Tri Stars had certainly landed there before 2005, so the runway was always a decent length. Some, as part of an attack on Tornado, said it was extended for them to operate there. I know this to be completely untrue. French jet fighters were originally deployed to Man as, Kyrgyzstan, in 2002, then to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in 2004, before reaching Kandahar in 2007, well before Tornado.

January 7, 2015 2:53 am

For anyone who thinks it is a good idea to put the RAF in charge of Naval Aviation I will say this…
Angled Flight Deck
Mirror Landing System
Steam Catapult
Ski Jump
All innovations of the Fleet Air Arm
Ask the USN what they think!

January 7, 2015 10:42 am

Re KAF airfield

Like a lot of things surrounding this issue, it’s the usual half-truths and internets myths pushed by those that need to hear the same things, ie it’s all the RAF’s fault.
The whole airfield was upgraded and expanded just before Tornado arrived. Various users of the airfield had to move or wait until new facilities had been built, Harrier/Tornado was no different. The facilities used by Harrier couldn’t be used post change to GR4 as it was used by another UK unit and so a purpose built facility was built elsewhere.
There was a extension of the Harrier in KAF, as above internets bods need to believe it was all some sort of conspiracy, that it was a last minute change or that none of the GR4 were ready etc. Neither of which were true. It was planned to run both Telic and Herrick at the same time with GR4, the phrase at the time became ‘dual ops’.
From the RE I understand the issue with waiting was related to concrete and it’s spec. It involved issues between the Canadians, who still ran the airfield, the US who were moving in and the main contractor who I was told was KBR.
Just my purely my speculation there was also I believe the need to build up the civvy side of the airfield, and have just a civvy airport part with no military stuff nearby. There were quite a few flights in and out of KAF last time I was there to more destinations than you’d think, I was surprised anyway.

January 7, 2015 10:44 am

‘ Jeremy MH

‘Well it might be in raw numbers of nations’

Well if you cherry pick them I’m sure it will agree with your conclusion.

Think Defence
January 7, 2015 10:45 am
Reply to  Navylookout

Joking aside, my serious face position is this

Show me a serious study that shows cost savings for either folding the RAF into the FAA and AAC or folding the FAA and AAC into the RAF and we need to have VERY GOOD reasons for not doing either.

The reason is very simple, defence spending is unlikely to rise and we need to be single mindedly ruthless when it comes to cost saving.

It is as simple as that, everything else, moving Australia, hotels, aircraft carrier costs, runways, Black Buck, arguments from bitter and twisted ex something of any service or what sad academics and sheep like bloggers think is just trivia, fun trivia, but trivia nonetheless

None of us know ‘the answer’ but logic dictates that absorbing two small into one large would yield higher savings than absorbing the large into two small organisations.

It is a universal truism that is inescapable and so my opinion veers towards moving the FAA/AAC into the RAF

it is only an opinion, show me the evidence that we could save more the other way then I would be there in a flash

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 7, 2015 11:56 am

TD What you are really saying is that the FAA & AAC should be eliminated. If the RAF takes them over there will be no money spent on these assets. They will wither on the vine until they are gone for good.

Think Defence
January 7, 2015 12:02 pm
Reply to  John Hartley

Why would you assume that John?

January 7, 2015 12:46 pm

@TD: for the same reasons Fighter Command was priority no 2 to Bomber Command pre war. The RAF has to justify it’s existence as a separate service, so strategic bombing is the priority.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 7, 2015 12:53 pm

“None of us know ‘the answer’ but logic dictates that absorbing two small into one large would yield higher savings than absorbing the large into two small organisations.

It is a universal truism that is inescapable and so my opinion veers towards moving the FAA/AAC into the RAF”

only if you persist in the view that it’s only the air arms of the RN and the army you’re talking about. As noted by others upthread, the real issue is OPCON and OPCOM of the air arm, particularly since the strategic role of the RAF has been defunct for over thirty years.

Another logical view – the Maritime Force for a Maritime Nation ideal, similar to the USN/USMC – would be equally valid. That model has its ship, air force (inc ISTAR and transport) and ground forces all owned by the same organisation. The organisation that is institutionally inclined to operating away from home on a global basis. Of course that would mean capbadge culling on an epic scale, so didn’t meet with your approval, but the logic behind it is hard to fault – assuming that global (or at least far-ranging influence) is our national goal.

Someone earlier (may have been John) suggested that the RN has only needed to defend itself from the air once in living memory, yet at the same time postulated that QRA was an immutable requirement for land-based fast air. It’s worth making the point that I entirely agree that defence of UK airspace is a sovereign responsibility, but I struggle to understand why the same level of air defence of a UK maritime force is somehow not comparable?

The threat to UK airspace can be summarised as that nice Mr Putin sending some Bears and Blackjacks to probe the UK ADIZ, plus a requirement to be able to intercept and splash if necessary airliners or similar behaving unusually. The probability of either occurrence resulting in an actual attack is very low – but you can’t relax posture just because of that. The prime purpose is to positively ID and provide a potential counter to the contact. Threat is always capability plus intent, one of which can change very quickly.

Deployed RN groups are overflown far more frequently, in far more potentially hostile locations and generally with much less buffer than the UK ADIZ provides, yet have no organic ability (at present) to offer a comparable intercept / identification capability, other than activate an automated AD system which at best compromises some elements of emcon and at worst results in a shoot / don’t shoot decision entirely based on RF transmissions (or lack thereof). The results of that can be – if we’re lucky – attack defeated. If we’re unlucky, it’s Iran Air/ Air Malaysia / KAL style aftermath, only we’re more vulnerable to Blame Direct lawyers Inc.

Clearly loss/damage to an RN group is not comparable in impact with a WTC-style attack on a UK city or sensitive installation, but what I’m saying is that the actual risk may be higher – the same applies to Akrotiri btw. Yet this is dismissed with an airy comment along the lines of “oh they’ve only had to worry about their airspace once in fifty years, what’s the problem?”. That is why John Hartley’s comment tends to ring true with any not in the light blue, as do those of Aubreys Shadow.

Think Defence
January 7, 2015 1:26 pm
Reply to  Not a Boffin

NaB, just wondering where your view that cap badge culling on an epic scale doesn’t meet with my approval comes from?

Maybe you should attribute a view to what I have said, not what you think I have said.

Actually, if you accept my logic about organisational efficiency delivered at the spear tip of the ruthless elimination of duplication then the conclusion is a single force with all that entails for ‘cap badge’ culling.

Like I said, am not wedded to any organisational concept except maximum outputs against the reality of minimised inputs.

A fairly simple concept to grasp I would imagine

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 7, 2015 1:41 pm

T’was a similar thread (quelle surprise) some weeks pre Xmas – can’t find it, but the Maritime Force for a Maritime Nation premise was dismissed (by you) as likely to be unacceptable on capbadge grounds. Might have been one of the sacred cows threads, but the site is so slow on this rig I’m not going looking for it……

That “single force” is/was the USN/USMC model by the way…….unless you fancy the PRC?!

Think Defence
January 7, 2015 2:14 pm
Reply to  Not a Boffin

NaB I might have said that it would be unacceptable to some so perhaps that is where you are confused.

Rest assured, I have no qualms about ‘cap badges’

I think I might have also said the maritime force for a maritime nation was a reasonable position to take but one that I do not agree with, does not make it any less viable or worthy of debate though.

Just to restate

I vote for maximum outputs against the reality of minimised inputs

However that is achieved

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
January 7, 2015 2:31 pm


So all future weapons procurement that might conceivably be used in both land and maritime environments to be led by maritime then. And absolutely no F35A or C (unless we CTOL the carriers in future) for for the RAF. All helicopters to have folding blades, BR766-compatible lashing points, naval EMI/EMC systems and SW-resistant airframes.


Think Defence
January 7, 2015 2:39 pm
Reply to  Not a Boffin

NaB, I would agree about the all weapons should be able to be used in all environments although it would add to the initial costs it inevitably saves later. There might be some exception though, not sure I would try and turn a C17 into STOVL!

But I take your point, why, because it is a logical one

Chimes with my ruthless commonality theme

Perhaps the RN might have used the Mauser 27mm cannon instead of buying Bushmasters

January 7, 2015 2:39 pm

Save the RN,

No, I asked for serious studies by governments, Defence colleges and Defence academics. Not articles about or by bloggers and quotes from retired mid ranking army officers. Like quoting a Wg cdr saying the RAF is great as prove the RAF is great.

I’m looking for serious academic rigor and evidence and a weight of opinion. Surely you can do better than this? I’ve seen more evidence that the moon landings were staged. Do you actually look at both sides of this at all?

Jeremy M H
January 7, 2015 2:39 pm


I don’t really see how combining those groups with the RAF necessarily reduces cost and overhead. Neither is a standalone group at this point. They both report up a chain similar to that of the air force.

I think it’s important to look at cost and benefit. One can have a common training establishment for basic fast jet pilots honestly. Beyond that I am not sure what cost are really being duplicated unless you let the FAA run its own fighter procurement or something.

What duplications are we saving and at what operational cost?

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 7, 2015 2:41 pm

TD The RN took back control of aircraft from carriers just pre WW2, as the RAF had concentrated on land based aircraft, leaving obsolete, poor performance aircraft on the carriers. Carrier based RAF pilots, found themselves ignored for promotion, so pilots did not want to go to the carriers. It was a career dead end.
The AAC came about as the RAF was too obsessed with bombing Germany, to bother with artillery spotting.
If the RAF took over the FAA/AAC, then at a time of austerity, the FAA/AAC missions would be ignored in favour of putting what little money the RAF had into fast pointy jets.

Think Defence
January 7, 2015 2:45 pm
Reply to  John Hartley

John, but today is very different from then, very different indeed

Jeremy, as I said, I don’t know, but logic dictates that two hierarchies are more costly than one and you save by the larger eating the smaller, not the other way around

January 7, 2015 2:46 pm

Save the RN,

Oh, and it was the 1st Sea Lord that said that there is no way Harrier could have done Libya. He was quite clear on that. Happy to provide quotes and links if anyone wants them. We’d all have loved to have kept both tornado and harrier, but gov clear one had to go.

It’s this kind stuff that has really damaged your cause. So easily shot down in the corridors of power. It’s why we don’t hear much from some of the more vocal advocates anymore.

January 7, 2015 2:50 pm

‘what cost are really being duplicated’

That’d be quite a few once you start digging about, if it’s worth it or not is another matter.

January 7, 2015 2:54 pm

To divide the RAF assets between the RN and army would create 2 medium air forces for one small armed forces. Not efficient. There is so much cross over between the management and operation of these assets that it would not solve any problems. Easier for US who can afford to have loads of assets for USN, marines and AF.

Ie. give fast jets to RN and air transport to army, what happens when the transporters are being used as tankers? They are then part of FJ requirement force. The same applies to Istar.

Guess what? you then create a single command to coordinate the use of air assets and colocate to improve comms. Whoops, we’ve just reinvented the wheel…

John Hartley
John Hartley
January 7, 2015 2:54 pm

Why then did the US have an assault carrier loaded up with Harriers off Libya? Or the Italians for that matter.

January 7, 2015 2:54 pm

@ John

Don’t bother trying to engage with such people.

They have done more damage to the real RN (in service) people than is admitted.
Its all soon forgotten.

January 7, 2015 2:57 pm

NaB – delighted with the concept of SW-resistant airframes – indeed I think all military platforms should be software resistant – it would make them much more reliable.