Examination of witnesses (Questions 1920 - 1939)
WEDNESDAY 15 JULY 1998
GCB, CBE, LVO, ADC, FRAES RAF,
N NICHOLL, AFC, BA, FRAES
1920. What steps can you take to minimise that
risk, if any?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) By very very
careful planning and, if necessary, by using OCU crews and instructors
or, indeed, not disbanding squadrons when we planned to do it
and running them on for a longer time.
1921. By holding back on decisions then?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) Precisely. If
you are about to disband an F3 squadron because the crews are
going to convert onto the Eurofighter and a crisis suddenly emerges,
we will have no option but to run that squadron on in its operational
role and to delay its introduction to service. As far as keeping
the OCU as busy, we can always look for an air crew perhaps coming
straight out of the training machine or whatever to make sure
that we do not disrupt the flow of trained pilots coming into
1922. If you were forced to make a decision
of the kind you have described because of operational requirements
that would have implications for the budget.
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) Yes, it certainly
would, sir, but I would assume the crisis would be of sufficient
severity in making us do this to have a fair wind from those who
control the purse strings.
1923. You mean you get money from the Foreign
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I would prefer
the Treasury, sir!
1924. Do you adhere to the Soames' view that
all the time he was in the Ministry of Defence he did not think
the enemy were the Russians, he thought they were the Treasury?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) It would be
quite improper for me to comment on that.
1925. I have got some very much more easy questions
and pleasing questions from my point of view on the Royal Auxiliary
Air Force. What is the balance between full time and reservists
in that Force structure?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I am afraid
I cannot tell you the precise breakdown of the figures.
1926. Could you write to us?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I can certainly
let you know.
1927. That is splendid. Seeing the conclusions
of the SDR with regards to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, it gives
me hope and it gives me hope for very specific reasons. I believe
that the reservist force is actually a very good force and very
much a force that is often under-valued, if I am dead straight
with you, by many in the MoD. Did you really nod and say yes to
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I did in the
1928. I will accept that for the moment. Effectively
the SDR has come out with a statement that we will see an increase
in posts here by some 270 and we can see them adding up to over
2,000 and possibly they are going to move into support and logistics
roles. This is a very valuable move. How have you managed to do
it when we have seen cuts elsewhere? How were you able to express
the military requirements here for this increase and back off
and able to state that the socio political considerations were
actually of less value? How were you able to do this?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I think the
Air Forceand it was certainly before I became a CAS, under
my predecessorwere very quick off the mark in understanding
that the whole role of what is now the Royal Auxiliary Air Force,
which of course is an amalgamation of the previous Auxiliaries
and the Royal Air Force Reserve, needed to be re-orientated again
to recognise the realities of the new world. Whereas previously
they had been role specialised, i.e. they were primarily RAF field
squadrons or Royal Auxiliary Rapier squadrons, there were not
just the jobs for them to do, particularly in terms of reinforcement
that had been their primary operational deployment during the
Cold War and that what were really required, given the fact that
we were now being asked to sustain this number of overseas long
range deployments, were reservists who under the new Reserve Act
could be employed in sustaining not only the front line on these
deployments but also, most importantly, relieving some of the
pressure that the regular Forces were experiencing. Thus we moved
over to the concept of role support squadrons and each of the
primary deployed forces of the Royal Air Force, those that were
deployed both in the fast jet and the helicopter forces, now have
a role support squadron that is specifically assigned to them
and, dare I say, it has been a grand success. We have had far
more applicants than we can actually accommodate, which is sad
in one way but very good in another way. The first of these squadrons
has now been declared combat ready. I should point out that we
do not deploy the squadron as an entity. For example, let us say
it is the Helicopter role Support Squadron, if a squadron is deployed
over a long time down at somewhere like Split or whatever, one
looks at the people who are being caned the heaviest, who had
done the most deployed time and then you say, "Right, we
will get a reservist to come and replace him for a period so he
can have a break." That applies to all our deployable forces
and it has been a great success. We are building on that success
by aiming to create a further 270 posts which will actually bring
the total of all our reserves up to just under 3,000, which is
about the same as the Royal Navy reserve but still significantly
less than the Territorial Army.
(Mr Woolley) The regular establishment at present,
before the SDR, is 180 regulars out of a total of 2,500.
1929. That is very impressive. Perhaps you could
look at those figures again. Thank you for them. The thing that
I am getting from your response is again very pleasing because
what you are saying to us is that the specialism and the specialist
knowledge that is required here is something that you can actually
identify and you can bring into the Service from outside. I am
being told by the Army, the land force, that this is actually
much much more difficult; in fact, I am being told it is nearly
impossible to see them work as teams. You are saying it is quite
feasible to see them work as teams on front-line deployment, etcetera,
etcetera. Is this because (1) you make them feel special and (2)
because you train them so well?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I think that
the quality of training that we give our reservists is extremely
high. We do make sure that the regular cadre of each of those
role support squadrons are people of high quality. It is not a
backyard job for a regular, whether he be a warrant officer or
a senior NCO. We put good people into these jobs because if you
are going to get the operational input or utility you have got
to train them properly. So we do put a lot of time and effort
1930. Maybe some of them will have defined how
many man day training days will be required and could someone
tell us that?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I cannot tell
you the precise figure, but the whole issue of man training days
during the year is something that is very carefully calculated.
1931. Could you drop us a note and let us know?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) Certainly.
1932. It is very important for us to hear the
resource implication here. You are telling us, are you, that this
is a Force that defines readiness in rapid deployment terms without
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) Yes. We would
not require them to deploy in most instances on an initial deployment.
That would be most unlikely. The utility of these forces comes
when you are involved in year long deployed operations. People
forget that the Royal Air Force has been deployed in Turkey, flying
365 days a year since May 1991. We have been in the Gulf, first
of all at Dhahran and now at Al Kharj since October that year.
We have had tankers at Bahrain non-stop and we have had tankers
at Incerlik. We have now been at Ali Al Salem since February this
year. The sheer length and duration of these deployments that
we have been sustaining has gone largely unnoticed simply because
they are such a matter of fact and routine, but they do have an
effect on the Service, they really do. We have now got air crew
doing their 12th deployment to the Middle East and the fact that
we will have the Royal Auxiliary Air Force to help relieve some
of that strain I think is a marvellous thing for the Royal Air
Force and that is why it is so welcome. Incidently, that also
underwrites the requirement to make sure they are properly trained
before they are deployed into an operational setting.
Ms Taylor: It sounds as though you are
a model for the rest of them to follow. Thank you.
1933. What scope is there for having part-time
reservist Commanders because obviously retention will be better
among your officers if they can see some sort of career structure
ahead of them?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I do not know,
sir. They are all regulars at the moment. Could I take notice
and could I give you a written reply to that because I quite genuinely
do not know the answer to the question?
1934. Thank you very much. Looking at personnel
issues, the effect of the SDR on RAF manpower levels is to be
"broadly neutral" once full manning has been achieved.
Do you believe that the SDR can come up with a satisfactory strategy
to enable you to achieve full manning, particularly given the
present recruiting policies of the airlines?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) We have one
very obvious problem in the Royal Air Force at the moment in terms
of manpower and that is pilot retention. That is one very clearly
identified problem because there has been a great growth in national
airlines in the civil aviation industry and so on and Royal Air
Force pilots are an immensely attractive commodity and therefore
there is quite aggressive recruiting going on to get our people
to go there. How we are tackling that one perhaps I could come
back to in a minute. What I do very much hope is that the outcome
of the Strategic Defence Review and certainly its clarity about
what all three Services are expected to do will actually give
people in the Service much wanted confidence in the future, confidence
of employment and confidence of career opportunity. I hope that
is the very important message that comes out of the SDR.
1935. Just on the issue of retention of pilots,
what are your plans on that?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) There is a very
simple equation which goes, Manpower Requirement (and you can
say that is pilots in this particular example) equals the Into
Productive Service (that is the number of pilots you get coming
into productive service, i.e. operational squadrons) times the
Return of Service, how long do they actually stay in the Service.
So in solving this problem we are looking at it in three distinct
blocks. In terms of the actual requirement, we are driving down
the requirement as ruthlessly as we can to make sure that particularly
our junior air crew are employed flying aeroplanes and not filling
staff appointments. We are transferring as many as we can to the
operational support branch where people are not trained pilots
and actually looking very ruthlessly at our staff structures to
minimise the requirement.
1936. Does not that still further increase the
strain on family life for those pilots if you take out some cushy
postings in between?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) There is no
such thing as a cushy posting.
1937. At the MoD I think it happens!
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) There is that
danger, yes, and that is why it is so important that we actually
remain within the SDR planning guideline assumptions. People who
come out of the front line after doing nine years at the front
line on a fast jet squadron and the rest of it, hopefully at that
stage of seniority they will be ready for staff college, some
of them are going to be flying instructors and that is not such
a demanding role as a front-line operational role is. So there
are still opportunities there where the people can get a break,
still flying aeroplanes out of the front line. I entirely take
your point that by being so ruthless about ground appointments
the opportunities are reduced. If you go to the Into Productive
Service, this actually refers to the number of people we can train
coming into the Royal Air Force. For a number of years now structural
difficulty within the Royal Air Force has been camouflaged by
the fact that we have been cutting out squadrons so fast under
previous reviews that we have always had a surplus of air crew
within the Royal Air Force. Those days are now over and reality
now stares us right in the face and we must certainly increase
our training machine to generate more pilots coming through into
the Royal Air Force and that we are very strongly addressing at
the moment. The final bit is the Return of Service. The facts
of the matter are that Royal Air Force pilots are not staying
in the Service long enough to actually make sure that we get the
maximum benefit of their very very expensive training and so there
are what we call "pull" factors, which are the airlines,
and there are "push" factors within the Service which
convince people to say, "I have had enough of this. I have
done my bit. I have done my 12th deployment. I have been to Al
Kharj for the third time"which believe you me is no
holiday camp"and my wife and family are getting fed
up with this, I will now take the opportunity to go." What
are we doing about them? First of all, I think it is absolutely
imperative that we get younger people into the Royal Air Force
as air crew and we will be shifting some of the emphasis of our
recruitment strategy to try and get people into the Service straight
from school, age 18, to get them in and on squadrons at the age
of 21. People do not start to get itchy feet in our experience
until about the age of 32/33/34. We will get a far better return
of service out of them. We are also introducing a number of other
initiatives which hopefully will make the Service a more attractive
career for people to stay, but at the end of the day, I very seriously
believe that we have got to create an atmosphere in the Royal
Air Force which makes people far more loath to give it up and
there are three words in my lexicon which are most important:
the first is pride in the Service, the second is confidence in
the capability to do the job and the third is value. If people
feel valued not only within the Service but within the Ministry
of Defence, within government for the job they are doing.
1938. This is a subject which is very very dear
to your heart and obviously of critical importance indeed. We
will not have an Air Force unless we have the high quality people,
not exclusively pilots by any means but they are obviously central
to it. Could I just pursue two radical thoughts with you for a
moment. The first is that we discussed with the Secretary of State
on Monday problems with having central personnel planning. As
a result of the Bett's study you were able to change your career
structure so that you got it out-of-line with the other Services.
Could I put it to you that you really need to be able to go down
a very much different route. To give one example, if you offer
Service personnel leaving the Service a relatively generous pension
and a generous gratuity in the case of a Service which is trying
to look after people who have given up their lives perhaps without
acquiring very masterful skills that makes sense. In the case
of the Air Force, is there not a case for looking at some of that
package and putting it back into the pay of people who are serving?
There seems to be something rather strange about the idea that
somebody can go off into a job for an airline where they are earning
twice as much, plus get an RAF pension from their early forties,
plus a substantial gratuity. A former member of this Committee
I know had a particular crusade on this for several years, specifically
on the issue of the way the gratuity works and the fact it is
only available if you leave. Do you think there is a case for
the Air Force being allowed to look differently at the way it
structures its bundle of personnel money?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) May I just make
a very important point here? We are talking about pilots at the
moment, quite specifically, but there is a very broad curve of
our air crew within the Royal Air Force and, of course, we have
technical expertise within the Service in terms of mechanical
engineering, electronic engineering, CI and goodness knows what
else, all of which is an immensely attractive commodity outside
the Service within the civilian business community and so on and
so forth. What I do not want to do is in solving the pilot problem
immediately create a problem elsewhere. So there has got to be
some form of equitable and recognisable treatment of pilots in
the Royal Air Force that is accepted elsewhere within the Service.
I think that is a very important principle. Returning to your
specific question about the age of 38, the simple facts of the
matter are that if every pilot in the Royal Air Force decided
to stay in when he got to his 38 age option we would be in deep
trouble. We really would become a geriatric Air Force. We would
have all sorts of 50-year olds flying Eurofighters which may or
may not be a good thing, I do not know. We do expect at the age
of 38 for there to be quite a significant outflow. The real problem
is that people who PVR early, who decide to go at the age of 30/31/32,
go without a gratuity, without any pensionable rights when they
take this decision. Why do they take the decision? They take it
because they think if they do not jump then they will not get
a captaincy in one of the mayor airlines because of their age
and that will ultimately affect not only their earning power but
their pension when they retire from one of the major airlines.
1939. What studies were carried out into forming
one or more volunteer reserve fast-jet squadrons, something which
the Americans have extensively in their Air Guard?
(Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) We have now
got the first reservists flying the fast-jet aircraft. It is in
the trial stage. We are trying that. We have actually got Royal
Auxiliary Air Force air crew employed in our heavy aircraft. We
are putting it over onto the fast-jet side as well. There are
certainly two pilots and a couple of navigators doing that at
the moment. We do not have the resources to mirror in any way
the way the United States Air Force does its business and particularly
the Air National Guard. We just cannot do it. What they do in
the United States Air Force is as aeroplanes come out of front
line service they go into the Air National Guard. These are very
very capable machines, the F15 and the F16 and so on and they
find it a very attractive inducement, particularly for people
who leave the United States Air Force to go and fly with the airlines
to be able to come back at weekends and to fly higher performance
aeroplanes. They do not have too much difficulty in the Air National
Guard. What the United States Air Force does have at the moment
is a retention problem in comparison with which ours is almost