back to article RAF in plot against Fleet Air Arm again

In a bizarre repeat of history, reports have it that the Royal Air Force is once again seeking to take over the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy - a sure sign that the economy really is in desperate trouble. Just as it has meant more than once in the past, a successful RAF bid to grab a greater share of the taxes in tough …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Excellent as usual

    Good article Lewis!

    I'd say give each role to the those who know what they are doing.

    Tank killers and ground attack to the Army, anything related to water based ops to the Navy and and .. what is it that the CRABs do well any way?

    Split AAD and Transport roles between the navy and the army as necessary.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Who needs subs ?

    No more cold war = no more need for secret subs. Dump them, save a dolphin/whale whatever.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Fair and Balanced

    Seriously, about as balanced as FOX news!

  4. Paul Murphy

    Has anyone noticed..

    That we are an island nation?

    we are surrounded by water.

    It's too deep to walk on, and too soft to run vehicles on.

    We need a navy to not just protect ourselves, but look after our immediate interests - let alone ones which are further away.

    To get any of our stuff to another place we need to use ships or planes.

    Planes are pretty expensive to use just to transport things around (think trying to do Overlord using just Dakotas) so we need to invest in a navy that can take things around the world.

    I would agree that our needs as a nation are more closely linked to the navy than they are to the air force, and indeed there is more justification for navalising our air force than there is for providing air cover four our navy soley from land bases.

    There are many stories of bad ideas in Britain being carried through to some rediculous conclusions:

    Beecham and the gutting of our rail network, Sandys and the termination of some truly useful stuff ie TSR2, SR.177, our space program.

    Sigh - do i need to carry on?

    We need a well integrated navy, able to protect itself properly and with enough flexibility to operate well.

    Put catapults (steam, liner accelerator, weight and pulley or rubber band come to that) and arrestor wires on the carriers and ideally make then nuclear powered.

    Stay away from the jump version of the F35 - it's not going to be able to do the job properly now, let alone when modifications are needed.

    Stop pussy-footing around issues and make some proper decisions that allow our armed forces to protect us and themselves properly and do a decent job of what they are asked to do.


  5. Stuart
    Black Helicopters

    Wait for it...

    " the RAF some more Chinooks..."

    Do you get RSI from pressing the C, H, I, N, O and K keys in the same combination for every article? If they are that abundant go and buy your-self five of them and impress minor celebrities down the pub with your arial tomfoolery.

    Black helicopter, well just because.

  6. bill
    Thumb Up

    Bravo sir!

    You're not ex-navy, by any chance? What a sensible take on a ludicrous situation. I couldn't agree with you more (and I work with RAF and Navy every day)

    However, I have no faith whatsoever that this episode will be anything other than an almighty clusterf**k, as usual. That's what always happens when there are politicians, British civil servants and US weapons companies involved: cash and honours for the old-boys, and a total shafting for The Boys, if you catch my drift.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    pedant at work

    "The service never acquired a proper carrier fighter through the whole war, as the pre-war RAF had seen no need for such a thing - indeed, had felt little enough need for landbased fighters in some quarters. "

    Ahem, Seafire, Fulmar, etc etc...

  8. SPiT
    Thumb Up

    Couldn't agree more

    As ever, Lewis Page has yet to write anything I disagree withand I know about a lot of this stuff as much as he does. If it was up to me I would make him minister of defence tomorrow.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Erm, does anyone really care?

    Admittedly, I didn't make it past the first page of the article because I was already falling asleep, but does anyone who reads El Reg really care about this kinda stuff?

    We want stories about penguins taking over desktops, and a Mr Ballmer throwing chairs, and Google doing more crazy stunts, and government officials losing more of our data, etc...

    Post something worth reading or else I'll be forced to do some work!

  10. Chris Miller

    Why stop there?

    Three separate services may have made sense 50 years ago, but is it relevant to today's threats? If I was CEO of a business that had three separate divisions, each with its own HR, IT, Purchasing, ... , I know where I'd be looking to make cuts! The army have demonstrated that it's possible to amalgamate different fighting forces while limiting the inevitable affect on 'esprit de corps'.

    By all means retain the traditional uniforms, ranks insignia etc. But do we really need separate Vice-Admirals, Lieut-Gens, Air Vice Marshals each i/c paperclips? (I realise, of course, that's exactly why the (almost entirely) guys wearing scrambled egg would never agree to such a move!)

  11. Paul

    Why two, why not just one?

    I have never understood why there are multiple services in the first place. It all seems like a historic hangup.

    The navy flies planes and has soldiers, the army flies planes and has boat, and the RAF has ground troops.

    Why not just amalgamate them into "The department of killing people" and be done with it? You have one service that has people doing all those things, but as part of an integrated whole, with one budget and a single command structure.

    Obviously you would have specialist sections, but an airman would be an airman, a soldier a soldier (not a soldier/marine/RAF Regiment member), a sailor a sailor. Just because you fly from the deck of a carrier, or from an air base, you are still a pilot.

    Much like the Israelis in fact. Whatever you might think of the IDF, as an organisation they are much more efficient organisation than the UK military.


  12. Anonymous Coward

    Oh dear, it's the '57 whitepaper all over again...

    I would guess that our Lewis is a little pro-Navy. This is all well and good, but his analysis is a little flawed.

    Long range bombing doesn't make a difference? Firstly, a B2 can fly a mission to the gulf, drop a load of bombs/cruise missiles in a considerably shorter time than it take to sail a ship to the middle east (a ship that is something of a LARGE TARGET). Secondly, large bombing campaigns do make an impact. The flattening of the Ploesti oil fields in late '43 fatally injured Nazi Germany's fuel production, one of the reasons why the Nazi war machine lacked mobility later in the war (Note that the Battle of the Bulge largely ground to a halt through lack of fuel).

    I agree about the carriers in the sense of giving them catapults. I'd also go as far as saying the cost saving should be used to convert them to nuclear power, making them less vulnerable to fuel availability issues, while giving them greater range.

    Going off the shelf doesn't always work. We scrapped the TSR2 in favour of the F111K (overpriced, less capable and late), the F4 Phantom (great fighter, not such a good strike aircraft) and, most remarkably, the old Canberra! We compromised our requirements on the altar of economics and bureacracy in a different way.

    We shouldn't have had Tranche 1 and 2 of Eurofighter either - should have had the Saab Grypen - cheaper, in service sooner and also part British (so very PC). With an 800m take off run, making a carrier version would be easy, and it'll supercruise (like the F22). Oh, and it can already carry bombs.

    Perhaps a Nimrod cruise missile carrier might be more useful than a overblown sub-hunter...?

    So, in some ways I agree, carriers with the right carrier aircraft are useful, but don't brush off the airforce and a long range strike capability in so cavalier a fashion.

  13. Roy Stilling

    "With just two services, you only have scope for one interservice dispute, after all."

    So why have separate services at all? Why not do as the Canadians have done and combine them into one armed service?

    Much as I respect the history and traditions (rum, sodomy and the lash included) of the RN, I do wonder just what the point of the navy is these days. It's not like we have an empire to defend any more, and the scraps we have left are hardly assets (I shouldn't be surprised if it would be cheaper to buy every family in the Falklands a repossessed house here in Blighty and give the islands back to the Argentinians than pay for the garrison). Defending our lines of supply? Well maybe, except that don't have a merchant marine any more so we're dependent on foreign hulls to supply ourselves anyway. Stopping piracy? Er, our sailors aren't allowed to arrest the pirates for fear they'll claim asylum...

    No, apart from the strategic nuclear deterrent and coastal protection, it seems to me that the only point of us keeping the RN is so we can lend a hand whenever Uncle Sam wants to beat someone up in some far-flung corner of the globe, a bit like the toady member of a gang who puts the boot in once the gang leader has decked someone. It's debatable whether even the Americans will be able to afford the sort of go-anywhere reach they have for many more years, so it does strike me as strange that we still even aspire to it.

  14. Aaron

    "Air Marshal Jock Stirrup"

    See, that's how I know this is a humor article. Nice to see the carrion eaters in editorial are allowing you to broaden your scope, Mr Page, but work on the names next time, eh? Something like that's just a dead giveaway.

  15. Dave Handley

    An interesting article - but flawed

    Very interesting article - but so obviously written by an ex-Naval officer. It is interesting that he fails to mention the successes of an independent air force. After the first world war, many people wanted to close down the air arm completely (including the RN), but Trenchard fought to maintain the skills necessary to ramp up in event of a new war. Also, an Air Force run solely by the Army and Navy would almost certainly not have concentrated on home defence anywhere near as much. The Battle of Britain may well have turned another way for example. The RAF has most definitely made mistakes, and it has always been a mistake to skimp on carriers. Just don't kill the goose that laid the golden egg because of those mistakes.

  16. DT

    Who's it this time?

    erm, just wondering who the enemy is this time?

    Can't be the terr-rrists; they haven't got a navy. Which 2nd rate country is it exactly which has a navy but no nukes, which poses this threat to us, this time? Besides, what the f*ck is it they're going to do with us, once they've invaded? Give us identity cards, watch us with cameras and bring out a host of new authoritarian new laws? Vive la difference.

    Which foriegn leadership can't we trust not to invade Blighty; I mean, we're an obvious target with our abundant fertile land, wide open spaces and plethora of natural resources! (cough)

    Why is it not considered a patriotic duty to strive to save lives by preventing our own less than trustable leadership from spending our money on fancy killing-toys, before sending our lads out to kill and be killed on some bullshit premise?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    of course you could...

    make anything that flies the province of the Royal AIR Force

    make anything that floats or sinks the province of the Royal Navy.

    make anything that is for land based combat Army.

    and then unify the administration and command. Its probably about as practical as any of the other suggestions.

    Scrap the Squadrons, Fleets and Battalions. Throw away the centuries of history and tradition that clog up what little intellect is in operation when it comes to the question of which of the Forces is the best. And go forward with the simple fact that to survive and protect this island from those who would do it harm, all have a part to play, and its the duty of the government and the upper echelons of command to see as many of those who fight for our nation have everything in their power to enable them to help the other guy die for his country, and bring ours back in one piece.

    Its not going to happen. And men and women will continue to die over these political games. Regardless of who is winning in the finance stakes.

  18. Tawakalna


    all of this will do nothing for the poor jack-tars who get woken up at all hours by the WAFUs playing with their toys. If it's not dirty great jets, it's bl**dy whirlybirds shaking you out of your scratcher at some unearthly hour.

    WAFU = wet and f***ing useless = Fleet Air Arm (for those who don't know)

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Someone has been reading......

    "Sea Harrier Over The Falklands", where the arguments in the article are made almost word for word.!!

    And I agree with all of them!!!

    The RAF was desperate to get rid of the Sea Harriers, the damn things were ancient, slow and asthmatic, but they could still beat any other aircraft in the world in a dog-fight, and that is the last thing Air Marshall Blimp wants to see; his hideously expensive new Typhoons beaten by an old FAA wreck!!!

    As I said before, buy two "Nimitz" class CVNs from the US, stick the RAF on one (and anchor it off the coast of East Anglia), and the FAA (and AAC??), on the other; tonnes of space for all our combat aircraft and all those lovely airfields to sell off as "Eco-Towns"!!!!

    Penguin?? Probably enough room left on the RAF boat for a colony of them!!!!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Reasons for separate services

    I would have thought keeping three separate services was a good idea as it stops any military leader from having too much control and potentially carrying out a coup. The RAF's regiment couldn't beat the Army on the ground neither could the Navy, the Army couldn't move troops around without being bombed by the RAF and the Navy couldn't launch a major operation against the UK mainland.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Its all a mess

    1) Get rid of this one service BS, Officers lead, enlisted men follow orders, the example of the navy making officers live with ratings for 9 weeks is IMHO stupid....

    2) Unify the command structure and redivide things more effectively sort of like

    a) ground attack and air support - Army, Marines and ground attack RAF & Navy assets

    b) Air defence -> Raf Regiment (on land), air to Air RAF Assets

    c) Support and Supply -> RAF tankers and transport aircraft, Army & Navy logistics

    Problem is too many people are like kids throwing toys out of prams and more interested in acting like playground bullies than soldiers - Deepcut murders?

    Air attack division should be supplied with proper rifles - Diemaco C8 / M-16 / AK-47 even, Air assets like the apache and the A-10

    Air Defence -> Eurofighters, carrier based catapult F-35, E-2 hawkeye fixed wing AWACS style aircraft

    Keep the subs but cut their numbers, heck even don't bother renewing the nuclear deterrent but say we think many nations would like to try and call our bluff?

    On the whole though a rather RAF bashing article. RAF has had its own issues also with funding etc, one RAF Warrant Officer during the 90's lamented the contracting out of fuel bowsers to a private company, turned out they refused to refuel planes during 12 - 1 pm and charged more after 5 pm, his thoughts "used to be I made a phone call and it was done, now I have to virtually beg to get simple tasks done to half the standard"

    What about mentioning the fact the Navy fought against better nuclear security by claiming no one in the "senior service" would ever go postal and abuse their "bicycle lock style key" << yes nukes were protected at one point by cylinder locks O.o

    Someone needs the Cajones to knock some heads together and straighten this mess out rather than pussy footing around "tradition" and service roles

  22. Phil Clarke


    Actually Jock Stirrup is not a made up name at all...

    Although why he decided to join the RAF when the name is so much more suited for Cavalry is a mystery

  23. Marco van Beek

    Lone Vulcan

    The book on getting that lone Vulcan over the Falklands (not once but five times, apparently) is well worth a read. It's called "Vulcan 607". In order to equip the Vulcan's to carry conventional bombs they had to go back to the scrapyard they sold the gear to a decade earlier, and luckily enough of the gear was still servicable to be retrofitted. The number of tanker planes they had to use beggars believe, and it all had to be done on the quiet because technically, the airbase in the Acesion Islands wasn't supposed to be used as a bomber base, only for supplies, as we had leased it to the US.

  24. SkippyBing
    Black Helicopters

    History repeats itself as farce.

    Although combining all three services makes perfect sense from a management point of view, no one has ever followed a manager in a death or glory charge against insurmountable odds. Even the Canadians essentially have three armed services, people don't go from flying planes one job to driving ships the next, and the culture amongst them remains the same as when they were separate arms.

    The priority of the RAF is the air defence of the UK. The priority of the Fleet Air Arm is air support of the fleet around the world. If you combine them one of those priorities has to give which will undoubtedly mean lots of ships without proper air support. Which if you've just spent £4billion on two aircraft carriers is a monumental fuck up.

    If we're going to have two carriers we need to do it properly, cats, traps real aircraft under fleet control so when the carrier deploys it has an air group. That won't happen with the FAA under RAF control, recent and historic experience has shown that. You can't remove the human element from the forces so we need to work with it rather than some idealised model derived by some management guru who wouldn't recognise a WAFU from a Fish head.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Think Skynet

    Aircraft carriers are horribly expensive and so 20th-Century-thinking. Once you get one, the RN will have all the excuse they need to buy all the accessories they will need to keep it afloat, as it is a big f'ing target. The US military is doing great work with missiles and drones - go there.

  26. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    RE: pedant at work

    The Fairey Fulmar was actually a classic example of the Royal Navy making a mess of things when left to their own devices. Most FAA fighters before then had been modified RAF designs, such as the Hawker Nimrod and the Gloster Sea Gladiator. When the Royal Navy got its way and drew up its requirements for a modern naval fighter pre-war, they included the assumption that any high-performance fighter would have to carry a navigator as well as a pilot. Seeing as the Sea Lords were also hopelessly biassed against twin-engined machines, that meant the resulting naval fighter would be hopelessly underpowered. The first victim of this was the Blackburn Skua II, which was actually the best naval dive-bomber of the day (scored the first combat sinking of a capital ship by dive-bombing in 1940), but was also expected to carry out the fighter role. This was fine for the Navy - they thought it would only have to face seaplanes and the odd bomber far out to sea, and not land-based fighters. This fallacy was exposed in the Norweigian campaign and later over Dunkirk, where valiant FAA crews still managed to notch up some air victories. The Fulmar was more fo the same, only with eight guns instead of four and a Merlin engine like the Spitfire and Hurricane, but was outclassed even by the Italians. It did have some successes in the Malta convoys, but apart from some work as a long-range recce plane, the Fulmar's best contribution was as a trainer for nightfighter crews for the only slightly better Fairey Firefly

    The Seafire and Sea Hurricane were adaptions of the RAF's fighters, and neither was perfect (though the Sea Hurricane was superior to the Grumman Wildcat of the day in several areas). The Seafire was always too fragile, it's undercarriage broke on landing, the propellar tips tended to hit the deck, and the fuselage tended to bend under the forces of arresting. It wasn't until the Seafire III that it was really a naval fighter from scratch rather than an adaption, and a better interceptor than American offerings (it could outclimb even the Hellcat and Corsair).

    But the FAA did receive three very good naval fighters during WW2 which Lewis seems to have forgotten about - the Grumman Wildcat and Hellcat, and the Vought Corsair. The Wildcat was taken on to fill the gap left by the Fulmar, becoming a firm favourite with FAA crews. Originally christened the Martlet, it scored its first kill on Christmas Day 1940. The Hellcat was also renamed by the FAA as the Gannet, showing the RN not only couldn't draw up fighter reqs but had no clue when it came to naming them either. But they did recognise a good fighter when they saw one, an example being how they took the Vought Corsair and used it from carriers (even escort carriers) after the USN had decided it was completely unfit for such operations. So the FAA did have a number of excellent fighters during the war, it's just most of them were American (in fact, some pundits rank the Corsair as the best fighter of the war).

    More telling is that the FAA drew rank over the RAF in the case of the Wildcat. The RAF wanted the Wildcat, which was quite good, but instead got the awful Brewster Buffalo instead. The Buffalo was another Yank naval fighter, only not such a good one. Of course, the example of how the FAA scored one over the RAF completely exposes Lewis's ramblings as just the dark mutterrings of a poor old salt missing his rum ration. So with no further ado, let's look at the Joint Force Harrier issue.

    This first came about after the Falklands War, when RAF GR3 Harriers operated from, amongst other ships, the Atlantic Conveyor, and RAF pilots flew Sea Harriers to help the FAA. Later, some bright spark in the civil service saw an opportunity to streamline, especially as the FAA's tired Sea Harrier FA2s were proving unable to take off and land vertically with a full weapon load in hot conditions like the Middle East. The Harrier GR7/9 can, and has since replaced the Sea Harriers as an interim machine until the F-35C/B is sorted. Some are of the opinion that this was simply because the RAF Harriers had had an easier life, especially as they don't have to deal with salt spray as often as the old FA2s. Of course, with the RAF supplying the GR7/9s, is it any surprise they should take over control of the HCF? Once again, this looks like just the Fishheads grumbling without cause.

    Personally, I'd like to see Sea Harrier FA3 made from a developed GR7/9 with the Blue Vixen radar included in the future carrier plans, as it would be a relatively simple, low-risk development. It might even be useful for the RAF, which currently do not have a radar-equipped Harrier capable of firing the AMRAAM or Sea Eagle missiles, though that might have an impact on Typhoon II numbers, and an impact on F-35C purchases.

  27. James O'Shea

    re pendant at work

    the Seafire was just that: a badly navalised version of the Spitfire. It had an arrestor hook and the tips of the wings could fold, and the main landing gear was slightly strengthened. It was still a bloody pitiful excuse for a naval aircraft, particularly as the undercarriage wasn't all that strong even after being redone... and weak undercart and carrier landings are not a good combination. The Sea Harrier was similar, except that its undercart was stronger in the first place, which was good. Unfortunately it didn't even have the pitiful folding wingtips that the Seafire had.. No folding wings meant that it took up far too much space both on deck and in the hangar. The Fulmar had the same Merlin engine that the Spitfire and Hurricane had... and also had to haul _two_ aircrew, so its performance stank up the place so bad that the Official Admiralty Policy with respect to someone else launching an air strike against British carriers was to _strike the fighters below_ into the nice safe armoured hangar deck and fight off the air raid using the fleet's anti-aircraft weapons... making the Fulmar a bloody useless waste of space as a fighter aircraft! The Roc was developed from the Skua dive bomber, and, worse, used the Boulton-Paul Defiant gun turret as its only armament. Not only did it have a crew of two, it had a bloody heavy turret as well, and was even worse than the Fulmar. The Firefly was an uprated Fulmar, with a Griffon engine instead of the Merlin... and still stunk up the place. The Fleet Air Arm's first real naval fighters were the American Grumman WIldcats they started to get around 1941... and the Wildcat itself was outclassed by German Bf-109s, Italian Folgores, and especially Japanese Zeroes. The first naval fighter the FAA got which could actually hope to survive in combat was the Corsair... and they got those because the USN thought (incorrectly!) that Corsairs could not be used safely from carriers; the USN was not turning loose of significant numbers of their Zero-killer of choice, the Hellcat. The RN, spurred by necessity, made the Corsairs work on their, smaller than American, carriers. And even so, the RN didn't have enough Corsairs, they depended on Seafires right to the end of WWII; the last air-to-air victory of the war was made by a British Pacific Fleet Seafire on 15 Aug 1945, the day the Japs finally gave up. And things _still_ didn't improve much; the first North Korean jet killed by British forces was killed by a RN Sea Fury, the Sea Fury being a navalised (but not very well) version of the Fury, which itself was basically a Tempest with a radial engine.

    RAF control of the RN's air arm has led to nothing but disaster.

  28. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Yup, it's the regiment's fault...

    Having a single defence service where people can move around freely between Navy, Army and Air Force seems the obvious way ahead. Pity it will never happen...

  29. Davy

    Sharky Ward

    Yes an excellent read, and so was Vulcan 607. ALL the flyers involved were heroic IMHO.

    A revitalised Russia is already pushing the envelope with some long-range sorties in our direction. This might imperil our energy resources in our own sector and in the Norwegian sector, where much of our future supplies will originate. We need the RAF to challenge that, so equip them with something appropriate to that threat and keep them in the UK. For projecting power or to meet the unknown future threat the carriers are needed also, presumably in concert with other naval units, so under RN command.

    A up to date Sea Harrier would be one way to go while were waiting for the JSF, if it ever comes.

    If we can't reach a target from the carriers then just let the Yanks do it, we can only do so much these days.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Frankly the UK might as well not order them

    As Lewis correctly noted the lack of airborn early warning was the underlying cause of most of the damage to the UK fleet during the Falklands.

    What he is failing to mention is that most of the damage was done using bog standard bombs of the most primitive variety. The Argentinians were a bit too hasty and took Falklands before they finished integrating Exocet missiles with their fighter aircraft. The immediate EU embargo that followed prevented them from completing that integration and they were not able to initialise the inertial guidance on the Exocet correctly. As a result they could fire only a small fraction of their Exocet arsenal and even that did not work properly. If the missiles were ready for use, the UK would have probably lost most of the task force long before it got anywhere near the Falklands.

    Quite clearly the UK has not learned the lesson and still does not have any high altitude airborn radar coverage for its fleet and is not planning any for its next generation carrier group.

    However the possible opponents have quite clearly learned the lesson. The most feared weapon of the cold war - the Granit system is no longer a privilege of the Russian mainline cruisers. Half of the world now has the poor-man version - the Sunburn missiles and will have Bramos once Russia and India are ready to sell them. A carrier group without early warning and fighters on patrol which can meet any aircraft armed with these at stand-off distance is a very dead carrier group. Frankly the UK might as well no order them. They are floating targets in their present configuration.

  31. SkippyBing

    Re:Matt Bryant

    That'll be the Fairey Fulmar that had the best kill ratio of any RN fighter of World War two then? No seriously it did, out-turned the Me-109 and had about twice as much ammo per gun of any other WW2 Fighter.

    Interestingly the GR7/9 doesn't deploy to the Gulf in Summer due to poor bring back capability, it definitely can't take off vertically when it's hot. Oh hold on that's the excuse for getting rid of the Sea Harrier.

    Top tip, don't go to the Gulf in Summer, it's not a reason for destroying the Fleet's air defence capability and it's a shit place to send a carrier I mean it's not as if there aren't lots of friendly airfields nearby.

    Me to RAF Wing Commander four years ago 'We got dicked by Joint Force Harrier'

    RAF Wing Commander 'Yes you did'

    The RAF Wing Co was a helicopter driver so was held in such low disdain by the RAF he may as well have been a paedophile. Which is the other problem with the RAF, if it's not a fast jet you may as well have syphilis, unfortunately this means the useful bit of the airforce, i.e support helicopters get about as much funding as the Jerusalem branch of the Hitler Youth.

  32. CTG
    Thumb Up

    Scrap the RAF

    Couldn't agree more, Lewis, and I say this as an ex-ATC space cadet. The only real reason for having an independent air force is for long-range strategic bombing, which the RAF doesn't actually do anyway. Even home-based air defence doesn't need a separate air force; in fact it would probably work better if it came under the control of AAC, so it could be coordinated better with land defence. Transport and ground support would be much better off owned by AAC.

    'Course, this has nothing to do with the fact that the only time I've ever been nicked was by RAF MPs (for underage drinking).

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Sharky Ward

    "This might imperil our energy resources in our own sector and in the Norwegian sector, where much of our future supplies will originate."

    The UK gets most of its natural gas from Norway right now. Still, one imagines that the Norwegians might consider building out some offshore renewable generation in one form or another once the vested interests in fossil fuels are done messing around with pretend "clean carbon" white elephant projects.

    Also on the subject of the Norwegians, I notice that someone proposed dropping the F35 and going for the JAS Gripen, which would be an interesting suggestion I'd been anticipating since the last Lewis Page article on the subject. The Norwegian government has ruffled a few feathers by stating its intent to buy the F35 despite the real possibility of widespread industry collaboration with the Swedes (as opposed to softly spoken words about partnerships with the Americans). It'd be quite the twist if the USA's largest partner in the JSF project dropped the F35 for a navalised Gripen, albeit highly unlikely. Then again, the Gripen seems to be the only aircraft in its class doing good export business, albeit to largely non-naval powers, of course.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Answer to Anonymous Coward Posted Monday 8th December 2008 22:01

    AFAIK the Argies only had a handful of Exocets and fired ALL of them at the RN, hitting and sinking several ships. The embargo stopped them from buying any more from the French.

    AEW IS badly needed, and I worry about the cost/reliability/suitability of the Osprey variants that are talked about as offering this cover. In my opinion they would be better off flying a barrage balloon festooned with the necessary kit than rely on this US made lash-up!!

    The balloon would probably offer the benefit of being fairly "stealthy" as well (too slow to register and semi transparent to radar).

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A quibble and and an addition

    The quibble:

    Lewis says: "The service never acquired a proper carrier fighter through the whole war, as the pre-war RAF had seen no need for such a thing - indeed, had felt little enough need for landbased fighters in some quarters." Not quite true - the FAA did acquire Corsairs from the USA - and they were definitely 'proper carrier fighters'.

    The addition:

    In addition to Lewis's points: I remember reading, in some history of the war in the Atlantic, that Coastal Command were begging for long-range aircraft in the days before there were enough escort carriers, but the RAF had priority for 'Strategic Bombing', so Coastal Command got very few. Even if they didn't attack and sink them, aircraft could keep the submarines submerged - and (given the submarine technology in use in those days) - that greatly reduced the chances of the submarines catching the convoys. 'Twould have been a much better use for some of those long-range planes ...

  36. Rich


    You describe strategic bombing in WW2 as having little effect. Without the comparison of no bombing, it's hard to make this claim. The initial attack on Berlin was very successful in provoking the Luftwaffe to devote it's resources to bombing London rather than achieving air superiority over the Channel. The bomber offensive subsequently required the Germans to devote resources to air defence and reprisals weapons at the expense of their land defences. It also helped kept Stalin onside until an appropriate time for the Normandy landings, avoiding the need for a potential disastrous early Third Front.

    Moving to the idea of a single aircraft carrier in the 1960s, this would have been of dubious utility. If a crisis (either the Falklands or a putative Soviet escalation) had occurred a few months into a major refit, we would have been in the same position as if the ship had not been built.

    Finally, I'd argue that, since WW2, Britain has spent a fortune on attempting to maintain a glorious military, without real thought as to why. Had we decided post WW2 to withdraw immediately from all our overseas colonies and limit our defence spending to that of Germany, the Russians would almost certainly not have invaded Western Europe. We would however, have been able to devote a lot more resource to regenerating our economy and would have emerged a lot richer.

  37. Lester May

    A suggested Email 'signature' - abolish the RAF

    To manage the UK Defence Budget in these tough economic times requires radical change. As an island and major trading nation, with overseas territories and merchant ships to protect, the UK will always need a Navy, the Royal Marines and a fairly large Army, but it could manage without the RAF in its current form. Abolition of the RAF would mean transferring its roles, aircraft, assets and people mostly to the Fleet Air Arm and some to the Army Air Corps. The savings would be huge: currently there are some 41,400 RAF people running 1077 aircraft but the Fleet Air Arm runs 240 aircraft with just 6,200 people - a ratio of 38 RAF to 26 FAA people to run one aircraft. Furthermore, fewer than 10% of RAF people ever actually fly operationally and that means an awful lot of people, from air marshals to airmen, in support roles on the ground - most of whom never even leave the UK!

    It's not the RAF that is the problem, for the roles it performs need to be done; it's the people in the RAF who manage it so inefficiently that are the problem. Every time a fighter has shot down an enemy aircraft since 1946, that fighter took off from a ship to do it! This lack of experience at the front line for 60+ years, where the majority of its people never get within hundreds of miles, let alone see the eyes, of the enemy, has led the RAF to assume a less military approach to its duties; fighting to win is now alien to most in RAF uniform. Write to your MP and demand the massive savings in defence spending that would result from the abolition of the RAF. See

  38. Jim Black

    Additional thoughts

    I have noted where the original article or the comments addressed some additional factors.

    In military activities, there is a major emphasis on a principle of warfare called "Unity of Command". That was the reason that a Supreme Commander (Eisenhower as it turned out) was needed for the planning and execution of the liberation of the European mainland from Hitler's forces. However, Eisenhower had deputies from all the services and most of the nations involved in the effort. Bernard Montgomery was commander of all ground forces for the first couple of months after the invasion. Scaled down to a smaller endeavor, such as an individual military service of a nation, it means that the commanders responsible for achieving a national effort should have the means UNDER THEIR COMMAND to be successful. It is a gross violation of this principle to have a RAF-commanded unit operating aboard a RN commanded ship or fleet. It is proper if the RAF unit aboard a ship be commanded by the ship commander.

    Modern warfare on land-sea-air (and maybe space) means that the principle needs to have some expansion. The US military now emphasizes Joint Operations, where units of sister services may be commanded by a particular service commander. In an action considered heresy by old-time Army and Marine types, the Army sent the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry division to Iraq and subordinated it to the First Marine Division. The Marine Commanding General then subordinated a Marine Battalion to the command of the Army Brigade commander. Blasphemy! At this time there are several Army units in both Iraq and Afghanistan that have attached Navy and Air Force people working directly on the ground with the Army people. And the US Special Operations Command has major elements of all the services and also some very specialized people of their own. But in every case, the Unit Commander is actual commander of all subordinate units assigned or attached to the command unit.

    So a cursory look at the situation would appear to indicate that the separate services are not required. A deeper look shows that the missions being performed by the services are definitely separated. WITHIN those services are functions that can be performed by properly trained people of any service but the overall knowledge needed for the service function is rather specialized and the training required of a commander for all services would require training until they were too old to be effective. The factors of service pride and esprit must also be considered. An additional factor is that a pilot is not just a pilot. I once asked a highly decorated USAF pilot (more than 280 missions during Vietnam including 80 over North Vietnam) if he would like to try to land his F-4 on a Navy carrier. He gave me a succinct "Not only NO but HELL NO!"

    Another factor I have not seen considered is that the war the nation gets is seldom the war the nation has prepared for. The WW1 Allies were not prepared for the realities of machine guns or of tanks. In WW2, the British and French were not prepared for the Blitzkrieg while the US was not really prepared for ANY kind of war. The US was not prepared for Korea or for Vietnam. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the US was not prepared for the unconventional war that we got after the initial battles. In all these wars, the wrong generals were weeded out and the right ones brought in - after a time. And the strategy and tactics, tools and weapons, changed each time to fit the needs of that war. So there is a major danger in postulating that the next war will be like the last war. Two things are certain: there will be another war and it will not be the same as the last one. War planners always face the problem that they cannot win, they cannot tie, and they cannot quit.

    So the only thing the the planners really have to go on are the Threat Analysis and a cloudy crystal ball as to the war they will face. The worst problem is the politics of a democratic nation. One politician says to an ally "We will be with you till Hell freezes over." Another politician says to an ally "If the fires of Hell are banked even a little, we are out of there!" And enemies change - I am old enough to be told about the vile Italians, the brutal Germans, and the evil Japanese. Now those countries are actually some of our best Allies (after the British, of course!). Which all means that military planners must devise a force and equipment structure that can sort of meet any threat and must meet the economic constraints placed on the solution chosen. A difficult task.

    Lastly, no single service can fulfill all the requirements for the winning of a war. E.g., air power is a NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT tool to conquer an enemy. The same holds true for sea power. In WW2, the air forces repeatedly said they could defeat the will of the enemy with bombing. They could not. Land troops can potentially do everything that conquering an enemy requires but without air and sea power, the land forces will take much heavier casualties and may not be able to conquer. To sort out the appropriate budgets for each service requires the most unbiased yet knowledgeable of people - and those kinds of people are in extremely short supply anywhere.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Fly Navy, Sail Army, Walk Sideways

    Enough Said!!!

    Real men sit down for the Loyal Toast (Senior Service chaps know what I mean)!

    Flyboy - SL(X)(P)

  40. TeeCee Gold badge

    20s and 30s?

    I think we can go back a tad before that to find the root cause of the problem. That'll be the seperate Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service being amalgamated into the shiny, new RAF during WW1.

    Ever since then, the RAF have seen any seperate development of an Air arm by the Navy as an attempt to reverse that decision.

    Oh, the date of that merger? April Fool's day, 1918...............

  41. druck Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    The Battle of Britain

    If we were starting with a clean sheet, we might choose not to have a separate air service for good economic reasons. But we aren't, and abolishing the RAF is unthinkable to a British public brought up on the story of the Battle of Britain.

  42. Andrew Newstead

    Role of the RAF?

    I support the FAA and the carriers. Their role in protecting the fleet and projecting airpower in far away places is unquestionable (as demonstrated by the USN). I do find that calling into question the future of the RAF is not justifiable.

    As was pointed out in Lewis' article airforces around the world do have a fondness for strategic deep bombing. This points (imho) to one real role of the RAF, air defence. Whatever could be said about ground attack and fleet protection, it was the RAF (albeit reluctantly at the time) under Dowding that lead the development of an integrated air defence setup that still can be seen as the "textbook" even today with our newer technologies.

    This role has to have an organisation dedicated to it.

    Army control of air assets neccessarily would concentrate on air support of the troops. Navy/FAA control over air assets would lead to air power being concentrated where the fleet is located and not neccessarily covering the UK.

    Coordinated air defence needs to have a seperate command structure.

    Each service has it's own requirements and (importantly) an understanding, gathered over years of experience, of the environment that they function in. This, in my opinion (and not so humble in this case), is the reason why we have to maintain seperate services.

  43. Toastan Buttar

    What about choppers ?

    I thought helicopters were the best bet for ship-launched AEW ?

    Mine's the flight jacket with the Biggles goggles.

  44. Wesley Parish

    boo hoo hairless hoo! A rabid attack of sanity needed!

    Oh for what it's worth, I've been thinking along similar lines as the "abolish the RAF" for a while, only in relation to New Zealand, since that's where I'm currently domiciled.

    It's really an issue of what are the priorities? What comes first? What do we do to make sure that what comes first, actually gets top priority? And how do we difuse the rivalries?

    (FWLIW, I concluded during the 2000-01 NZ Defense Review, open to public submissions, that New Zealand didn't have much use for an Army, because an Army has two essential functions - to deny territory, and to hold it, and New Zealand's population was far too small to field an army strong enough to hold your average territory the size of Bosnia - but had a great use for a Marines/Paratroopers/Mountain Troops Division with Armour. Much the same for the Air Force - a separate Air Force could hardly be justified on the grounds of geography - it generally came down to either maritime patrol or troop transport. A strike function could only be justified on the grounds of maritime strike and air artillery support for the troops, and what the US was offering - the F-16 - was pitifully short-ranged. The nearest neightbour/s - Australia and New Caledonia - happens to be two thousand nautical miles away and the seas during a genuine crisis would be contestable and most probably contested, and totally unsafe for air tankers. So, New Zealand really only had one base service - the Navy - to control the surrounding ocean, which meant sea lane patrols and EEZ patrols. And keeping an eye on the Antarctic. So I concluded New Zealand should base its defense around the Navy, and run the Army and the Air Force as specialized units thereof. No one in any of the three services wanted to hear me, of course. boo hoo hairless hoo! ;)

    So there you have it. Share and Enjoy!!!

  45. Anonymous Coward

    No bias here then :-(

    Let's ignore the fact that RAF aircraft and crews were on the Carriers in the Falklands - NO lets not ignore that obvious omission! The FAA has some great professionals - mostly below officer rank sadly, and it seems obvious that the author has a huge bias FOR the RN FAA - why - Actually who cares. Better he was factually correct and actually observant instead of ranting on about loss of RN footprint etc. The RN are flying the (ex RAF) Harriers today alongside RAF crews and the movement of the three services closer is happening whether he likes it or not. Having the Army doing what they are best at (taking and holding ground), Navy providing their expertise in maritime affairs and airforce doing their job of providing air power is equally logical and inevitable - perhaps not in the short term but it will happen as long as the services continue to converge their working practices and the most proficient in an area will take over its governance (eventually and not without resistance)..

    But all being well they will not try the disastrous idea of going to a single uniform, as did the Canadian Government - only to revert back to three uniforms (still in a single Defence Force) a few years later.

    And if this was a joke - it was lost on me. . .

  46. Francis Offord

    Here we go again

    I am very highly pissed off with the usual crackheads denigrating the services and their men. As an ex longserving man I lived through the post war years when we had, just about, a viable Air Force and Naval Air Arm. They were designed to do different things and did them well until politicians got their sticky little fingers into the pot and, with their total lack of understanding of matters military, screwed the services completely. Never mind the peaceniks of the Labour party, never mind the wooly hats of the Liberals or the outdated thinking of the Conservatives they screwed up the services completely. They missed out on the opportunity to create a combined defence force which would have achieved savings of a massive order if they had had the foresight and balls to grab it

    A lack of duplication of basic armaments, rifles for instance. Standardisation of general equipment like uniforms and mess facilities. I am well aware of the differing traditions in units and messes but the way of tradition is typical of the reluctance to become efficient. Just because a silly old colonel cocked something up in 1650 is no reason whay we should be dragooned into the same mistake today. A really big problem also is tha fact that so few members of parliament have any first hand experience of service life and, consequently, what the wastage of men and materials actually is. The needless duplication of equipment for the three arms of the services, none of which is standardised with the other arms. The jealousy of one service for another's perceived advantage when it comes to small matters whilst large matters are swept under the carpet to the extent that you might need oxygen to overcome the climb to the summit. We see on an almost daily basis the losses of life caused by by penny pinching when it comes to the provision of badly needed equipment which would be life saving. The incidence of the man killed when his bulletproof equipment was stripped from him by an senior rank who then let another man have it but he did not realise, or possibly care, that the lifesaving equiipment was purchased by the soldier personally and should never have been taken away from him. I hope that officer concerned can come to terms with murdering a fellow soldier for that is what it amounts to. I saw the dumping of tools and equipment when we left Christmas Island in the 60s, A conservative estimate the bill for tools dumped alone was criminal and well into four million pounds which, considering the purchase price today for the same items, the bill would exceed twenty million pounds even when deducting the bulk purchasing powers of the services/government.

    Conditions for the individual man have changed very little in the last 150 years. Yes, there are no longer wooden huts without effective heating, yes, mess facilities have improved and yes there have been improvements made in the care of families but, and it is a bloody big BUT, if the conditions suffered by service families were encountered by civilians there would be an uprising. Married quarters built in the early part of the 20th century have not been upgraded beyond cosmetically, those built after the second world war have been allowed to become deteriorated to the point that they would not be considered fit for anyone to occupy in civilian life. All the while the so called CARING services who are charged with looking after the welfare of the service families fight one another and the men/women they are supposed to be supporting. Will it ever change?

  47. Seán

    Sky nonces

    A bunch of Italian girls are better than the RAF.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's actually follow the Americans in this one!

    Give the planes to the ground forces who need them. (The Marines have more aircraft than the airforce. They are Marine pilots and will fly in close support of the troops, whereas the airforce generally try to stay well above the ceiling on anything that could injure them.)

    Turn the airforce into drone boys where their biggest risk of injury is RSI.

  49. Ian Paul
    Thumb Up

    Two is not enough

    Definitely the Navy should be in charge of its air capabilities but surely two big ones are never going to be in the right plce at the right time and you would be lucky if even one is ready at short notice. On top of that you need a great deal of resources to protect them , destroyers , air defense, submarines , half the current Navy would be committed just to look after the carriers. And with anti ship missiles getting faster and cheaper every year the problem is only going to get worse.

    Big things just make big targets , it would be much better to go for smaller cheaper smarter solutions

  50. Tom

    Nice one,

    I think the reason we all like these articles from Lewis so much is that his narrative compels you to read for 4 pages, and currently, out of the writer on el-reg, he's the only one who can do this (I'm looking firmly at the 'apple report card' crap).

    Nice one Lewis, i can only hope someone with the required strong arm reads it.

  51. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    RE: SkippyBang

    "That'll be the Fairey Fulmar that had the best kill ratio of any RN fighter of World War two then? No seriously it did, out-turned the Me-109 and had about twice as much ammo per gun of any other WW2 Fighter...." The Fulmar was mainly used for CAM ships and escorts where it was unlikely to meet modern fighters, excpet in the Med where there was little choice. The majority of Fulmar kills were the long-range patrol bombers like the FW200 Condor (a comverted airliner teh Fulamr could barely catch) and flyingboats, not other fighters. Yes, it could out-turn an ME109 at low speed and low level, but the ME could out-climb, out-dive and out-roll it, which meant the Fulmar could do little except go defensive and hope the ME buggered off through low fuel levels. A simple measure of it's usefullness would be to give the same FAA pilot facing the ME a choice of a Fulmar or the Sea Hurricane or Martlet. The pilots' accounts I have read all state how happy they were to get the Sea Hurri and leave the Fulmar. The figures I have read also put the Martlet as the most succesful FAA fighter, but then that might be because they compared it to other singleseaters rather than the Fulmar.

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