Select Committee on Defence Eighth Report

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1940 - 1947)



  1940. Can I just pursue this a little further because it does seem to me that there is a personnel issue here which does need a radical look because it is very easy for members on the outside, who do not have the responsibility to predict our strengths, but people like this former colleague, Keith Mann, who I referred to earlier, have been saying for a long time about going this way. Within the American organisation the structure of the Air Guard is designed in such a way that they do take a substantial chunk of the peace time burden, i.e. they send squadrons to the Gulf, they send squadrons regularly to Bosnia, they rotate usually on shorter tours than regular ones would do and they have achieved, by having formed units, exceptionally low levels of wastage. In Louisiana, for example, where most of my friends are, it is six per cent which is a very low level of wastage. In contrast, those parts of the US Air Reserve which work on the individual volunteer reserve pilot who is filling a berth in the experimental way we are looking at at the moment have relatively high levels of wastage. It does seem to me that there is scope for saying that if the manning crisis does get more difficult—and there is some indication we may be going the way America is going and we are starting to come under those same sort of constraints—we should look at the possibility of perhaps handing a complete squadron over to volunteer reservists with all that produces in terms of inducements for retention and producing a corporate ethos rather than just bringing in individual volunteer reserve pilots across the board.
  (Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) The pat answer to your question is cost and I just do not think that we could afford it, but I am not averse to receiving radical ideas. It is not one that we have chosen to look at in the SDR or to develop it beyond what we are presently doing, which is gradually opening up all our air crew specialisations and role specialisations to reserve air crew.
  (Air Vice Marshal Nicholl) We did look at a national guard model very briefly in the SDR in one of the low level committees. An Air National Guard squadron costs about 70 per cent of the cost of a regular squadron. It has less utility, though some squadrons can be used sometimes in these sustained peace operations. We felt, on what was admittedly a very brief look because it did not seem to show any great utility, that in our structure, which is driven by the sustained minor operations that we are running rather than the American two regional conflict, major world crisis which sizes and shapes American armed forces, because of that it showed as less utility and it is very expensive, 70 per cent of the cost.

  1941. I had actually seen that study alleging that it was part of a bit of internal politicking within the Pentagon, alleging that air guard squadrons cost 70 per cent of the price. The way they arrived at that figure was by excluding all the costs of pilot and manpower training and as it is overwhelmingly policed by ex-regulars, of course the true true life cost is somewhere below the 50 per cent mark, about 45 per cent if you bring in all those extra costs. I just make that point for the record.
  (Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I think it is also fair to say that certainly in our OS forces we expect the most amazing range of skills from our air crew. The Tornado Jaguar and Tornado GR1 forces can do reconnaissance, they can do surveillance, they can do precision guided bombing, they can use a very wide range of weapons and they are all experts in electronic warfare as well. To actually sustain that level of expertise requires a very very strict training programme and, of course, what happens is that when we had people sent out to the Gulf on Iraqi operations, we only keep them out there for two months at a time simply because they are using such a small bit of their skills, that if we do not get them back and then send them off on other training some of their other primary skills which give us such a wide range of options, then their employment will suffer badly.

  Mr Hood: I know the Chairman asked us not to use the word "challenging" in this evidence session so much, but can I say in response to an earlier reply about the age of 38 for pensions, that the notion that a pilot over 38 could become a geriatric pilot is quite a worrying feature when they are leaving the Air Force to go and join civilian airlines. It is quite a challenging scenario that.

  Chairman: I want to save your ingenuity for Mr Cann's last question. He did suggest yesterday the bolting together of three small aircraft carriers to make one big aircraft carrier. I am afraid you might get something equally obscure. Mr Cohen?

Mr Cohen

  1942. I was very interested in your recruitment personnel policy. Will there be better opportunities for black and other ethnic minority British youngsters in the RAF in the future as a result of this?
  (Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) Absolutely right. I think it is critically important that we recruit very aggressively within the ethnic minorities of this country. This is not only government policy, but putting aside any political aspect of this, I feel that there is such a wealth of talent out there that we have not yet made proper inroads in. We had an open day at RAF Cosford not so long ago when we invited, under the auspices of the under Secretary of State, all local community leaders to bring as many people as they wanted along to see not only what we do but the career opportunities that are on offer as well and I very much hope that that initiative, which is one of only about 159 that we have presently got under way, will increase the number of ethnic minorities.


  1943. Can you in due course send us a short paper on that and also the employment of women in the Royal Air Force?
  (Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) Yes, sir.

Mr Cann

  1944. Could you let us know some time how much it actually costs to train a pilot and then maintain his training during the average Service life?
  (Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) In broad terms it is £3 million to get a fast-jet pilot through to combat ready.

  1945. How does that compare to the cost of a Eurofighter?
  (Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) A Eurofighter take away cost will be about £40.2 million.

  1946. My father was in the Air Force all the way through the Second World War so do not come over the table at me when I have asked this question. Given the fact that we have got a joint helicopter command and given the fact that all the Harriers are going to be brought under one command and that the heavy airlift could at least potentially be civilianized, what exactly are the unique functions of the RAF that make it important to preserve it as a separate Service? Could we not make a lot of efficiency savings by scraping your jobs?
  (Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) I do not think so, sir. Quite clearly, very early on in the Strategic Defence Review these thoughts were being expressed in papers and Ministers came quickly to the conclusion that we would retain an independent Royal Air Force, which I warmly endorse. This is a very interesting question because over the last year in our eightieth anniversary year and having to speak about this on a number of occasions I have looked at why the Royal Air Force was formed in the first place and perhaps that does answer in part your question. One should remember that the Royal Air Force was not invented by Air Marshals, it was invented by Generals and Admirals and statesmen and politicians and industrialists who came to the conclusion in 1917, at a time of great national peril, that it was in the national interest to fuse the activities of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service into one Service. Why? First of all, because having two independent air arms meant they could not actually bring their operations together to provide effective air defence in London in June and July 1917 when it was attacked from the air the first time by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers. Field Marshall Smuts discovered in his study that at that stage the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Flying Service had on order 57 different types of aeroplanes powered by 76 different types of engines, most of which would be procured from the French. So this actually convinced people that in terms of both operational efficiency let alone procurement there was a very good reason to bring the two Services together. If this had not happened and if the Royal Air Force had not survived the pressures to split it up between the Navy and the Army in the early 1920s, which was a very significant struggle at the time, I think it is a fair bet that if this had happened, i.e. the Air Force had gone back to its parent Services, it would have suffered the fate of the tank corps in the 1920s and 1930s and I wonder where that would have left us in 1940 when it came to fighting the Battle of Britain. Thereafter, I think, although I readily admit that the great proponents of air power have more often than not exaggerated expectations what air power could actually deliver in terms of operational capability, I think the evidence of the Gulf War was such that technology now enabled expectations to be fulfilled, and I think that was a very definite lesson of that war. If you will forgive the slight history lesson, if you go to the practicalities of doing it: air campaigns can exist in isolation. It is a very complex environment. It is very complex bringing together all the various capabilities to actually generate an air campaign that will actually achieve the conditions into which you will be prepared to deploy ground forces and maritime forces that are very vulnerable to air attack, as history has demonstrated many many times. So I think that the exploitation of the medium does require people who are not only relatively expert in planning operations within it but also in actually doing the job. If you will follow that line of argument you will see there is a very significant difference between jointery as it exists today, which is very much at the tactical level of operations as with helicopters, as with short range offensive air power off carriers, to the strategic employment of air power which involves Tornado GR1s on deep strike missions, the whole panoply of effort that supports it from AWACS through tankers, through suppression of enemy air defence aircraft and so on and so forth. I could go on all day if you really wanted me to on this one, but the final point is that we would then be very much unique within NATO and quite clearly it would make our operations with our NATO and coalition partners significantly more difficult if they had to deal with inevitably two headquarters in this country, one looking after the Royal Flying Corps and one looking after the Royal Naval Air Service, as opposed to one.

  Mr Cann: In the interests of my health, I am very satisfied with that answer, Chairman.


  1947. And if you were merged with the Air Force you would have the same job done on you as the Territorial Army is having done on itself at the present time. Thank you very much for coming. I hope there is enough money in the MoD's budget to purchases 50 copies of the video to be distributed to future witnesses. The Committee a long time ago made an annual award called "The Colonel Robin Ross Award" for evidence given before the Defence Committee. It was not strictly awarded as he was sitting three rows behind the witnesses, but it was very helpful. Unfortunately, that award has not been given since 1984. You are a leading contender for the award which is going to be based on content, style, honesty, brevity without being evasive, humour, precision with a low strategic deception factor. At the moment you are way out in front. Thank you very much for coming. We look forward to other people being as honest to us in future.
  (Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns) Thank you very much, sir.

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