back to article Air Marshal: RAF may not have to be disbanded

Yesterday, reporting on the Ministry of Defence green paper issued this week, we referenced a news item in which the UK's top serviceman, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, reportedly said it was "plausible" that Britain might in future have just two armed services rather than three. It has now emerged that this was in error …


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  1. Paul_Murphy

    It makes the most sense to split the RAF.

    It's the newest service and there have been few wars/conflicts where the RAF have been the sole forces element - the defense of the UK in WW2 and the subsequent attacks in France and Germany etc. and Abysinnia are the only exceptions that spring to mind.

    It makes more sense to me that the RAF is split and is integrated into the army or navy, rather than remaining a stand-alone element of our forces.

    If it was being handled in the same way a a commerical enterprise in a free market economy then everyone in the RAF would be sacked and they would be expected to apply for equivalent roles in the army and navy.

    Hopefully it will also cut down on the confusion, where some army people can fly things or others use floaty things, the raf can do defence/fighting on land or sea and the navy has marines and planes.

    Another way of looking at things is how likely are we to have another 'world war' or at least a 'proper' war? aside from power grabs for oil or gas we will be fighting mostly terrorist organisations.

    As an island nations we should be concentrating our resources on our navy and their ability to stop people invading us, and our army and their ability to carry a fight to people far away.


    1. Colin Wilson 2

      Forgotten the cold war?

      "there have been few wars where the RAF have been the sole forces element"

      How about the cold war - where the RAF played a key role for 35 odd years?

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Easiest to break up the RAF? Don't know NuLabour's real plan?

      Sorry, but you assume that the RAF only does subordinate work for the other forces, when the reality is the RAF does startegic tasks completely divorced from the Army or Navy. The defence of UK airspace is just one example. Long-range interdiction and strategic bombing is another, though the latter could largely be handled now or in the near future by cruise missiles and drones. Splitting the RAF into land and naval air forces was how it all started, and would go horribly wrong. The RN has a long and disasterous history of not knowing how to specify or use aircraft, seeing them as an expensive option to buying more floating gin palaces. Whilst the RAF also has a jaded approach to providing pilots and aircraft for the RN, they at least want to provide them, even if they do want to largely control the result (such as the joint Harrier force).

      Similarly, the Fishheads do an amount of work that is divorced from the Army or RAF, such as long-range maritime patrol in foreign waters, anti-piracy ops, and distant aid operations to remote islands. The latter does require heavy lift aicraft, but the first to arrive is usually naval craft in the area. And if the operation develops into mass evacuation the ships are required, and sometimes it is the only option when local airstrips have been either destroyed by a natural disaster or have fallen into the hands of undesireables.

      The Army? Well, here the fun begins The Army actually has far too many roles to cover with the forces at their disposal, and does many operations where it does not need to co-operate with either the RAF or RN. Such tasks as close air support really do need foot sloggers as they are the only ones that can really get down in the mud and direct the aircraft in. The idea of an expanded Army Air-Co-Op unit completely separate from the RAF is good, as long as we don't go with some cripplingly stupid limitation like the Yanks did when they said "anything with wings is Air Force, anything with rotors is Army." But the idea of the Army running the whole RAF show sounds very bad.

      No, all this is just political posturing before an election, there will be promises of a review, the election will come and go long before the review comes in. The idea of combining the three forces into two is just an attempt to look radical. The real NutLoon plan has always been to force our armed forces into a joint European force to replace the US-centric NATO. They have the hilariously naive idea that this will not only promote co-operation but somehow make the resultant force more efficient. In reality, it will just be another over-managed (by countless numbers of unaccountable euro beaurocrats) and unbalanced force, racked with inter-state squabbles over who funds what and what kit is bought from which member, and with any decision taking six months minimum of euro-wrangling and handwringing before anything concrete happens, if ever. Any resultant deployments will usually be too late and in the euro political gesture manner that sees UK troops getting dropped into firefights with even less prep or kit than they do now, and then unable to even communicate with the other troops in the areas because they won't be able to speak English.

      The Fwenchies will insist on speaking Fwench, even if they can speak English; the Germans will want to show everyone what perfect English they think they can speak, even though they can't, and will thus never admit they don't understand what they're being told; the Italians will only want to speak to the female soldiers in the UK units; the Greeks will only want to speak to the men; the Spanish will only talk to ask to borrow kit whilst complaining about how unruly and poorly behaved our troops are; the Belgians will only speak if they are allowed to run every show, because they think they were once a great imperial power; the Dutch will be too stoned to talk sense to anyone; and any other member state will probably only send along a token force of administrators and other useless desk-warriors!

      What we actually need is a drastic reappraisal of what we actually want our armed froces to do, followed up by some proper and serious spending to allow them to do the job in a balanced and co-operative manner. That will mean three individual armed forces, though the idea of a joint command stripping out some of the current individual command structures doesn't sound too bad. But I would suggest two combined commands - Defence of the UK and Foreign Operations - anything else just slot in below the two as required, with a cut-down top layer similar to the COBRA set up. The RAF would largely fall into the former whilst expanded FAA, Army Co-Op and a mix of cruise and drones (under Army control) could then handle the Foriegn bit. Some RN and Army units would have to go into the UK Defence role. For significant deployments against real foreign powers with an air force the RAF could lend some Defence forces fighter units to provide air CAP. Job done!

  2. Tom 15


    The Army will be the one two go, replace all of the troops with drones in the next 10-20 years. We certainly won't have to worry about a body count at least...

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  4. LPF
    Paris Hilton

    What a load of rubbish!!!!

    Just becuase what we deal with now is mostly terrorist, we just finished a major land invasion a couple fo years ago, and with energy resouces becoming more scarce the chances of it remaining just terrorist threats in the future is small to none.

    Defence should not be base upon what can be invisaged in the length of the next parliment.

    Also the hold BAE has over the defence industry in this country has to be broken, that company has extracted billions out of the defence budget with sod all to justify it!

    And everytime we attempt to buy cheaper from abraod they bring up the keep british jobs argument to justify why they should get a cut! They more than anything are repsonsible for both the number of ships and aircraft we are able to deploy being so low!

    Paris becuase even she can spot a pisstaker!

  5. Paul 25

    I've always wondered about that

    I've always wondered why we continue to have the various forces that we do, and why they all seem to have bits that do similar jobs to the others.

    The way I see it we should just merge them all into a single fighting force, with a single chain of command. Each of the services has specialists in different fields (running around with guns, flying helicopters etc) so I don't see why the different services can't just be specialisms within a single force.

    It would mean we might have fewer Admirals than ships for a change :)

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge


      Like the red white and blue circles on the Navy and Army's aircraft then...

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        1. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Err... no they're not

          By international law a state's aircraft must carry identifying markings, in the UK it's the roundel, it isn't an RAF marking per se and in fact the RAF lost a battle to copyright it. My point was your grandchildren won't be looking at a picture of a Spitfire and asking what the funny circles are, as they'll know they're the markings of British military aircraft, unless you're grandchildren turn out to be 'special'...

        2. SkippyBing Silver badge

          and while I'm here

          The roundels pre-date the RAF originally being used by the RNAS and RFC in WW1, the RAF not being created until April 1st 1918.

        3. Reg Blank

          Ignorance is no excuse...

          His point, FailBot, is that the Army and Royal Navy use the same roundel so it isn't "the RAF roundel" but the roundel used by all British military aircraft whatever the service.

          Secondly, seeing as the Royal Flying Corps (Army) and Royal Naval Air Service (Navy) has been using the same coloured roundels since the end of 1914, and the RAF didn't exist prior to April 1918, I think that they have more of a "claim" to the roundel than the RAF.

          Grenade, for the commentards who voted you up and SkippyBing down.

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  6. TeeCee Gold badge

    You know what'll really happen.

    They'll spend a load of time and money looking into it, decide it's a hornet's nest and settle for economies of scale by reorganising the various supply and logistics bits into a Combined Operations Purchasing Oversight UniT.

    1. M Gale

      I like your acronym

      Too good not to happen.

  7. sandman

    Air Superiority

    While the war we are fighting at the moment don't seem to require much in the way of a strategic airforce, there is still a big tactical requirement. Now, this function could be absorbed into an "army airforce" with some ease and may even have benefits from a command and control point of view.

    However, in a war such as the first Gulf War there was a requirement for strategic bombing, gaining local air superiorty, etc. This is really the function of a conventional airforce, as is long range defence of UK airspace (although you could argue that this is coastal defence and perhaps the navy could do it)...

    As always, we don't know what threats we might be facing 10/20 years down the road, roughly the time it takes to design and build a new military aircraft, so perhaps better safe than sorry?

    It might also be worth noting that although the new generation of drones are pretty good, they are being used in a theatre where we have total air superiority and wouldn't be much use in a contested air environment.

  8. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    calling Major Major

    Joseph Heller would have been embarrassed to name a character Jock Stirrup.

    The occasional attempts to rationalize the US military structures, most notably in the late 1940s, have failed. The Navy wants its planes, and there are too many former Marines in Congress and Cabinet to allow of folding the USMC into the Army. Does the RAF really have less charisma and clout than the USMC?

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge


      next question?

    2. Grivas Bo Diddly Harm

      It's a NICKNAME for heaven's sake!

      Ah - just noticed your moniker. I take it back.

      Perhaps, in accordance with El Reg policy (which I notice, 9 years and 4 days after it was posted has never been properly enacted you bunch of pub-botherers), Jock Stirrup's name should always be printed in Lavender. See for more detail.

      Other standard nicknames used by the services can be seen here. Haines, Bee and Page get off lightly, I see.

      <lav>No icon, because..... </lav>

  9. ShaggyDoggy

    They can't ....

    .... disband U.N.I.T.

    I mean, who would protect us from aliens.

    Oh, wait ....

  10. M Gale

    Sir Jock Stirrup

    Sounds funnier every time I think about it.

    Anyway, it looks like the guy made a sarky comment to a stupid question, and suddenly people are taking him way too seriously.

    Also: Sir Jock Stirrup.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    tried before?

    The RAF was formed to amalagamate two separate flying services - the Royal Flying Corps of the Army and the Royal Naval Air Service.

    Then, after some time, with the increase in the number of naval aircraft (beyond a few spotter aircraft) the Fleet Air Arm was put under RN control.

    Then during the war with the need of lots of aircraft to take the infantry into Europe, an Army Air Corps was formed. This was disbanded post war. Then a new AAC was formed to give the Army some helicopters and support.

    So these things are cyclic. But mucking around with tradition tends to be damaging for morale, which has (supposedly?) been behind much of the British fighting spirit - hence the palaver over regimental amalgamations.

    The Japanese kept the two branches separate with both Army and Navy aviation arms during the Second World War, the latter getting the glory of Pearl Harbour etc. But they didn't get on and the Army had to build their own aircraft carriers.

    1. elderlybloke

      Tried before -Mk3

      Yes , very true about the Japanese.

      A shocking example of how not to have your Army and Navy behave.

      They fought each other with more ferocity than the official enemy.

      Actually the Germans were not far behind them.

      There was inter-service rivalry on our side , but thankfully , as far as I know didn't hinder the war effort like the Japs and Hums did to theirs.

      Study of history could help us avoid behaving like our enemies did.

  12. Peter Methven

    Everyone assumes.

    Everyone seems to assume that we should still be invading foreign countries... surely when money is tight and we are short on soldiers etc. we should be reducing our military to a defensive role of defending the UK home soil, and dependant islands and countries. In which case we don't need a seperate army, air force and navy.

    How about having:

    "Homeland Defence"

    "Foreign Invasion Force"

    At least then when we are sending troops abroad someone from goverment has to stand up and say:

    "I have taken the decision to send the Foreign Invasion Force into country X for peacekeeping."

  13. windywoo
    IT Angle

    Not interested in wars thanks

    Our recent military history has been nothing but a collosal fuck up and this is meant to be a tech site with some diversions into Swedish lesbians. If the story was about some new tank or helicopter I might have understood its relevance, but since its a political story I don't think that these warmongers need to be indulged.

    1. Shades

      Where have you been?

      Despite retaining the "Biting the hand that feeds it" strap-line El Reg has been far more than just an IT site for many, many years now and I, for one, am thankful for it. It seems a lot of articles here don't get (sane and the required scornful) coverage anywhere else.

      Then again you could just look at where the article is posted before wasting your own time reading something you have no interest in >and< commenting on it!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Despite decades of joint (purple) operations, commands and training, the 3 different cultures are quite distinct - chalk, cheese and something else. Even the youngest Service is coming up to 92 years old - a lot of tradition and unique culture have been created in that time.

    Plausible - just maybe - but not likely.

    BTW Strike Command ceased to exist in 2007 :-)

  15. Anonymous Coward


    If it wasn't for all the "vested" interests, common sense would dictate multirole forces,


    marines folded into the army and manpower increased to increase the pool available for fleet deployment, meaning people aren't sent on such long tours

    Army troops given amphibious training so they can be deployed from ships such as Ocean, meaning more flexibility of deployment and an ability to have some of that category on permanent deployment (Say convert the 3 CVS carriers to Ocean's design once Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth carriers come on stream??) Meaning for example engineers can rapidly deploy and have a floating store of equipment and materials which can rapidly be brought into operational theatre, plus have a secure retreat option if the need arises.

    Give the airforce the jets they want, but on the condition they are navalised and can be CATOBAR launched if the need arises, would greatly enhance the naval firepower we could lay down at any time, closer integration would help too in terms of ops planning etc. Also would mean a safe and secure airfield available in case landbased airfields come under heavy fire or get captured by enemy forces.

    Doing this might also free up enough money ( and people) to buy and staff a nimitz class carrier, and likely cost us less than the POW and the QE are costing, with a much higher capability. Also it would perhaps allow the realisation that some proper air support aircraft would be damn useful (A-10, Spooky gunship for a start??), to the guys on the ground and would remove the RAFs reluctance to buy anything subsonic and non shiny.

    But as usual no politician has the cajones to take the issue by the short and curlies and order the amalgamation of all 3 forces into one effective force.

    Simplest way would be to fire any personnel unwilling to "play nicely" with their new coworkers, that tends to focus minds I think.

    Yes it wouldn't be easy, yes there would be firestorms in the press, but would it be for the best long term? Damn right it would be, plus it would mean invincible back in use instead of rusting away at the dockside at "reduced readiness"

    Anyone else's thoughts?

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Interesting that this is even *on* the table.

    The presumption would be that amalgamation is a no brainer, as *everyone* has seperate army/navy/air forces.

    So that merger is no longer an impossible idea?

    Note that inter service rivalry and the playing of politics has caused a *lot* of trouble in the past. I'm thinkg of Earl Moutbattens *highly* partisan campagn for the Buccanner against the TSR2.

    Perhaps a more politically viable way to save money would be the merging of the seperate operations commands as Lewis suggests.

    Perhaps it could be called something like "Combined Operations," or CombOps for short.

    Just a thought.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Not everyone


      nuf said

  17. Anonymous Coward

    The answer is obvious

    As the Navy is the senior service, I would have thought that the following is obvious,

    1) The Fleet Air Arm can absorb the RAF

    2) The Royal Marines can absorb the Army

    This will leave a single combined force that could for ease be refered to as 'Royal Navy'.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Can't wait

    So when the americans ask us to signup for the next episode of War on Terror, We'll be supporting them by sending the entire uk armed forces.

    A spotty oik who can ace call of duty, wearing a propeller beanie and carrying an airbed.

  19. Ihre Papiere Bitte!!

    Combine the R&D!

    As most R&D these days relates to stuff that can be carried on ships (I've seen more tenuous reasoning round here!), amalgamate the RAF & Army R&D areas into the Naval.

    The new, cheaper & more effective designation would be Combined Unit for Naval Technology. For short, they could be referred to as... Oh.

  20. Matthew Little 1

    Canada you say?

    I recall those days of a unified Canadian Forces.. briefly I was part of it... It was a great way to strip each of the services of their essential strengths and allowed the politicians and purse holders to save a little money...

    Britain... DON"T DO THIS!

  21. Admiral Grace Hopper

    I have wondered

    Why the US Marines can cover off air, naval and land operations as one integrated force while we continue to support three separate command and control structures to achieve the same end. Yes, the traditions are lovely and I have spent many a happy hour listening to crab vs. pongo vs. matelot banter, but is it really cost-effective these days? Are the forces there to kill people and break stuff or to amuse themselves with internecine political warfare?

    Let's set up three bang-up museums to house all the history, get everyone marching, flying and saling in the same direction and move forward into the 21st Century.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      US Marines?

      I'm sure that the USAF, USN, the US Army and their Air Corps (not to mention the somewhat secretive lads in the fledgling Space arm) will be delighted to be completely overlooked like that.

      The US seems to feel the need to maintain all the other bits, despite the Marines. Maybe they're not quite the be all and end all that you suggest they are?

      1. Admiral Grace Hopper

        Fail? To get my point over, yes.

        Oh, indeed, and the USA can afford to maintain all these armed forces. The UK can't.

        Rather than overlooking these bodies of fine fighting men and women, I was seeking to draw a comparison with an integrated service that seems to function with greater efficiency than our top-heavy defence set up with its built-in fracture lines. I obviously failed in that; good job it's not me in charge then.

        No set up will ever be the be all and end all, but it strikes me that we waste one heck of lot in duplicated structures that spend far too much time fighting each other and not the bad guys that they should be.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Oh please

          ``Bad guys'' is such an American Imperialist Empire thing to say. Why adopt their term for what they see in the mirror each morning? What's good with old fashioned ``adversary'' or even plain ``enemy''?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yes, good point

        Why do they do that, really?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    bye bye RAF

    didn't the USAF just put in an order for more UAV's than they have piloted planes? - hence becoming the USUAVF. Our RAF could equally well switch over to 100% pilotless and find a few gamers in a pub or online in some World of Woodcraft MMMMORRPGG and get them to telework the RUAVF in their spare time?

    Anonymouse in case the RUAVF's UAV's over Lunnon in 2012 detect the biometrics of a brazilian electrician and hard-protect the 'lympix

  23. SPiT
    Thumb Up

    Dodgy RAF

    It is worth bearing in mind that the RAF had a good stab at trying to lose WW2 by insisting that independent RAF operations were their appropriate activities. Just consider the following

    RAF high command disliked all the spending on fighter command and if left to their own devices would have had a woefully inadequate air defence of the UK in 1940.

    Bomber command absorbed a significant fraction of the UK war effort to very little effect. The damage to the German economy was a small fraction of the cost to ours and strictly speaking bomber command lost their air war in spring 1944 only to have it recovered for them by the activities of US daylight bombers (and escorts).

    In the 1940-1943 period the RAF had a good stab at losing the battle of the Atlantic. The secret to defeating the u-boats (and it wasn't a secret) was long range air patrols but the RAF felt it was far more important to carry out ineffectual night bombing of Germany than helping the Navy.

    The RAF attitude about independent action remains to this day and seriously undermines the effectiveness of the UK armed forces. They are obsessed with their core activity of indepent bombing when the focus should be on supporting the other services in performing proper combined arms activities.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Scrap the lot of 'em

    i have a better idea. get rid of the armed forces altogether. apart from a bunch to dress up in fancy uniforms for tourist and ceremonial purposes.

    the actual fighting with bombs and guns and stuff could be outsourced. the typical taliban or somali guerrila gets paid a buck a day or theresabouts. so we'd save a fortune in wages. they could have sponsors logos on their uniforms, just like football teams. and the tv rights for their wars could be sold to sky. so we'd actually make money. and when the americans have their next invasion, they can bloody well pay us for the use of our outsourced forces.

    best of all, there would be no more british people grieving over their dead squaddie relatives.

    1. elderlybloke

      Remember 1940

      When Winston Churchill said " Never in the history of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few"

      Regarding the aircraft numbers allocated to Bomber Command, that was the responsibility of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and the strategic planners.

      Bombing Germany was the only way of attacking it for most of the war.

      Attack is the best form of Defence.

      Lest we Forget.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Remember 1940 this says it all

  25. Chad H.

    There's always the corporate solution

    Outsource everything to India, run none of the services directly, and then scratch your head wondering why it doesn't work....

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      Been tried before...

      under the name "British Empire".

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They could fight each other

    winner is last gang left standing.

    My money is on the RAF though they would need to keep the bases protected from Naval shelling, but much faster to scramble into the air, then it is to set sail, if Pearl Harbour taught us anything it taught us that.

    Regiment could see of the Army lot, if they even got close enough. Carpet bomb or drop nukes on Army bases, job done, home in time for tea and toast set to the theme music of Dam Busters.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      of course

      your scenario has one major flaw.....the RAF have no nukes, they lost them in 1997 or thereabouts when the WE-177 was retired and the nuclear deterrent role fell on the navy....who could always nuke the RAF and the Army off the map in your scenario ;-)

      However the RM might stab the RN in the back if the whining and moaning from the Royal Marines on "warship" (C5) was anything to go by "why do we have to be on these stupid boats", "we arent in jungle warfare now so why bother doing this ex" (because the next war might be a jungle war......)....seems some of the bootnecks/cabbages think they are a seperate service / part of the army rather than being part of the RN *shakes head*

      Seems the adage I heard a few years back is true in some respects...Army is cannon fodder, RM are simply expensive cannon fodder

      I will say one positive thing about the septics least they still have a "proper" navy rather than 5 men in a rowing boat as Britain seems to heading for.....and I want to join the RN......someone find me a shrink....quick!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If ...

    ... we have a double dip recession and our banking system breaks down and international trade stops ...

    ... and we import most of our food.

    Can our armed forces take food away from other people and stop them taking ours?

    'tis the crunch question I believe.

  28. Name Withheld

    Now then

    Firstly he is a Air Chief Marshall not Air Marshall, but that's not important.

    There is no reason why there cannot be a single armed service, however, there will be little saving to be made, most back office functions and support organisations are fully integrated and Tri-Service, there is little if any duplication or triplication of effort. People on the outside might not notice this but those on the inside are fully aware of this.

    The only real saving is in the Management costs, the number of Admirals, Generals and Air Officers needs to be cut and this is the only area where any real saving will be made. We will still need the same number of deployable military assets as recommended in the upcoming SDR no matter which cap badge they are controlled by.


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