Lord Trenchard Memorial Lecture 2012 – Air and Space Power: We Have Only Just Begun

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The Lord Trenchard Memorial Lecture 2012, given by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton GCB ADC LLD BSc FRAeS CCMI RAF, Chief of the Air Staff, Royal Air Force, will highlighted the contribution the RAF is currently making to operations and outline the strategy for delivering the RAF's element of Future Force 2020, whilst navigating the murky financial waters ahead.


The Lord Trenchard Memorial Lecture 2012,  given by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton GCB ADC LLD BSc FRAeS CCMI RAF, Chief of the Air Staff, Royal Air Force, examined the challenges Lord Trenchard faced during the 1920s and 1930s, several of which he would recognise today, and sought lessons which can be used in the contemporary environment. In his lecture, Air Chief Marshal Dalton highlighted the contribution the RAF is currently making to operations and outline the strategy for delivering the RAF's element of Future Force 2020, whilst navigating the murky financial waters ahead.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton GCB ADC LLD BSc FRAeS CCMI RAF joined the Royal Air Force in 1976 after graduating with an honours degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Bath. During a distinguished career spanning more than thirty five years, he has occupied a number of senior positions within the Ministry of Defence, including Director of Air Operations from May 2002, a period dominated by the preparation for and conduct of Operation TELIC - the UK contribution to multi-national operations in Iraq in 2003. He was appointed Controller Aircraft in May 2004, a post which carried with it a place on the Air Force Board. In May 2006, he became Director General Typhoon and subsequently Deputy Commander in Chief Personnel and Air Member for Personnel in May 2007. He was promoted to Air Chief Marshal in April 2009 and assumed his current appointment as Chief of the Air Staff on 31 July 2009.

  • The dawn of powered flight over a century ago, marked the beginning of a revolution in the character of human conflict.

     

    Over the course of the last century, exploitation of the 3rd dimension by aircraft - manned and remotely piloted - missiles and latterly space vehicles has radically changed how we fight on the ground and the sea.

     

    As the Secretary of State for Defence observed at our recent Air Power Conference, it is only just over 100 years ago that the first air delivered weapons were literally, thrown from the hands of the Italian pilot, Guilio Gavotti, onto Ottoman positions in modern day Libya.  The irony of that first use of air power will not be lost on most of you here!

     

    This simple action by one man heralded the military potential of air power to influence events at the tactical, operational and strategic level.

     

    Since that day, technological and conceptual innovations have allowed air power to demonstrate not only its utility in the tactical domain but also its ability to influence events directly at the operational and strategic levels of warfare.

     

    Of course the nexus of warfare will remain on the surface of the earth, but the ability to dominate and exploit the air and space above it has become fundamental to contemporary warfare and thus to international politics.

     

    This new battleground is more accessible than ever before: for nation states, insurgents and terrorists alike.

     

    Control of the Air is now contested in more diverse and complicated ways than at any time in the last hundred years.

     

    Recent technological advances have allowed the Royal Air Force to employ air power with previously unheralded precision and persistence.  Still, as air power enters its second century, I am going to  propose 3 central tenets which will be critical for our future success:

     

    First, we need continued and sustained investment in the intellectual development of the Royal Air Force to ensure we can innovate and win;

     

    Second, I strongly believe that intellectual agility underpins and enables our inherent adaptability; be that of our equipment, doctrine or organisation; and

     

    Third, history shows that failure to innovate, technically or intellectually, can be extremely costly in terms of both blood and treasure.            

     

    To demonstrate why I believe so strongly in the need for intellectual development, adaptability and innovation let me consider some lessons of history not as prescription, but as guidance for the future.

     

    The recognition of the potential of air power came to some faster than others.

     

    In the early 20th century it was the Germans and French who took the lead in its development.

     

    Names such as Zeppelin, Fokker and Bleriot permeated the early press.

     

    It was German investment in air platforms capable of controlling the air; conducting long-range attack; and reconnaissance which dominated the skies at the start of the first World War.

     

    Here in Britain, the War Office was sceptical about air power's potential and was hesitant to fund its development.

     

    It required the innovation of individuals such as Sopwith, Roe and Handley Page for Britain to make initial progress with aircraft development.

     

    But, it was the long range attacks against London by Zeppelins and, in particular, the Gotha bombers in the summer of 1917, which so clearly demonstrated the potency of air power to the British public and politicians.

     

    These attacks, at the political heart of the British Empire, stimulated the 2 Smuts reports which recommended that a new dedicated, trained and professional fighting force be created to deal with the intellectual, moral and physical challenges arising from this new domain of warfare.

     

    The result, of course, was the formation of the Royal Air Force, the world's first and oldest Independent Air Force  - we are 95 years young next year.           

     

    After the Great War, and with mounting financial constraints Trenchard offered a new and innovative way of policing the large and ungoverned space in the British Empire.

     

    His new approach became known as Air Control.

     

    This combined accurate regional intelligence from local political officers with military action to back them up.

     

    British Somaliland in the Horn of Africa was the first region where such air control was trialled.

     

    Such was its success in controlling the belligerent tribes and insurgents, at less than one tenth of the cost of the previous manpower intensive approach, that the air control concept was transported to Iraq and Afghanistan.

     

    This pioneering aspect of air diplomacy demonstrated the utility of air power as with better understanding of regional dynamics air power was used to prevent conflict from escalating through swift and proportional intervention.  

     

    Such was the recognition of air power's potentially dominant offensive capabilities, that an unsuccessful motion, to legally forbid its military use, was tabled at the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1934.

     

    But the drive to reduce cost also manifested itself in some equally troubling ways.

     

    A cap was imposed on any research and development of military air power for the 10 years after the First World War. For a country which preached the supremacy of offensive air power, such lack of investment in radio navigation technologies and in developing specific air-delivered weapons would be costly by the time the preparations for the Second World War ramped up.

     

    Our hesitancy in aircraft and missile development was not mirrored in Europe and the Far East.

     

    Through investment, they regained the conceptual and technical initiative as the Luftwaffe so clinically demonstrated with their Blitzkrieg approach to warfare in 1939.

     

    This effective difference was vividly exposed in the Battle for France where control of the air lay with the aggressor!

     

    But this superiority did not extend to mainland Britain, where last minute investment during the mid 30s in technology such as the Chain Home Radar and the intellectual underpinnings of the world's first integrated air defence system were so impressively masterminded by Sir Hugh Dowding.

     

    In today's lexicon this was information exploitation at its contemporary finest. 

     

    The rest as they say is history, but the key takeaway is that such information dominance combined with the Hurricane and Spitfire enabled Britain, against the odds, to prevent the Luftwaffe from gaining Control of the Air over southern England, delaying - decisively - any invasion.

     

    But without the systems, investment and ability to effectively project that capability extending control of the air over France and into Germany took years to achieve and came at great human cost.

     

    If we jump forward to the year in which we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the victory of the Battle of Britain and consider the development of our ability to project air power, then the rapid deployment of offensive and defensive air power to the Persian Gulf showed just how much things had changed.

     

    In 1990, when Europe was just adjusting to the implications of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ending of the static fixed-based Cold War.  Sadam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait.

     

    As a result, there was a compelling need to project the Royal Air Force from its defensive posture in the North German Plains to one ready to meet the offensive needs of an expeditionary campaign in the Middle East - Transforming in contact i.e. whilst fighting!

     

    The conceptual development that underpinned coalition success in Kuwait was led by such characters as General Chuck Horner who drew on NATO's developed and tried procedures and planning processes, but adapted for the broader coalition membership and the specific needs of a combined campaign. 

     

    Precision Munitions came of age; low-level flying tactics and training were adapted to give medium-level capability - a further example of air powers' ability to adapt whilst in contact with the enemy as our land based colleagues would say. New target designation and bomb guidance pods were integrated; and formation attacks by mixed aircraft types and even mixed nations were conducted;

     

    Moreover, space-based ISR; stealth bombers and precision air launched land attack cruise missiles were introduced into the military lexicon.

     

    The results are history: the Iraqi Armed Forces and their leadership were so unhinged by the air campaign as to leave them metaphorically prostrate for the subsequent land force attacks to reclaim Kuwait's freedom.

     

    The Gulf War triggered a fundamental transformation in the Royal Air Force's organisation, equipment and people.

     

    Once again the crucible of conflict provided the stimulus for innovation.

     

    Furthermore, the use and development of air power, over the subsequent 12 years mirrored Trenchard's early Air Control concept with multinational air forces monitoring the expanse of Iraq and preventing escalation of hostilities and containing Saddam Hussein's ambitions.    

     

    The Panavia Tornado, now celebrating its 30th anniversary in service with the Royal Air Force, is a good example of our inherent ability to adapt.

     

    Originally designed to deliver nuclear and conventional ordnance at ultra low-level in all weathers against Key Warsaw Pact targets and advancing Soviet armies, the significant developments of the capability, that is today the Tornado GR4, exemplifies the agility of our people and the adaptability of our equipment. This was so vividly demonstrated in the precision of this country's airpower in Libya last year; this highly effective and successful projected application of air power would have warmed Trenchard's heart and its performance has certainly made this Chief of the Air Staff enormously proud of today's Royal Air Force and its part in protecting the Libyan people. 

     

    Whilst the Libyan operation, just as our operation in Afghanistan is not a template for the future it yet again demonstrated the agility of airpower is in the hands of professional and well trained exponents.

     

    From various bases our aircraft are able to enter hostile airspace and closely monitor the situation on the ground through their high definition target acquisition and weapon guidance pod.  When required to do so such aircraft, manned, serviced and maintained by our outstanding tradesmen and supported by contractors, we're able to strike swiftly and precisely at targets - often fleeting and well hidden - threatening civilians, using a suite of precision weapons such as the Dual Mode Seeker Brimstone and the Paveway 4.

     

    These targets ranged from deeply buried command and control facilities, through soviet-designed artillery firing from within congested civilian areas, to small fast-moving targets in complex urban terrain.

     

    Of course, such adaptability is not confined to combat air.

     

    The onboard analysis and rapid dissemination of ground targets by the joint Sentinel crews in both Libya and Afghanistan have been used to identify hostile force concentrations, find ammunition replenishment locations and locate surface-to-surface ballistic missile launchers.

     

    Indeed its products during Libya were described by one USAF ISR Divisional Director as the 'foundation' for all Coalition operations. 

     

    But the adaption of our airpower has also been seen in major efficiencies in our support methodology with our engineering and logistic support models being completely restructured.

     

    From an over-reliance upon large inventories and unwieldy deep maintenance facilities at industry sites; to one where we are working hand-in-glove with industry, forward located on the main operating bases, where we now contract and incentivise for availability and are using, where prudent and pragmatic, civilian contractors as far forward as economically viable.  

     

    Today we continue to adapt.

     

    Not just reactively to the changes we are presented with, but also proactively in order to shape the future.

     

    Let me give you an example.

     

    There is a global move towards an increasing reliance upon remotely piloted capabilities and the Royal Air Force is already at the leading edge of that move.

     

    With our partners we are seeking to exploit the military opportunities which technology can provide and to fully embrace the remotely piloted air systems potential, both intellectually and physically.

     

    Their persistence, their ISR sensors, the lethal precision of their weapons and the provability afforded by their networked systems, all contribute to a complementary and cost effective way to conduct warfare where operational threats and environments permit.

     

    So in recognising the importance of RPAS, and the skill complexity and professionalism which underpins the delivery of this modern capability, I am pleased to announce that the Royal Air Force is introducing a new RPAS operation specialisation within the flying branch. Recognising these pilots' unique skills with their own flying badge underscoring their war fighting responsibilities and qualifications.

     

    As for all other Royal Air Force aircraft capable of employing lethal force, our RPAS pilots will only be drawn from commissioned officers who we deem to be best placed to deal with the complex and often ambiguous battlespace.  These officers will have an innate understanding for the Rules of Engagement complexities, which my pilots and captains of their aircraft face today, and are likely to face in the future, as well as the leadership and moral integrity required in tight and rapidly changing operations.      

     

    And what of that future?

     

    While no one can predict with any degree of certainty the specifics that the future operational scenarios may bring; there are some general features we can assume and from which we can make deductions about what the UK will face in the world to 2020 and beyond.

     

    Much of the analysis envisages a 'Congested, Cluttered, Confused, Connected' and, perhaps most importantly, 'contested' operating environment.

     

    We can expect a world in transition which, in turn, is likely to lead to greater instability.  Just again as Trenchard's post First World War generation faced.

     

    Globalised, urbanised, diffused and multi-polar are all terms with which you will be familiar and through which we seek to describe the future strategic environment.

     

    The future operating environment is likely to be more complex, involving the newer 21st Century domains of space and cyberspace which are fundamentally changing our day to day life and also the character of conflict.

     

    Future adversaries will have more sophisticated weapons and capabilities that will erode the freedom of manoeuvre in the physical battlespace which we have enjoyed for the past few decades.

     

    New technologies will constrain us as well as liberate us - just as with precision weapons, non lethal technologies may well become an essential 'club in the bag' for operations, requiring additional investment at a time when we are already resource constrained.

     

    But we will also have to 'prove' our actions - we did what we said we were going to do, against the target which we identified before attacking it - No more and no less!     

     

    But what does this future operating environment mean for the Royal Air Force?

     

    The future requirements and threats presented in the air, space and cyberspace environments are multi-faceted and complex and must be intrinsically linked to both the land and maritime domains; we need to amend our doctrine, our force structures, our tactics techniques and procedures, as we cannot be configured to deal with all scenarios and all the contingencies.

     

    As I look forward to the full implementation of the Royal Air Force 2013 Operating model, which is underway to enable our Joint Defence delivery of the 2020 force structure, and the withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan, I am reminded of the lessons from history:

     

    To retain superiority in the air domain requires capability but, equally, innovation and intellectual rigour and agility. 

     

    For not to do so could, nay would be, very costly indeed.

     

    Yet, equally as Trenchard witnessed, there is always a temptation to under invest in these vital ingredients between crises.

     

    Our adversaries cannot be relied upon to follow this trend.

     

    Those adversaries who have stolen the initiative in the air, the ground or at sea intellectually or technically have had and, more importantly, could in the future have near decisive effect at the outset of a conflict.

     

    In recent history, these lessons have been heeded by successive governments, and decades of near continuous operations for the Royal Air Force have seen us strive constantly to control the skies over coalition forces and have a campaign effect from the air.

     

    Although the finely balanced fight for control of the air during the Falklands conflict shows how fragile this balance can be; and the cost of not having it.

     

    However our success can no more be taken for granted today than it could in Trenchard's day.

     

    To do so risks unhinging the responsive, joint fighting force the UK Armed Forces seek to become;

     

    Future force 2020 is based upon the premise of a smaller but more integrated force capable of operating at higher tempo than potential adversaries;

     

    A truly manoeuvrist approach to warfare which must be accompanied by action on the other all important Lines of Activity especially Political, diplomatic and economic.

     

    But we must not forget that such tempo can only be achieved with a corresponding and sufficient control of the air over the entire AOR which by definition means, within the coalition of the willing, technically able and morally convinced of the veracity of the cause!   

     

    Today, leading technological innovation is no longer the preserve of the military but increasingly now rests with the private sector, especially in telecoms, aviation, information technology and space.

     

    The cost of entry to space has historically only allowed a few nations to participate but, increasingly, this barrier is lowering as commercial opportunities become increasingly affordable:

     

    Virgin Galactica is bringing space flight to the public, but in the future they also plan to provide a low cost, low earth orbit satellite launch capability as do Space X who are already under contract to NASA, and directly challenging ESA's Arianne programme.

     

    Space is the new fertile ground for intellectual and technical development.

     

    This is an opportunity which I am keen for the Royal Air Force to grasp particularly in the realms of responsive and cost effective ISR.

     

    For example, nano and cube satellites offer a far lower cost method of accessing space capabilities which can meet the uncertain and contingent challenges of the future.  A cluster of low earth orbit micro satellites launched on Mar 2011 would have given us unmatchable understanding of what was going on in Northern Libya during that critical early phase.

     

    There is also much we can contribute in upstream activities as part of wider Defence Engagement.

     

    The next iteration of air power will build on our long-standing ability to act in coalition - itself an act of peacetime engagement and agent of prevention.

     

    Through such engagement we will maintain the access, basing and overflight rights that allow rapid response at range.

     

    We will capitalise on our ability to move quickly and with global reach, an ability that facilitates capability in the other environments, while, if necessary, maintaining a small deployed footprint through increased use of reachback. 

     

    Indeed, the philosophy of Air Diplomacy offers multiple opportunities for engagement in the military, commercial and traditional realms.

     

    Because air power can respond to a changing security environment with a level of speed and flexibility unmatched elsewhere, it will become an increasingly important and readily deployable capability in austere times. 

     

    And so to conclude, Trenchard - our founding father - was a visionary, who saw the importance and capability of military air power, but who also knew and encouraged the vital importance of underpinning intellectual doctrine and concept of employment.

     

    In other words 'when the money to develop new aircraft and weapons is tight then we must protect our thinking, our learning and our conceptual development so that, at the appropriate time, we can rebuild the volume and shape of the required capability.  

     

    The reach, speed and accuracy of air power continues to offer politicians the ability to influence the course of events without kinetic, explosive or unacceptable risk to life and long term embroilment or, as in the Second World War, it can buy time - 3 and a half years in that case.

     

    The flexibility of air power to act from the strategic to the tactical, to act directly within the political, diplomatic and economic domains, and to concentrate considerable force in time and space are as relevant tomorrow as they ever has been.

     

    Air Power is not an expensive luxury which can be bought off the shelf when the situation demands; it is a cost-effective and adaptable means of providing the options which politicians and military commanders need to meet current and future security challenges - ideally, before events become life threateningly kinetic.

     

    Fuelled by intellectual investment and innovation, time and time again, the Royal Air Force has proven itself agile, adaptable and capable and provided cost-effective value for money for the British taxpayer.

     

    To retain our hard fought battle-winning edge, I can find no better advice than Trenchard's 1919 Memorandum which reinforces my conclusions about the future of the Royal Air Force:

     

    We must maintain balance and breadth of capability.

     

    Understanding and investing in technological innovation will allow us to exploit the opportunities which arise.

     

    And most importantly of all, we must invest in maintaining the intellectual agility of our people.

     

    From this baseline we can adapt rapidly to whatsoever the future holds.

     

    Equally, the ethos of my Service remains the same; it is filled with warfighters who are expert proponents of the air - and increasingly space - domains, but are also the strong advocates of how only air, land and sea power together can, jointly, deliver the military capability that this country needs. 

     

    My challenge is to ensure that we keep faith with Trenchard's wise counsel and that we prepare for future contingencies and not yesterday's war. 


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