Defence Cuts - RAF Concerns
Future RAF missions under threat if Libyan intervention continues.
The RAF’s ability to carry out future missions is under threat if Britain’s intervention in Libya continues beyond the summer, the head of the Air Force’s combat operations has warned.
The RAF faces being cut by 5,000 over the next three years, reducing by almost 15 per cent to 32,000 by Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent Daily Telegraph. 20 June 2011.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant has told MPs that intense air operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East are placing a “huge” demand on equipment and personnel. In a briefing paper delivered to senior politicians and obtained by The Daily Telegraph, the RAF’s second in command said morale among airmen was “fragile” and their fighting spirit was threatened by being overworked.
Many areas of the RAF were “running hot”, he warned, while the servicemen’s sense that the nation valued their efforts was being undermined by the Coalition’s defence cuts.
The air force was also now finding it difficult to recruit staff, he said, with many specialities understaffed by up to a quarter.
In his conclusion, Air Chief Marshal Bryant — whose full title is Commander in Chief (Air) — warned that the ability of the RAF to deal with unforeseen emergencies would be rapidly “eroded” if the Libyan campaign went beyond September. “Two concurrent operations are placing a huge demand on equipment and personnel,” he said
“Should Operation Ellamy (Libya) endure past defence planning assumptions the future contingent capability is likely to be eroded,” he added
The failure of Nato’s mission to remove Col Muammar Gaddafi from power since air strikes began in March is a cause of growing concern among Downing Street and the military, who had initially hoped for a swift resolution to the mission.
Last week, Adml Sir Mark Stanhope, the head of the Royal Navy, warned that current operations were “unsustainable”. On Sunday, Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, admitted that the cost of the intervention could now run into hundreds of millions of pounds, far greater than the original budget estimates.
As well as flying daily Typhoon and Tornado missions in Libya, the RAF also has 10 Tornados, four Hercules transport aircraft and more than 20 helicopters on operations in Afghanistan.
In the paper, delivered to MPs last month, Air Chief Marshal Bryant says that the RAF is threatened by a growing manning crisis as it faces running short of both pilots and ground crew as people are rested between operations.
“The true strength is in our people in continuing to deliver, despite all that’s asked of them,” he said. “Morale remains fragile. Although fighting spirit remains positive, this assessment will be challenged by individual harmony targets as Operation Ellamy endures (after September). There is decreasing satisfaction with the remunerative offer and allowances cut and the pay freeze continues to bite,” he said. “The impact of SDSR [the Strategic Defence and Security Review] continues to undermine the sense of being valued. There is concern over the perceived lack of strategic direction which is restricting confidence in the senior leadership.”
Under the heading “Sustainability”, Air Chief Marshal Bryant warned that the RAF was under threat of being overstretched by operations with fighter and transport aircraft working round the clock in Afghanistan and Libya.
“Many elements of the RAF have been on continuous operations for the last 20 years,” he said, adding that some pilots of Tristar transport aircraft coming to the end of a two-and-a-half-year tour “have only ever landed at four bases: Brize Norton, Akrotiri, Muscat and Kandahar [the transport hubs for ferrying troops to and from Afghanistan]”.
He added that many RAF intelligence officers had been on six six-month operational tours in nine years. The RAF will lose half its intelligence officers under the cuts.
“To paraphrase Gen Dannatt’s comments on the British Army a few years ago, many parts of the RAF are 'running hot’,” Air Chief Marshal Bryant said.
The RAF faces being cut by 5,000 over the next three years, reducing by almost 15 per cent to 32,000 personnel.
The 13-page paper also warned that the RAF is now failing to recruit into key positions, with a 25 per cent shortfall in technicians and mechanics. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force, used to provide extra personnel on operations, is in an even worse position with a nine-year low in recruitment and a strength of just 1,490.
Air Chief Marshal Bryant’s comments come as David Cameron has become increasingly anxious to show the public that Nato is making progress. While Libyan forces have come under daily pounding Col Gaddafi remains in power. Claims that air strikes have led to civilian casualties have also raised questions about the future of the mission.
There is growing concern among the highest ranks of the Armed Forces that last October’s defence review has become dangerously irrelevant following the “Arab Spring”. Senior officers are privately urging for the review to be reopened but instead a re-examination of the defence budget is likely to order further cuts in order to balance the Ministry of Defence budget this year.
Nick Harvey, the Armed Forces minister, said: “Tough but necessary measures had to be taken in the SDSR in consultation with our military advisers, but as our efforts in Libya and Afghanistan are showing, we continue to have the resources necessary to carry out operations.”