Speech: Defence Secretary's speech to the RUSI Air Power Conference


War Hero
Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here at the Air warfare conference, after I was recently at the Land warfare and naval conferences.

Two days after the election I was at Twickenham watching the RAF achieving the great milestone of winning the Babcock inter-services rugby trophy. Such was their effortless superiority that the RAF actually won sitting down!

It was something I believe they’ve not won for a decade.

Yet there is, of course, another even more significant milestone to commemorate this year An anniversary we were reminded of last week as Spitfires and Hurricanes flew over Buckingham Palace and the your Queen’s Colour Squadron performed the changing of the guard.

Because, of course, this year we mark 75 years since the Battle of Britain. That was increasingly seen as a great conflict, a turning point in our history. As fighter ace Tom Neil, one of the “few” still with us, Recently remarked:

“Had we lost the Battle of Britain, history would have been different. The whole world would have changed.”

So I think it is right we pay tribute to all those who fought in the skies for our freedom. And it was fitting that the Chancellor in his Budget last week announced that the command centre in Uxbridge, from where its vital operations were directed, will now be properly restored, so we can preserve a hugely important part of our history for the next generation to understand how crucial that battle was.


Today, with more warnings of threats to our citizens in Tunisia following the horrific events of two weeks ago, I believe we’re fighting a new Battle of Britain.

Once again, against a fascist enemy, an enemy prepared to kill enemies and opponents alike, our RAF are again spearheading our defence in the counter attack targeting the terror menace in Iraq. Flying missions and launching strikes day and night, using precision weapons including Brimstone for surgical strikes.

But it’s not just about strikes. You’ve been providing extremely sophisticated ISR that few nations possess, enabling coalition strikes as well as our own strikes.

And with our Tornados equipped with Raptor reconnaissance pods, our Sentinels enabling on board in intelligence analysis, our Airseeker giving us state-of-the-art signals intelligence, and Sentry choreographing the entire air effort, we are delivering in total 30 per cent of the ISR of the entire international operation in the Middle East.

Our Tornado aircraft provide 70% of the coalition’s Tactical Recce capability and produce imagery of a higher standard than any other. Our Reaper’s capability matches that of the United States

In addition, we’re the only coalition country conducting manned ISR over Syria

And not only are we providing air command and control, our Voyager tankers are refuelling coalition planes as well as our own.

And today I can announce that our latest Airseeker plane will be delivered next month, seven months ahead of schedule, and will be operational shortly after that in the skies above Iraq and Syria – providing essential support in the fight against ISIL.

No one, let us be very clear, except the US, is matching the efforts we’re putting in to tackling this threat to our country.


But ISIL is not the only threat we face.

Recently the US Air Force Secretary confirmed Russia was America’s biggest threat. Here in the UK we’re acutely aware of the dangers Russian expansionism poses. Their presence is not just felt on the fringes of Eastern Europe but in our own backyard as well.

Last year our Quick Reaction Alert jets were scrambled 14 times to meet the Russian long-range bomber threat around our NATO air defence region. And our planes are also continuing to play a key role in NATO Assurance Measures.

A few weeks ago I was at Amari airbase in the Baltic in Estonia, and talking to our crews there taking part in our air-policing mission. While I was there the planes were scrambled six times.

Let me tell you, our allies are grateful for what we’re doing, and they’re delighted and reassured by our recent announcement that Typhoons will be returning next year for the third year running.


Not content with taking on ISIL and countering Russia, the RAF spreads its wings across the world.

Our C17s and C130s have been flying back, as you know, the victims of the Tunisian horror, just as they flew back Ebola sufferers from Sierra Leone. Just as they’ve assisted survivors of the Vanuatu cyclone.

At the same time our eyes-in-the-sky have been deployed in Afghanistan and Nigeria. All the time we maintain our essential protective watch over our Falkland islands.

That’s what we mean by global reach. And today is my chance to thank all of you for what you do on the nation’s behalf.


The fact you’re busier I think illustrates that the world is a darker, more dangerous place.

And whether it’s ISIL or Russia, whether it’s terror on our streets, or international piracy on the high seas, it’s clear that our security and the rules based system under which our values of tolerance, of freedom, of rule of law have all depended are under threat.

So last week’s very welcome news in the Budget shows that whatever our fiscal difficulties, Defence remains the number one priority of the nation and of this new Government.

By increasing the Defence budget from next year by 0.5% in real terms through until 2020/21, by putting aside an additional £1.5 billion for a Joint Fund to be used by the Armed Forces and security and intelligence agencies, and above all by meeting NATO’s pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defence every year of this decade, we are sending the very strongest signal to our allies and to adversaries alike that Britain will not be cowed.

We will continue doing what is right, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies to defend our way of life.

Incidentally, it was the US who were the first to applaud our stance, praising us as their “primary partner” and “indispensible ally”. And how good to see General Frank Gorenc, Commander of USAFE, here in the audience today.

That growing budget, growing for the first time in five years, now gives you the confidence to plan ahead. We’re focused with the Chiefs on conducting a full Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Driven by our national security objectives and the complex risks we face, that Review will decide how best to utilise our resources and what capability we need in the future.

But, whatever the outcome of that Review towards the end of this year, we will certainly look to the RAF to keep doing three things:


First, to continue acting on multiple fronts concurrently around the world, securing the skies at home and abroad.

Your ability to provide a swift, scalable, precision-guided response to any given situation, your ability to control the skies, gives not only our ground troops but our Government the freedom of manoeuvre to act.

And in today’s world, where global challenges demand global solutions, it is your world class reputation, combining a rich history with current capability and immense skill, that is a highly sought after commodity.

The perception may have once been that you flew solo in the Battle of Britain. But you ended the War flying side-by-side with pilots from 16 different nations. You’re keeping up that partnership approach today; as allies in NATO, as partners in the Gulf, as associates with the French on Future Combat Air Systems, and as Level One collaborators with the US on F-35.

Importantly, the recent announcement that US F-35s will be based at RAF Lakenheath by the end of the decade confirms that our American allies will have a military presence on British soil for the foreseeable future.

And it continues a deep relationship dating back beyond even the days when USAF units flew Spitfires from the UK, right back to the end of the Great War when the US Air Service trained on Port Meadow in Oxford.

Today at this conference, you’ve also welcomed many of our friends from other air forces, from Austria to Australia and from Jordan to Japan. Many of them will, of course, have received their wings – alongside a few heads of state – at Cranwell. Many we will greet alongside their fleets at the Royal International Air Tattoo in a couple of days time.

You’re here and welcome here because the RAF’s reputation is second to none.

And the world’s first independent air force is rightly proud of its ability to keep producing great planes and great pilots. It is proud of its story, neatly encapsulated so well in its motto “Per Ardua ad Astra”. And those attributes mean it is ideally poised to be the prime instrument in strengthening those partnerships and diplomatic ties we need.


In an ever more contested and competitive environment where weapons proliferation, where the exponential advance of new technologies, the increase in defence spending of emerging nations, and the increasing sophistication of cyber attack, threaten to erode the technological edge the West has relied on for decades, we, like the US, realise that we must do more to innovate.

This is my second point.

In the past, great British brain power transformed our aviation capability. Mitchell gave us the Supermarine Spitfire. Camm, the Hawker Hurricane. Barnes Wallis, the bouncing bomb. Watt, the Radar. Griffith, the “flying bedstead”. Camm, Hooper and Hooker, what became the Harrier Jump jet.

Today our finest minds are still out there ensuring that “made in Britain” remains a mark of quality. Our engineers played a major role in Typhoon, Hawk in the A400M. They created the semi-autonomous unmanned warplane combat demonstrator Taranis that flies intercontinental missions. They’ve collaborated on state-of-the art beyond-visual-range Meteor missiles.

After the US, the UK has the largest number of people based at the Combined Air Operations centres in Qatar from where the strikes are administered and ISR directed against ISIL.

And building on our world class reputation from the Harrier Jump Jet era, UK engineers have contributed to the design and development of the state of the art F35 aircraft. The UK has won 15% by value of each F35 to be produced, through hard fought best value-for-money competition.

So all that expertise and ingenuity isn’t just good for our capability, it’s good for our prosperity as well.

The air sector has contributed over 80% of Britain’s defence exports over the last ten years, winning major orders in Oman, Saudi Arabia, in India, Norway and South Korea. It has brought in revenues worth almost £28 billion, supporting almost 100,000 direct jobs and 120,000 jobs in the supply chain.

And we need to do more to squeeze every ounce of opportunity from our future technologies, so it’s good to see the RAF now seizing the opportunities offered by cyber. Fifth generation planes such as Lightning II rely on the enhanced digital processing and network connectivity offered by cyberspace.

Over a year ago the RAF became the first UK service to endorse a Cyber Strategy – ensuring that cyber is no longer a niche activity but part of day-to-day practice. Since then the Cyber resilience of eight major air capabilities has dramatically improved. And the RAF is recognised as the best in the business by big companies like DSTL, C3 and CSC.

And meantime, every year at events like Exercise Red Flag the RAF presses for the integration of cyber, space, electronic warfare and information technology – the “non-Kinetic” effects - into the planning and execution of coalition missions. And, for the first time, UK exercises will make use of an Information Warfare Cell.

Meantime, working alongside the Defence Security Program, the RAF is using £2 million of funding to create a highly secure cyber range that will test the cyber security of our future capabilities and will exercise our wits against the best cyber operators from the Five Eyes nations.


Finally, from innovation let me move to efficiency. We have to keep striving to get the most out of what it’s got.

With a growing budget, you have the greatest of incentive to look for efficiencies since these can be recycled back into new capabilities to face future challenges.

In the last five years the RAF has made major savings, husbanding its resources and improving its processes, making the most of budgetary powers delegated to Front Line commands. Yet what has impressed me particularly is how you’ve been making the most of your talent.

The Battle of Britain, of course, reminds us it is people, not planes, who win wars. And, in recent times, you have been breaking glass ceilings as easily as the sound barrier. You know a person’s talent, not gender, is what counts. Unlike many other air forces, we have women on all our combat jets.

And, at the beginning of this year, Wing Commander Nikki Thomas made a small piece of history, taking charge of 130 fighter pilots, weapons systems, officers, and engineers at No 12 Squadron based at RAF Marham.

It’s not just your approach to inclusion that impresses me, but your ability to get the most out of your wider Whole Force network - not just Reserves and Regulars, but civilians, contractors and industry.

That will serve us well in future.

In the Battle of Britain, Fighter Command relied on the General Post Office to repair the telephone lines and the damaged exchanges linked by the network of radar installations, sector Stations and Squadrons. Voyager embodies that Whole Force approach today.

The most modern tanker and strategic personnel transport on the market, owned by a private contractor, tasked by Ministry Of Defence, operated by the RAF alongside civilian crews who can become sponsored reserves if required, with a contract overseen by MOD civilians and the RAF. That’s a truly collaborative contract.

And we’ll be working hand in hand with industry to incubate the alchemy of innovation. Our open procurement policy encourages the domestic defence industry to grow and look to export markets. We’ve signed up 10 non-UK domiciled prime defence contractors to our Defence and Security Industrial Engagement policy. Our Defence Growth Partnership spreads supply chain innovation widely, accelerating the delivery of new capability to front line and is establishing UK centres of excellence.


So let me conclude by saying the world is a darker and a more dangerous place. Dark clouds may be massing on the horizon.

But just as 75 years ago the Battle of Britain set the critical foundations for our subsequent land and sea campaigns that won World War 2, so our investment in air capability and the ongoing deployments you fulfil here around the globe are laying the foundations for our future campaigns, ensuring that, in the face of many and concurrent threats, we will continue to stand tall in the world - projecting our power defiantly, securing our interests, and above all safeguarding our people.

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