Sir Stephen Dalton: Modern warfare makes the RAF more, not less, crucial to Britain

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Air and space power isn't an optional luxury that can be added to an erstwhile military operation on the ground or at sea; rather, it provides the essential foundation for any sort of military endeavour. Air power is unique. It sets and shapes the critical conditions before and during operations on the ground or at sea. There are circumstances when air power alone has the capability to achieve the desired political or military effects, just as in the 1920s and 1990s or early 2000s. Consider those situations where the financial cost of deploying significant land forces or the risk to life is judged unacceptable or when time for action is short.

In nearly all environments, not least on our current main effort in Afghanistan, air power is an essential defining capability and so everybody has a stake in it or a dependency on it: from support for the strategic nuclear deterrent, through its critical combat Istar (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) capability – and enabling roles in the air-land campaign in counter-insurgencies, to its leading part in major combat ops.

My second proposition is that air power is our comparative advantage over potential opponents in future conflict. Success depends on our ability to exploit this critical advantage, through mastery of its capabilities by people who have the knowledge, professional expertise and competence to apply that advantage. Such mastery, as in any profession, requires years of training and practice and our advantage must not be squandered by non-experts who do not really understand the third dimension, or relative time and space advantage, that mastery of the air can deliver.

And third and finally, my key message today is that we can do this most effectively by using air power to dominate the timely acquisition of the information, the knowledge of every aspect of the operational environment that is increasingly becoming the "vital ground" in 21st-century conflict.

In a world "beyond Afghanistan", I believe that it will be air power's ability to maximise its comparative advantage in the third and fourth dimensions and to dominate the information space that will underwrite its future utility as a useful, credible, viable and essential tool in both the influence and hard elements of national power.

This is an extract from a speech given by the Air Chief Marshal on Monday night