Air Power: RAF regaining its edge

While the Royal Air Force (RAF) may have admittedly ‘lost its competitive edge’ in recent years, it is making a big effort to bring itself up to date and is on the path to becoming a fifth generation air force.

The Air Power Conference held in London highlighted some of the ways in which the service is looking to regain its edge and AVM Pete Rochelle, Chief of Staff Capability, highlighted the importance of networking and cloud computing.

There was also criticism of the procurement process for not being well suited to networking the service, usually because the emphasis is put on the platform first, while data and information is an afterthought. This is not a new idea though and I wonder how long it will be, if ever, until procurement processes are modified to deal with the ‘big data’ age.


ACM Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, highlighted partnerships with industry and other services as key for the RAF’s future.

With the Typhoon having an in-service life until 2040, the air force is working with BAE Systems on a ten year partnership known as the Typhoon Total Availability Enterprise Service (TyTAN). This was agreed exactly 12 months ago and has since been hailed a success by the force.

Sir Michael Fallon kicked off day two of the Air Power conference announcing that the new P-8 Squadrons will be based in RAF Lossiemouth in Morayshire and their names will be 120 Squadron and 201 Squadron.

Nine P-8s in total will be joining the RAF after a deal was announced in 2016 by the UK Government, finally filling a capability gap created by the withdrawal of Nimrod in 2010.

He also announced a £40 million push over the next year to enhance the defensive aid subsystems of the RAF’s Typhoon multirole fighter.

Aside from the programmes, the service is looking to the future of technology, with Microsoft invited to the conference to showcase its HoloLens technology to the military audience.

The company suggests that artificial intelligence services could see opportunities in creating a paperless maintenance procedure.

The Royal Australian Air Force is already exploring the technology under its Jericho initiative having conducted a Augmented Reality Visualisation demo in 2016 with HoloLens, Saab and Defence Science and Technology Group.

The US Marine Corps has already tested out the HoloLens a training exercise geared towards the development and strengthening of small unit-decision making.

As the RAF looks to its centenary in 2018, a year promised to be full of celebration, the service is at a pivotal point where decisions made now could either result in a leading, cutting-edge force, or one that is stuck in its ways and not pursuing a bigger, networked, cloud-capable future.

The conference was full of blue-sky thinking from various speakers from the air force, industry and various experts. But it is all well and good to talk but when is the action coming I wonder?

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