Sunday, October 24, 2010

We Get Air Power, Why doesn't the RAF?

The Royal Air Force was established in 1917 by amalgamating the Royal Flying Corps and the Naval Air Service. The RAF was established principally as a UK defence force to protect against German zeppelin and bomber attacks. The other main reason for establishing an independent service was that the Generals and Admirals of the time did not really get air power and were thought to under invest in it. This is understandable, Men like Kitchener were born in the age when steam trains were a new technology. It is understandable that people who started their careers on sailing ship's or horse back could hardly be expected to grasp such a revolutionary technology and it's impact on war. However every admiral and general nowadays have grown up in an age dominated by aircraft. They get it, we might argue that they get the need for air power far more than the RAF top brass.

The Royal Navy has just mortgaged it's entire fleet of frigates and destroyers in the hope of getting just one aircraft carrier and a handful of planes to go on them. The Amry has been desperately crying out for ISTAR platforms as well as decent ground attack aircraft. On the Other hand in a bid to save it's fast jet toys the RAF has gotten rid of the Harrier to save a few pennies. The Harrier is perhaps the most important aircraft in British service. It gives the Navy a fixed Wing Strike capability, The GR9's sister Aircraft the FA2 Sea Harrier provided perhaps the best Air to Air capability in the European NATO military before the entry of the Typhoon. The Harrier gave the Army close air support in Afghanistan where is performed fantastically in a difficult environment, one the Tornado has so far proven weak in.

In addition to the Harrier the RAF has also scrapped the MRA4. This aircraft which we have already paid for would not only have provided the navy with a Maritime Strike and Reconnaissance platform it would also have provided perhaps the best ISTAR platform for the army in Afghanistan. In addition it would have given the UK a limited but highly effective strategic bomber capability with the aircraft able to fly 7,000 miles carrying a bomb load of up to 10 tonnes of precision guided weapons including Storm Shadow. The RAF has scrapped these aircraft to keep in service the Tornado. While I ma not doubting the Tornado is an excellent aircraft it cannot compare to the MRA4 and Harrier. Everything the Tornado can do the Typhoon Tranche 3 can do better. That's a fact. Keeping Tornado gives the RAF no more capability than it would have had with the new Typhoons.

The FAA pilots of the Joint Force Harrier have come out as saying that they were set up by the air force to fail from the start. Tornado served in Iraq while that was the most high profile theatre. We have been in Afghanistan for 10 years and until recently Tornado has never served in Afghanistan. It was miraculously deployed to Afghanistan just in time for the defence review where it could become a sacred cow unable to be cut as we need it to fight the Taliban.

The RAF has a budget of nearly £8 billion. To put it in perspective that's almost as much as NASA. At present it has 10 Tornado aircraft deployed in Afghanistan. In an age of austerity can we afford a force that for £8 billion can only deploy 10 aircraft. Even in the Iraq war the RAF could only deploy 36 combat aircraft. A Single QE carrier with full Air Group would be able to deploy 36 aircraft. In a time of crisis such as the Falklands both Carriers would be able to deploy with 72 between them as well as there own AWACS coverage. It seems strange that the Navy is able to deploy more than 7,000 people almost a quarter of its total number to a land locked country not once or twice but three time's when the RAF a land based service can send perhaps 5% of its force.

In a world where a new fighter bomber costs almost as much as a Frigate to purchase and run we must be careful where we are spending our money. Can we really trust such a large budget to a group of men who have the gal to not only set up the pilots of the FAA for the treasury chop but even there own Harrier pilots. How would you be feeling right now if you were an RAF member of Joint Force Harrier. How would you feel if you were a member of the British Amry knowing that the superior ground support aircraft had been got rid of simply because the Tornado mafia in the RAF ordained it.

We have to question the intelligence and ability of any human being let alone senior member of the government who did not see this as a ploy. It was pretty obvious what the RAF were up to long before SDSR even started. Why are the RAF allowed to decided on what they loose from their service. Surely it should be up to the other services that the RAF is suppose to provide air support to.

The navy was prepared to sacrifice its frigates and even its aircraft carriers in the defence review. The Army prepared to sacrifice its heavy armour and artillery because both services new these were not what was needed for the current campaign. The RAF did the complete opposite.

The RAF is not alone in its single service devotion to useless high tech toys. The US Air Force is even worse. It has been trying to kill the A10 Warthog since the plane took off . Despite the fact that the plane is probably the most useful aircraft in the current threat environment. The US air force continues to spend $200 million on an F22 or $2 billion on a B2 even though these planes are absolutely useless in the current environment. The reason for the poor integration of air forces with other services is not difficult to understand. Air Forces look to fight other air forces. That is what they want to do, that's what they spend most of their time training to do. That's what all their platforms are designed to do. Supporting ground troops or hunting submarines is a distraction to what they consider their real task to be. Unfortunately that is not the world we live in. We liven in a world where we need aircraft to shoot up insurgents on the ground armed with AK47 and RPG's. Its hard to justify a $ 2 billion dollar aircraft to achieve a task such as this.

Britain lead the way in creating the first independent air force in the world. It was the right thing to do at the time and it served us well.Surely now is the time for the UK to once again lead the world in being the first to scrap the air force and give its assets to the other services who understand the need for air power far more than the air force do.


  1. Hey here is a wild idea for you.

    There are more than 300 A-10A Warthogs mothballed by the USAF.

    Bet we could get them on the cheap and provide an amazing ground support capability that our army aviation needs, paired up with the apache all bases covered.

    Typhoons in limited numbers for Air Defense and Tornados for IDS till the Typhoon is fully deployable in that role.

    The A-10's STOL capability means in would not be that hard to CARRIER adapt if we had to!!!

    I know I off the wall but its exactly the capability we need RIGHT NOW, switch the harrier drivers over now at the US OCU and get them flying immeidately.

  2. While I agree that the biggest threat to the RN since the demise of the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet is actually the RAF, and that the USAF fast jet mafia has its problems, it is also a problem if you get fixated on the "current war" and forget that you might need to fight other conflicts too. There are only 187 F22, and what about 20 B2's ? National Guard F16 and F15 units are loosing their fighters for MQ9 Reapers - very useful for the present fight, not so useful for air sovereignty missions in US air space.

    The US view on this is that it uses fully trained pilots to "fly" the UAV's - pilots in can if need be, get back into A10's retrieved from the bone yard if required - of course we don't have the luxury of keeping such a reserve. Also don't forget that B1 and B52 aircraft have flown 1000's of hours of "persistent close air support" - even carrying Sniper / Lightning pods etc, yet at first view, these don't appear to be the right platform for fighting AK toting insurgents either.

    However, the US is the US, where it comes to the RAF your absolutely right, apparently they are more interested in preserving the myth of "the few" than in the defence of the realm... :-(

  3. You are right the US is different. They have a naval air service with 1000+ fighters so they don't need to rely on the US Airforce. I do agree that we need some high end paltforms for major war fighting. However the F22 is a prime example that eventually numbers count more than quality. If the US can only deploy 24 to a theatre meaning 5 in the air then all the chinese have to do is send more than 40 aircraft and the F22 is F**Ked.

  4. "The A-10's STOL capability means in would not be that hard to CARRIER adapt if we had to!!!"

    Depends how you define "short".
    The Gripen is designed for short take off and landings, defining short as 800metres.
    The big US super carriers have deck lengths of about 350metres.

  5. I think the A10 has a very strong landing gear for landing on make shift runways. Normally this is the hardest thing to get on a navalised version. However stopping something as heavy and dence as an A10 on a carrier migth present some problems.

  6. According to wikipedia, the Rafel is supposed to be able to operate from 400m airstrips.
    Slightly enlarged Ford Class?

  7. great idea buy some A10s cheep ex mothalled stock. The Americans did it to us buying up all our balance of Harriers. What use will be, even when we get them a pitiful handful of F35's