It’s time to abolish the RAF
We’d have a more efficient, streamlined armed forces without the air corps
It was a Labour Government under Harold Wilson that perfected the ruse of taking pressure off the defence minister by setting the three Armed Services against one another. The art was encapsulated in a doctrine known as 'equal pain', in which defence cuts and savings would be imposed equally across the three services. The effect was to provoke bitter inter-service rivalry, which left the Ministry of Defence appearing as a detached and honest broker.
It was also a clever and effective way to divide and rule.
One can have a certain sympathy for the Treasury however, as defence is the one public department that regularly comes in over budget - thanks largely to the disastrously inefficient way in which sub-standard equipment is procured. But salaries are also expensive and, in the face of pressure on manning the front line, we need to radically re-address how the cake is sliced.
With wars running out of control in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the pressure on forces elsewhere from Africa to the Balkans to who knows where next, we have to take drastic action. A conventional attack on the UK homeland is no longer conceivable because our potential enemies just do not have the reach. The defence of the UK now centres on defending our interests overseas. There is no prospect of any significant increase in the share of public money for defence, so we have to come up with a radical way for the armed forces to do what we ask of them within the budget available. I believe this can mean only one thing: we have to lose one of the services.
There is only one service whose work can be undertaken by the other two: the RAF must go.
This would allow us to concentrate the existing Defence budget on just two services and use the vast savings, on infrastructure, senior officers and staff, on the front-line.
The measure would also present us with a terrific opportunity to make savings by rationalising procedures and how we buy our kit. Standardisation would mean economies of scale. The inefficient Defence Logistics Organisation would be much more sharply focused.
In the new expeditionary defence forces, the Navy would continue to shoulder the responsibility of our nuclear deterrent as well as taking over all strike operations - from land and sea. Existing strike aircraft would initially come under the Royal Navy, with interim command going to newly-transferred RAF officers. The procurement of future aircraft would demand an expeditionary capability. The emphasis would be on the ability to launch from aircraft carriers and limited overseas bases as opposed to high-tech interceptors for a war - the Cold War - that is long over.
The Royal Navy would also run all the transport aircraft that go into harm's way, again retaining RAF expertise initially and then evolving its own specialist branch. The remaining air transport tasks, such as carrying stores and passengers would be put out to private contract. (Many of them are already, and the policy brings huge savings.)
The Army would absorb all Special Forces and helicopter operations as well as performing their normal function of seizing and holding ground. This would be the least painful of the changes as helicopter operations have already been rationalised under the Joint Helicopter Command.
Naturally the servicemen and women who make up the RAF would need to be either re-assigned to the other services or given a reasonable redundancy package. There would be little scope to absorb the manpower except for the expensively trained pilots and other specialists. Such a rationalisation should achieve the sort of ground crew to aircraft ratios that are achieved in the Israeli forces for instance, more like ten per air craft than twenty, with a commensurate reduction of senior officers across the remaining services. At present there are more General-rank officers than there are squadrons, in the case of the air force, and ships in the case of the navy.
No doubt such a concept will cause a sharp intake of breath. But the Labour administration has left us no choice. We cannot back out of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan with honour. Who knows where they will involve our nation in a war next. Like a ship in a storm we have to consider chopping down a mast if we are not all to capsize. We can't function without an army or navy, but we can manage without the RAF.