Delivering Security in a Changing World:
Future Capabilities

Personal Message from the Chief of the Air Staff,
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, to the Royal Air Force

Last December, when the Defence White Paper was published, I wrote to you to explain how we were developing the future structure of the RAF.  That work is now largely complete.  As you read this Briefing Note, the Secretary of State for Defence will have made his announcement to Parliament about the outcome of the 2004 Spending Review and the changes necessary in Defence to give effect to the broad policy set out in the White Paper.  These follow a hard look across the board at all three Services and the civilian element of the Department to see how we need to adapt if we are to meet the various challenges ahead of us.  We in the RAF have been planning and pursuing many of the changes for some time.  These will make us a more effective fighting Service.  Others, inevitably, are driven by the hard realities of an increased but finite budget that faces continued pressure from rising costs.  I, my colleagues on the Defence Management Board, and the Commanders-in-Chief have been fully engaged in this work, and our aim throughout has been to secure the best overall outcome for Defence in general and, within that the RAF.  Unsurprisingly, the result is not good news in every area, but I believe that we have an agreed programme that will underpin our ability to win in the future.  We now need to give it effect.  

You already know the broad thrust of my intent: an agile, adaptable Air Force based on good people trained to the highest standards, and on modern multi-role aircraft and systems that can exploit Network Enabled Capability to achieve the desired effect swiftly.  In all of this we must focus on overall capability, not just on numbers of systems or people.  During Operation Telic a much smaller RAF employed only about 70% of the number of fast jets used in Operation Granby, but to much greater overall effect.  We need to maintain this trend of increasing capability.  

To do this we are of course introducing new systems such as Typhoon and Joint Combat Aircraft; we will continue to invest in collective and individual training; and we will seek to enhance the standing of and support for our people.  But such a programme does not come cheaply, and we have had to make some very hard decisions about priorities.  

Our task is to provide the key air power element of the UK’s military capability.  So the size and shape of the RAF depends on the scale and nature of the forces we need to commit to operations.  The increasing capabilities of our individual systems and our growing ability to switch them from one role to another as the situation demands mean that we are able to reduce the size of the overall deployed force.  This will provide us with the necessary resilience to meet the demands of the more likely multiple concurrent and enduring small and medium scale operations.  But at the upper end of the scale, we will have the capacity to deploy a force larger than that which we contributed to Operation Telic, and which, platform for platform, will be increasingly more capable.  The changes that we are making to our day-to-day structure are all consistent with delivering this level of air power on operations.  

Your commanders will brief you on the changes that impact on your unit, but I would highlight a few of the key decisions.  We will bring forward the retirement of the Jaguar fleet by some 2 years to 2007.  We will reduce the number of Nimrod MR2 aircraft from 21 to 16, reflecting a lower submarine threat to the UK at least, but acknowledging the Nimrod force’s wider capabilities.  The requirement could in future be met by around 12 of the more capable Nimrod MRA4 although much work will be required with industry before a decision is reached.  We will disband one F3 squadron early, reflecting a slightly reduced need for deployed air defence capability.  The Department has also concluded that we can reduce our investment in Ground Based Air Defence, and as a consequence we will be phasing out the RAF’s Rapier squadrons over the next few years (and at the same time halving the number of High Velocity Missiles in the Army).  

We have long planned to reduce our overall requirement for manpower.  Through existing equipment modernisation programmes, HQ and estate rationalisation, and initiatives such as End-to-End logistics and the Joint Personnel Administration System, we have sought to maintain or improve our capability with fewer uniformed people.  These developments, together with the force structure changes I have already outlined, mean that we can reduce our trained strength from its current level of around 48,500 to around 41,000 by 1 April 2008.  We will, though, continue to address the pinch point trades that currently have insufficient numbers to meet deployment commitments.  We have already started planning the reductions.  Indeed, we have reduced our intake over the last 6 months in anticipation of these changes.  But to maintain the required balance of skills and experience across the rank structure, and to secure good promotion prospects into the future - a key requirement - we will need a targeted redundancy scheme.  The details, once agreed with Ministers and the Treasury, will be announced towards the end of the year.  

Looking to the future, our major equipment and personnel programmes remain in place.  We are fully committed to Typhoon and JCA.  They will provide a true multi-role capability, and along with the Tornado GR4 and Harrier GR9 will form the core of our future air combat force.  In parallel, we will network our combat systems, commanders and surveillance assets, such as ASTOR and MRA4, to bring about the level of accuracy and speed of response we need.  But no matter how good our systems, our Servicemen and women and the civilians who support us will remain the key to our capability.  We will continue to need high quality people capable of meeting the demands of an uncertain future and of driving the necessary changes.  People remain my top priority, and we need to do better at providing appropriate infrastructure and accommodation for them.  We will never succeed in this if we continue to spread ourselves over an unnecessarily high number of bases.  So we intend to move towards fewer larger and better-equipped main bases.  We intend to announce details of the associated rationalisations in 2005.  

A variety of other changes that will affect the RAF are detailed in the briefing note that accompanies this message.  There are, of course, many other measures that affect our sister Services and the civilian strength of the Ministry of Defence.  Taken together, they will allow us all to move forward within the Defence budget announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 12 July.  

The RAF has a proud tradition and an enviable record of operational success.  We will not compromise these.  But while the past remains an inspiration and guide to us, we must look forward.  Because of, rather than despite, the hard choices we have had to make, we have a programme that will improve our ability to meet the challenges of the future and to sustain a Royal Air Force that continues to offer rewarding careers.  

Delivering Security in a Changing World: Future Capabilities »

Last Updated: 21 Jul 04