Sir, Lester May is right that the balance of effort in the UK needs correction (letter, Jan 23), but wrong to advocate disbanding the RAF. Now is not the time to waste angst and management effort on such argument, but our US colleagues, and others, are right when they express concern at the shrinkage of the Royal Navy. Once withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete it will be upon the Royal Navy that the support for security, diplomacy and trade will depend; the UK should not be found wanting. In Future Force 2020, with only one operational aircraft carrier and 19 escorts, there will be insufficient resource to fulfil such roles. It is here where the Army and RAF are relatively impotent and must be scaled accordingly. The Prime Minister is disingenuous to suggest that all is well in defence — it blatantly is not.
Sir, As Mr May suggests, there are questions about the appropriateness of maintaining independent air forces on both sides of the Atlantic. My research on nearly a century’s experience suggests that independent air forces create two big problems. First, they erect bureaucratic walls between missions, such that soldiers in need of air support often can’t get the help they need. To remedy this the US Army and Marine Corps created their own air forces.
Second, independent air forces create lobbying organisations for parochial approaches to warfighting and procurement, approaches that do not necessarily contribute to the pursuit of national security. The USAF, for example, has consistently advocated for air power-centric escalation of diplomatic disputes, and has often argued for the procurement of sophisticated-but-mission-challenged fighter and bombers and for the retirement of much-beloved attack aircraft, such as the A-10 Warthog.
I believe that it would be beneficial for the UK and the US alike to reconsider the organisation of their military air power.
Dr Robert M. Farley
Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce,
University of Kentucky
Sir, As a former Royal Naval officer it is hardly surprising that Lester May favours his old service over the RAF but his wish to see its assets split between the other two services would not result in the “huge cost and manpower savings” to which he refers. The aircraft would still require the personnel to operate and maintain them, the airfields with their supporting staff would still be needed to house them, no matter what colour of uniform they wore. Administration and headquarters would still be needed to run the organisation, unless Mr May believes that there is excess capacity currently within the Army and the Navy to carry out these functions?
While he is correct that for a maritime nation the Royal Navy is of critical importance and has been badly treated in recent defence cuts, he should not forget that the RAF is much more than just a few combat jets. He makes no mention of its air transport, helicopter support, air-to-air refuelling, intelligence gathering assets or remotely piloted aircraft.
Each of the three services performs an essential role in safeguarding this country and its interests. Abolishing the RAF would neither make us safer nor save the money that Mr Lester says it would.
West Hanney, Oxon
I absolutely made mention of all the RAF's 650 support aircraft - yes, 650 of them! There was no space to mention AT, AAR, helicopters and so on.
It has been estimated, not just by me, that were the RN and Army to run the RAF's aircraft, personnel and assets, the annual saving would be £3.5bn (about half the annual cost of an independent air force) and some 20,000 fewer uniformed personnel would be required. There would be no reduction in capability, indeed, greater operational and combat efficiency would be likely. Given that almost all combat operations involving RAF combat jets are in support of land or sea warfare and operations, cutting out the middle man, the RAF, is sensible - see Robert Farley's argument above.
One can understand many feeling uncomfortable about abolishing the RAF but, with £1.25 trillion debts, and £50bn a year debt repayments, the UK has surely to find more cost-effective ways of running Whitehall departments, including defence. The nation's children and grandchildren will not thank us if we fail to do so. It is interesting that few suggest what other ways there are in defence to make big savings, yet many seem unconcerned by an RAF that is very expensive, grossly under-employed, has conditions of overseas service that make soldiers, sailors and marines both angry and amused, and is widely felt by many serving and retired service personnel to be a self-serving, over-officered and suffocating bureaucracy too much concerned about its future survival and little concerned about operating in concert with the RN and Army. Many of the junior officers and airmen do a good job but they are led poorly by too many air marshals and air commodores, far too many of whom are administrators with little or no front-line operational experience.
21% of RAF personnel are commissioned officers. Only 10% of RAF personnel fly as aircrew and a good number of them are carrying out ground duties (while drawing flying pay). What are the other 90% of RAF personnel doing? What are the 160 Typhoon jets (40 still to be delivered), costing £1bn for eight, all for? A Typhoon costs some £75,000 an hour, a Tornado half that. It is time to wake up and question the huge cost of an independent air force, one with far more combat jets and personnel than any defence requirement possibly needs.
Is it time to reorganise the Armed Forces? | The Times