Letter: Air forces with little in common

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article ('Defence spending and Britain's role', 28 October) cites 'existing flab' in our armed services, and uses the often quoted, but faulty, comparison between the RAF and the Israeli Air Force (IAF) as an example. Against the UK's reducing defence budget (currently 3.5 per cent of GNP), Israel spends 13.9 per cent of GNP on defence and receives substantial aid from the US. Unlike the IAF, whose exclusive task is the defence of Israel, the RAF is tasked with a wide range of operational and other commitments in Europe and worldwide.

These generate a need for a spectrum of roles, including air-to-air refuelling, tactical and strategic transport, maritime patrol, search and rescue and strategic reconnaissance, as well as for overseas bases, associated support equipment and the personnel to man them. Indeed, this spectrum is wider than virtually any air force other than the USAF. Reflecting its more limited role, the IAF has few military airfields and commensurately reduced manpower requirements.

The manning arrangements for Israeli forces are also very different. The IAF makes extensive use of reservists, who maintain a more active peace-time role, including regular flying. Since the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are permanently on a virtual war footing, their priority is for rapid mobilisation. At full mobilisation, it has perhaps a manpower of 102,000, against the RAF's current 79,000, reducing to 70,000 by 1995.

With regard to the number of senior officers, the special role of the IAF allows it to be run operationally as well as functionally from a single HQ, collocated with the Israeli Defence Forces HQ in Tel Aviv; for the same reason, it is able to dispense with an intermediate command structure down to base level, and to rely on the Israeli Ministry of Defence for support in such areas as intelligence, personnel and finance. The size and command structure of the RAF must reflect its much wider range of capabilities and responsibilities, and in this respect its position is similar to many of its Nato allies.

The British forces have been committed to a major programme of efficiency reviews that have already yielded very substantial savings. The issues surrounding the debate on public expenditure, and the particular position of defence, deserve more serious analysis than that provided by your simplistic comparison of the RAF and IAF.

Yours sincerely,

BILL WALKER

MP for Tayside North (Con)

House of Commons

London, SW1

1 November

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