President of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

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President of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am of course delighted to be able to speak to you this evening. It has been a particular honour for me to have been invited to become a Fellow of this distinguished society, and it has been a great pleasure to have been able to accept. In speaking to you this evening, I hope to achieve two aims. Firstly, to honour the memory and recognize the huge contribution that Sir Sydney Camm made to British aircraft design and, therefore, support to airpower. Secondly, to talk to you about the context in which the Royal Air Force delivers airpower in an uncertain world, and how we respond to those challenges today and plan to do so for the future.
I approach this subject having taken the helm as CinC Air Command almost 3 months ago, but I bring to it my experience as Deputy Commander JFC Brunssum for the past two years. It was a rare privilege to have sat as part of NATO’s operational level command and control for the ISAF mission in Afghanistan – a conflict which some are characterizing as a, so called, ‘hybrid war’, and to which I shall return later. The Mission is certainly the greatest professional challenge I have been faced with to-date.
I return back to the UK to interesting times: operationally; financially; and, politically. Operationally, I am part of a generation that has seen continual operations since the first Gulf War, some 19 years ago. As we draw down the flag in Iraq this year, having completed our mission there, we turn our focus more and more to support a successful outcome in Afghanistan; but there are other challenges in the world that lurk near the surface in the realm of conflict. The UK and US experience in Iraq and Afghanistan brings discussion about the future nature of conflict, and so to a degree there is a battle of ideas that is occurring on both sides of the Atlantic. Financially, we all read daily about the state of the UK as well as the global economy; it is not difficult to conclude that the MOD faces an enormously challenging period to not only gain control of the costs of the equipment program, but also to live within more stringent means in the coming few years. And finally, with an election mandated within the coming year, the party returning to government is widely expected to conduct a defence review, and so these two themes of the nature of future warfare, and size of the defence vote, are shaping the debate for such a Defence Review.
This evening, I would like to expand further on the global context for Defence, and explore what this might tell us about the evolving nature of warfare. I would like to use the lens of our operations in Afghanistan to highlight the role that British airpower plays in contemporary operations, before daring to crystal ball gaze to the future. I would stress that my aim tonight is to inform this learned audience; it is not to strike further controversy in this media-fuelled debate.


To start by saying that we live in an uncertain world is something of an understatement. We can look back 20 years this November to the end of the Cold War. Before the events in Berlin that brought down the wall, the security of the world was defined in terms of two monolithic powers: the United States and her allies; and, the Soviet Union and hers. In a somewhat perverse way this gave the world a degree of certainty. It provided a political impetus to contain the possibility of small wars least they escalate, through miscalculation, to a nuclear Armageddon. It reinforced the Westphalian model of states, that assumed that sovereignty was to a degree sacrosanct, and therefore that only an act of war triggered a military response. It was also an era of industrial age warfare. Absolute numbers mattered; military objects were relatively discrete and usually armoured or hardened. Un-guided weapons of that era had only small probabilities of achieving their desired effect, and only a very small percentage could be considered to be a precision weapon.
Few would argue, therefore, that the end of the Cold War has reduced the risk of total war. It has, however, lifted the lid on the wider spread on conflict, resulting in smaller and more complex conflicts. This complexity is driven inevitably by politics and resources. The political related drivers are religious (from those adopting extremist beliefs), ethnic, and still to a degree ideological (as in the case of North Korea). The resource related drivers we see are the potential mass movements of people seeking to sustain access to food production, water, etc in the faces of shifting global environment effects. Allied to this is competition for energy and mineral wealth to sustain growing economies, and the expectations of their people. Here one only has to think about the competition to monopolise European access to gas supplies, or the race to secure national rights to energy and mineral exploration and exploitation of the Arctic seabed.
This complexity is enabled by technology, which in turn has enabled globilisation. The advent of micro electronics and the accessibility to industrial chemicals, coupled with knowledge disseminated through the internet, has enabled individuals, or groups of individuals, to achieve military effects and behave in a manner that was once the preserve of states and their armed forces. The level of warfare has come down a level from the state to the individual (as Admiral Art Cebrowski pointed out through his work on military transformation). Home made explosives, coupled with detonators fashioned from consumer products, such as mobile phones or intrusion detectors, can have potentially devastating consequences (as the Heathrow bombers in 2006 tried to prove). The use of civil airliners in the 9/11 attacks remind us of the potency of abused technology. Worse still would be the employment of weapons of mass effects like a chemical, biological or dirty nuclear attack. The cyber world of the internet connects individuals with ideas and information, and, through the global dependency it has created, it exposes vulnerabilities in our security, energy and financial stability. It can of course be equally argued that a collective dependency on global markets has driven increased stability through a collective self-interest, only bucked by a couple of rogue states. Thomas Friedman illustrates this multi-polar world in his excellent book ‘The World is Flat’.
Through technology the complexity of a conflict is amplified by the media, through mechanisms which we witness daily. All the foregoing can operate to sustain terrorism on a global scale, and act as an accelerant to criminality. In weak states especially, these non-state actors can begin to flourish in un-governed spaces; on land, such as in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan; at sea, for example the piracy off the coast of Somalia; and indeed in cyberspace. These groups or individuals are often sponsored by states for their own purposes, like Hezbollah, and can act in state-like ways with political as well as military factions.
So if the foregoing characterizes the contemporary security environment, what is future nature of warfare?
There is no doubt that the United States possesses a clear superiority in conventional military capability. Although re-emergent, Russia still only spends a fraction on defence compared to that of the US. Having said that, there is also no doubt that the US is severely stretched by her involvement in two major theatres of operation, especially her land forces. With a strong nuclear arsenal, and the collective abilities of her allies, there is only a very low probability of a major conventional conflict between major states. Indeed, it is considered that the risk of territorial attack on the UK to be equally very low for the foreseeable future. So if the risk of major conventional ‘war’ is very low, what is the most likely type of conflict we could face in the next two decades, say?
Well here the debate begins. Will conflict in the future be all about irregular wars, that is so called wars amongst the people, where there is a violent struggle amongst state and non-state actors for legitimacy over the relevant population? Chechnya, Darfur, Sri Lanka and the FATA area of Pakistan may be good examples of irregular war, along with the recent conflict in Lebanon and in Gaza. Insurgencies, like the current challenge we face in Afghanistan, are seen as sub-set of irregular warfare. Here it is recognized that political, rather than military, solutions are required, and this puts a premium on the comprehensive approach, and, it is argued, ‘boots on the ground’.
Given my comments on the increasing complexity of conflict, will all future conflicts be so called Hybrid Wars? It is argued that future conflict is likely to be characterized by an increased blurring across the range of adversaries we will face, and the methods they will employ, especially to counter our perceived symmetrical strengths. States may respond in the ways of non–state actors (ie more asymmetrical using cyberspace for example); and non-state actors will behave more like states, with state like technologies (such as UAVs) and alternative government capacities (such as hospitals and welfare care). Hard and soft levers of power will converge so there will be a strong emphasis on information operations and exploitation of cyberspace for example. The more moderate protagonists of Hybrid War theory do not argue that state-on-state war is dead, but that deployed forces need to be as capable at fighting an insurgency, as conducting conventional high-end warfare. (We need to be cautious here about following ‘fashion labels’ in warfare theory, of which there are many, and all wars could be argued as hybrid, but the complexity and convergence of levels of warfare is accepted).
So what of state-on-state conflict? Looking back on some of the complexities driving the global security context, there are sufficient factors that still draw states into potential conflict with each other. Residual territorial disputes loom large, such as Taiwan, the Falkland Islands and the influence of Russia over former Soviet countries, such as Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic States. Competition for energy, and access to raw materials, drives the potential for miscalculation and challenges our free-access to markets. North Korea, Iran and a failing Pakistan, with or without an India dimension, can all create a compelling narrative for conventional capability, all of which could have a nuclear aspect.
Is there indeed any evidence to suggest that one type of conflict will be more prevalent in the coming decades? Operational analysis of conflict over the past 60 years finds: ‘that randomness dominates and that extrapolation of recent behaviours is a poor guide to the future’. There is also a danger here in a ‘one doctrine’ approach, either to define our area of operations, the time we require, or the enemies we will face! Before the first Gulf War it was famously stated that no British tanks would ever be required to operate outside of Europe; that a recent president stated that US troops would not be used for nation building; or that we would always be first in and first out! (Who would have predicted after WW2 that UK troops would face North Koreans, Argentineans or Egyptians in conflict – but we have!)
We try and define how we will respond to these challenges in a declared and non-declared defence policy. However, what should the central aim of our defence policy be? Well, I can find no better aim of defence policy than the words of Lord Tedder, when addressing the House of Lords in 1953, during the Defence White Paper debate.
I repeat our object is to secure peace, not by winning another war, but by preventing another war… In the first place I suggest the military forces must be such as to constitute an effective deterrent, that is our primary objective, but, they must also be such as to be able to fight a successful war if that [the] deterrent fails. One must therefore try and foresee what would be the nature of another war…. I believe we would be making a fatal mistake – and I mean fatal – if we were to shape our forces on the basis that a war in the future would be on the same old lines as those of the last war (and I might add, or the current).
So if the supreme aim of defence policy is to prevent war or crisis building to the point of threatening our national interests, how do we then decide on force structure? One fundamental constraint is obviously money. This is nothing new. As Denis Healy stated in 1967; ‘The main purpose of a Defence Review was to bring defence expenditure into line with the nation’s resources’. Indeed, read any defence review over the past 60 years and the bottom line is what the country is willing to pay for the insurance that defence provides. And so the question is ultimately about choice: player or neutral, defensive or expeditionary, isolationist or multi-lateralist, leader or follower, global or regional, and so forth.
What might be drawn from the foregoing? Firstly, I would have to begin by recognizing fully that we do not have a clean sheet. In some significant areas we have already made commitments, in policy and in expenditure; these will need to be honoured, or indeed exploited. We will/must stay engaged in a bloody and resilient insurgency; we cannot afford to see the strategic failure of our efforts in Afghanistan, and so for the short term this endeavour requires our fullest efforts. I would subscribe, however, to a view that we cannot afford to be fighting in Afghanistan in the same manner in 5 years from now that we are engaged today. The mission will of course likely remain for a decade or more, but our role by then should be predominately in support of indigenous forces. Like the US, if our land forces are largely committed over this period, it will fall to air and naval forces to deter and, if necessary, strike other threats that emerge to threaten our interests.
In a post Iraq/Afghanistan era, I believe our focus should return to the question of deterring war and conflict which is against our national interest. Should this prevention fail, it is likely that the crisis will involve some proportion of irregular warfare, but state-on-state conflict is still very possible. Prevention will require security and confidence building activities in partnership with OGD in key regions of the world. It will require a deterrence posture encompassing nuclear and conventional capability to deter and, if necessary, coerce potential adversarial actors. This will require judgment so that we are not over-insured for the premium we can afford. And it will require deployable forces, able to operate across the full spectrum of conflict, probably at simultaneous levels, if we accept the notions of hybrid concepts like Krulak’s ‘3 block war’. Such forces, operating by necessity in partnership with Alliance or coalition nations, will be required for their deterrent value, as well as their ability to operate in complex battlespace if deployed. With clear financial constraint, we will have to decide where we want to buy influence, and what scale we can afford. In doing so, we will balance our political ends and financial means, with military ways.


Having set the contemporary context , I would like to move on to look at the relevance of airpower in fighting irregular warfare through the lens of our operations in Afghanistan. I would argue that Afghanistan does not fully represent a hybrid conflict as many elements of what could be within the envelope of this definition are missing. Nevertheless, I feel strongly that it best represents a challenging environment in which to deliver airpower, and so I would like to highlight to you how the Royal Air Force has been responding.
As I outlined when I spoke at the airpower conference earlier this year, at the heart of the ISAF mission is a complex insurgency and, in common with all insurgencies, it is a political struggle for power which uses extreme violence to try and achieve its aims. We can only consider it a success, therefore, when the political battle is won.
The wisdom remains that we apply counter-insurgency tactics and procedures – or COIN – the doctrinal framework for which is the well read FM 23-4. At the heart of the COIN doctrine is the need to win the trust of the Afghan people, such that they believe that their long–term personal security will be better served through their elected government and appointed officials, supported by the international community. The effort needs to be focused on the people we are attempting to support; it is not focused on simply killing or capturing insurgents.
This is a really important to point to stress. It requires that the Afghan government is trusted by its people to provide for their welfare, and offer a more just and prosperous future than that offered by the insurgents. It requires the long-term support of the international community, and particularly the support of neighbouring states to help stem the flow of financial, material and human capital that energises the insurgents. It requires political and public support for the actions needed, with a commitment for the long haul, as required, if we are to coerce the insurgents to believe that they cannot outlast us, and convince ordinary Afghans that their lives will not be at stake for years to come.
I deliberately point this out to be a complex business, because it is. It is too simplified to see this as a military operation. To date that may appear so, but the other lines of operation of governance as well as reconstruction and development are equally important and must all move forward together. All these aspects are recognized in our own comprehensive approach and in the new US approach to Afghanistan and the region; what clearly stands out is the need for a ‘political surge’.
Wrestling with this issue for the past two years has also made me aware of the limitations of the military instrument in such situations. COIN operations are, by their nature, often contradictory. We want to attack the insurgents but not the people, an act that can be an unintentional recruiting sergeant. Causing civilian casualties works against us, and I shall return to this topic later. We talk of deploying more forces, but also about transition and reconciliation, thereby signaling a timetable for exit. More external forces can shift the public’s perception over time to one of ‘occupying forces’ if our behaviour does not match our rhetoric.
So the answer to such an irregular type conflict is not necessarily more foreign boots on the ground, although this remains vital in areas of very poor security. The more ground we clear, in a shape, clear, hold, build (SCHB) strategy, the more ground we need to hold. Clearing without holding takes us potentially backwards not forwards. This is why, for the campaign to succeed, it is vital that effective Afghan security forces are in the lead of operations and are, ultimately, the holding force.
So what role does airpower have to play in all this? Well, it is too easy to try and characterize all this as a land operation. From a joint perspective, such operations are inherently air/land operations, or even, if you prefer, land/air operations!
I could simply say that airpower has made an enormous contribution and leave it at that – but that would miss the opportunity to portray the richness of how deeply airpower is woven into the tapestry of the ISAF mission – and indeed the part that Air Command has been playing.
Air Contribution
Looking firstly then at Air Mobility; very obviously Afghanistan is land-locked and mountainous, with limited overland access to feed the logistic requirement. Whilst work is ongoing to expand the overland options, there are still very few ports of entry to Afghanistan, and all have risk and fragility; strategic air-bridges are vital day-to-day, and would be the first resort in the face of disruption, particularly through Pakistan. There has been much effort within the Command on providing a more robust airbridge, and the opening of the second C-17 based ALOC has provided increased capability in this area. The timely delivery of FSTA is, as you can see, vital to this sustained effort.
Perhaps above the operational level of typical UK thinking is the need to promote the development of civil and military airpower in Afghanistan. Developing airfields and civil air traffic control capacity promotes economic development and self sustainability, and promotes government credentials such as flights to Mecca for the Hajj. An important part in the strategy in developing capacity in indigenous forces must be the training and development of the Afghan National Army Air Corps – a role so far that the UK has limited contribution too – but essential if we are to pass the baton in the medium term (Here I believe that the RAF can have an important role in training and educating this fledgling air force).
Across the battlespace of Afghanistan, the RAF contributes to air/land operations to support ISAF’s mission. Not all this effort is focused on UK forces, but this is vital operational-level activity to achieve campaign-level success across the country. Remaining with the theme of mobility, RAF support helicopters and their crews are to be praised for the professionalism and bravery, and our heavy and medium lift helicopters provide a decisive advantage to ISAF forces. One only has to witness the complexity and risk of ground convoy operations in, say, Helmand to see the advantage offered. More SH is needed across the AOR; the new US assets will help, and the additional UK aircraft planned to deploy later this year will make an important contribution.
With distances between centres of population measured in hundreds, not tens, of miles in the AOR, tactical fixed wing transport have a special premium. Their work extends to hub and spoke flights from out of theatre when ‘trooping’ aircraft do not have the level of defensive aids suites required, as well as the airdrop of supplies to remote outposts, reducing response time for re-supply and further reducing for need for riskier ground convoys. There is more I believe that can be done here in the precision airdrop of supplies.
Control of the Air remains, I believe, just as valid a concept in COIN. Whilst not perhaps challenged by traditional ideas of air-to-air combat, the security of aircraft in-flight from SAFIRE or MANPADS, and the need to protect vital ground around our airbases is just as compelling a need. At Kandahar and soon at Bastion, RAF Regt field squadrons conduct essential patrols to deter IDF attacks and sweep vulnerable approach areas used by trooping aircraft. A successful insurgent attack here, as CDS rightly identifies, can have strategic consequences. The work of the RAF Regt is every bit as challenging as elsewhere on the ground - and is very much a hearts and minds campaign with local people.
Our contribution to Intelligence and Situational Awareness (or Knowledge Development if you like) is a very exciting area of airpower evolution in COIN. NIMROD and other air platforms with full motion video (FMV) have been essential in theatre for sometime, and maintaining such a capability on future platforms is vital. REAPER has been a huge success story; and more in a while on that impressive UAV capability. Fast jet based ISR too has an important role. The Harrier GR9s SNIPER targeting pod has not only provided an NTISR capability, but more importantly its ability to down-link to ROVER terminals with land forces has given meaning to NEC in air/land operations. With Tornado GR4 now in theatre, the Lightening III pods will maintain this capability. Tornado also comes with the RAPTOR ISR pod; many of this audience will be familiar with RAPTOR’s capabilities, which will add an important surveillance tool for intelligence led operations.
One of the most promising ISR capabilities at this time is the ASTOR system. The Sentinel aircraft, with its highly capable synthetic aperture radar, has deployed to theatre as a so called operational rehearsal. Numbers limit a sustained deployment for the time being, but the system provides wide area surveillance, and has proved a hit with ground commanders as it cues attention to pattern of life activity in advance of, and during, tactical patrols. It is proven in providing tactical GMTI in the counter ambush role, and there remain many new ways to exploit its capabilities including the real potential to contribute to the CIED fight, and in the locating of IDF devices.
The above three core airpower roles are easy to grasp in COIN ops and there is no doubt that demand outstrips supply in all these areas; for example, less than 10% of ISAF’s GMTI demand (as proved by ASTOR type radar) is fulfilled. Similarly, only about 50% of fixed wing AT, or ITAS, is met, and a similar percentage of FMV, as provided by REAPER and the other UAVs. But our FJ aircraft also make an essential contribution to ISAF operations. Whilst there are insufficient CAS aircraft to fulfill all ISAF preplanned air support requests, there is excellent co-ordination to respond to immediate CAS requests for Troops In Contact situations, or TICs. Average response times are now very quick indeed.
Harrier GR9s from JFH have done fantastic work for the past 5 yrs – they, and their families, are ready for a well deserved break. (If I could reflect for a moment, I am sure that Sydney Camm would be proud and amazed to discover that, almost 50 years after his involvement in the P1127, the fundamentals of the Harrier design have stood the test of time, and has delivered a winning capability in numerous operations). Now some people may believe that other nations could provide British land forces with CAS, but such an idea is myopic, because, as part of an alliance we need to contribute in a balanced way, and we certainly benefit a great deal. Moreover, we cannot just fight at the tactical level. RAF fast jets are equipped to respond 24/7 and in almost all weather. We have developed our targeting pods and precision weapons to give the highest assurance of success. The non-kinetic effect of our aircraft on targets has been well documented. The key message is that kinetic and non-kinetic airpower effects allow us to maintain a significant asymmetric advantage in the close battle. Our crews are trained during pre-deployment training (PDT) to exemplary standards, in partnership with UK and allied joint tactical air controllers (or JTACs) on the ground. Their adherence to tactical directives to minimise CIVCAS is reported widely. Quite simply put, we have developed an outstanding reputation for discrimination and care. This all adds up to a level of assured support that UK troops expect, and deserve. As a nation, we must not make short cuts in delivering the required capabilities.
So far I have focused on the breadth of airpower’s contribution to COIN operations. Whilst it would be tempting to stop the discussion on a positive note, it would be wrong of course to not highlight some of the challenges. I would like to cover three which I feel are very important.
The first is the issue of civilian casualties. As I have stated already, if we are to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, then we must focus more on their security than we appear to focus on our own. An act which creates an unacceptable level of civilian casualties clearly works against this goal. It is now well accepted that by far the greatest number of civilian casualties are created by insurgent action. The loss of any civilian life is a cause of deep regret, and hurts the campaign’s progress. Some commentators are still too quick, however, to try and apportion the blame for civilian casualties on the inappropriate use of airpower, often citing a lack of boots on the ground. ISAF has taken this matter very seriously, especially given the disproportionate and largely negative coverage than comments on this issue create. The detailed analysis over the last year has further corroborated the statements I have made in the past. The greatest proportions of civilian casualties attributed to ISAF are caused by direct fire incidents, and escalations in the use of force at check points and the like. Enlighted commanders understand this, and appropriate emphasis is now given to ROE application and clear communication of commander’s intent (through COMISAF’s Tactical Directive), and improved interaction with local people. Airman have also, of course, played their part in the drive to minimize the risk of causing civilian casualties; advanced targeting pods, data links with ground forces, enhanced JTAC guidance and validation, along with lower collateral damage weapons such as PAVEWAY IV and Laser Brimstone, all have had an effect. I will leave this point by congratulating JFH for the sensitive way in which they have applied ROE during their time in theatre – another reason why assured support from UK fast jets is an essential component of any irregular war force construct.
My second challenge is that the nature of COIN operations begins to challenge the traditional airpower maxim of centralized control, decentralized execution. COIN operations are often planned at quite low tactical levels, sometimes down at company level, but more usually at battle-group. If we are to influence tactical commanders thinking we must, therefore, have our air planners and liaison officers well forward, mentoring land planners and advising fire support teams on air power effects, and build trust in the employment of airpower through the professionalism of our JTAC’s and aircrews, and through the responsiveness of the air support net. We must not endanger lives by waiting for organic assets, when airpower is often on hand as a first responder. At the operational level, ‘air thinking’ is embraced in COMISAF’s theatre level plans. ‘Air action’ is less intuitive at operational level joint HQs, like ISAF, and so our air experts need to break out of the comfort of the CAOC and move forward to fill joint appointments in HQs like RC(South), HQ ISAF and even further back. I have witnessed over the past two years that airman’s skills in planning and targeting are in great demand in the joint environment, and I believe that we are more effective in embedding airpower effects when we work closely with key joint and land commanders, building trust and offering solutions to their problems. This puts a premium on our need to be warfighters first.
My final challenge is how airpower can play a greater role in helping to counter the threat posed by IEDs. Insurgents have realized that they cannot challenge ISAF and the Afghan National Army by using conventional force-on-force tactics. They have shifted to a more asymmetric approach through the use of suicide bombers, but especially in the employment of IEDs. IED’s continue to account for over 75% of ISAF casualties. Pre-deployment Training, and good TTPs in theatre, goes a long way to counter this type of threat, and better protected mobility plays its part. It is becoming accepted that we must also engage IED networks by more offensive action, ‘to the left of the bomb’ so to speak. Armed UAVs have had some notable successes in this area. It does require a joint and multi-disciplined approach. Wide area surveillance (WAS), as offered by ASTOR, is part of the solution, along with SIGINT and HUMIT to focus and cue other assets, such as SF or UAVs. Change detection technology, command wire detectors, and the like all hold some potential. I am convinced that there is more that airpower can do in this area, and I am already encouraging Air Command staff to apply their minds to this critical contemporary issue.
Let me now begin to wrap up by saying a few words on three particular success stories; Air Land Integration (ALI), REAPER and the EAG/W concept.
Within the framework of Project Coningham-Keyes, many of you will be aware that the Joint Air Land Organisation was stood up. Over the past five years or so it has steadily worked to develop understanding, TTPs and where necessary sponsor new equipment to ensure that air can support land operations as seamlessly as possible, and that land formations understand, and use, the full capabilities of the air component. This is vital if we are to save lives and achieve operational success. Airpower effects need to be planned into an operation at the outset, and not as an afterthought. As I have mentioned earlier, ‘air effects’ are planned into COMISAF operational level plan; integration of air at ISAF HQ has matured to the point that the DCOS Joint Ops (a pivotal post) is now a 2* Airman, and the ASOC is embedded in the J3 area. At RC(South) level, Deployed Air Integration Teams (or DAITs) support the planning effort, and we have increased the capability of the air support organization. Our efforts have not stopped in theatre. We fully support PDT; indeed Ex Mountain Dragon is now essential training for land Fires Support Teams and is conducted in the state of the art ABTC facility at RAF Waddington. This fully networked synthetic environment allows FSTs and Fires Planning Cells to develop common TTPs and conduct the tasking cycle by interacting with aircrew and air battle managers in a virtual Helmand. It is building this level of trust and confidence, not to mention the assurance and effectiveness generated by this team approach, which convinces me why nationally provided assured support is so necessary.
Another significant success has been the introduction of the REAPER armed UAV. Procured and deployed with commendable speed, the REAPER provides a high endurance platform with formidable ISR capability and firepower. We will shortly be able to provide a full 24/7 orbit, and we have aspirations to expand this to 3 full orbits. On a recent visit I made to Kandahar, members of Special Forces waxed lyrical to me in front of 2nd PUS on the huge impact REAPER has had on their efforts, and with little prompting from me demanded more!
Finally, I would point to the success of the EAG/W structure that we have deployed to the Op Herrick and Telic theatres. For too long we have simply defined airpower capability as a bucket of airframes: 6 Tornados, 8 Chinook. This construct failed to articulate the command and control and logistic elements that are essential for air operations. In the cold war this was all taken for granted, in the fixed infrastructure that NATO provided. As our fore-fathers in the Western Desert knew only too well, for deployed operations, the conceptual and moral component of air power needed to be addressed. At Kandahar, Bastion, Al Udied and elsewhere the EAG/Ws play an essential part in commanding, planning and executing operations, as well as undertaking essential liaison.
Whatever next?
Well I hope that over the past 35 minutes or so I have helped to convey to you the decisive impact that airpower is having on current operations, and that I have helped foster an improved understanding of why airpower remains very relevant in COIN operations, and will remain so in irregular wars of the future – ‘hybrid airpower’ if you like.
But you might well ask ‘whatever next’ for airpower, and for the Royal Air Force in particular. Well you will have sensed by now my clear belief that we need to fully put our shoulder behind the wheel in order to succeed in Afghanistan; in the short term this will mean re-adjusting our priorities and shifting resources to this main effort. It also means grasping new roles and technology and innovating to meet the emerging challenges of irregular warfare.
For the medium and longer term, however, I come back to the discussion on what we want our armed forces to do in the broader context of defence. We cannot predict the future with accuracy; so, within the constraint of what our nation is willing to spend, or can afford, we need to make policy choices and consider the scale of our efforts. We need to deter as well as being able to fight, if required. In the continuum of Prevention, Coercion, and if required Intervention, we need to have the best balance of forces able to do all these things. So we have to be agile and adaptable.
This adaptability needs to be physical and mental. We have a good record in this regard but we must ensure that we continue this theme in all our new platforms to demonstrate our wider utility, and this applies to our fast-jets in particular. There are plenty of examples I could use to illustrate this point but an excellent recent example is the Tornado GR4. Nineteen years ago it found itself in an offensive counter air role, dropping JP233 runway denial weapons, and striking critical infrastructure in Iraq. Last week it conducted its first COIN mission in Afghanistan, successfully strafing insurgents in contact with UK forces.
Mobility and ISTAR are fundamental enablers across the spectrum of conflict, and our planned investments in this area look about right. For the future, we must continue to richen our ISTAR mixture as understanding complexity and resolving the ambiguity of targets will be more challenging than striking them with precision weapons. Control of the Air is still a fundamental requirement for joint manoeuvre, and, as I have discussed, has become more multi-faceted. But there are questions to resolve. The balance between operations and recuperation; the balance of platform numbers verses capability (and here the future mix of UAVs is part of this debate); the balance of live vs synthetic training; the balance of investment in enabling capability such as NEC, which is the essential glue to produce precise and synchonised effects. Recognising the investment already agreed in our fast-jet attack platforms, we aim to continue to drive down the cost of delivering this capability, building on our recent excellent record of lean support. What is equally important for the future is to continue to draw together previously discrete capabilities. Typhoon is no longer an air defence fighter, but an attack platform as well. This does not seem to be well understood. Perhaps we need to explain ourselves better, or perhaps others need to be willing to listen! Joint Combat Aircraft will take this approach further with its inherent ISTAR capability, and much reduced cost of ownership. Typhoon too has the potential here to deliver a similar ISTAR capability with investment in an AESA radar. This true multi-role approach gives utility as an excellent deterrence force, as well as being able to respond to the uncertainty of a regular or irregular crisis. Which ever way you look at this, assured airpower delivered by the Royal Air Force is the right answer to support our armed forces in pursuit of the Defence mission.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have covered a broad canvas quickly. I have reflected on the formulation of our defence policy and the nature of warfare. I have drawn on the 90 year experience of the Royal Air Force in adapting to the unpredictable nature of conflict, and our more recent experience of operations following our engagement in the middle-east over the past 19 years. Agility, adaptability and relevance remain core to our vision. Sydney Camm shaped aircraft design for most of the last century. I hope he would be proud of how we continue to shape airpower for this one.

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