As the UK armed forces look to shape the concept of Future Force 2020, with the Royal Air Force reducing to a manpower level of around 35,000 personnel, newly appointed Air Chief Marshal Andrew Pulford said that one of his main quests was to understand the role that synthetic world could play in preparing his force for its next challenge. As the newly appointed Chief of the Air Staff, he presented the keynote air power speech on the second day of the DSEI defense exposition, held from September 9 to 12 at London’s ExCel center.
“If I fly less in training, how do I surge up to achieve and deliver full capacity for operations?” he asked. Pulford hinted at the limitations that were going to hit the RAF in terms of how the force physically trained. He highlighted the advanced nature of the Hawk T2 and the representative feel that it gave of front line aircraft. However, he did not mention that the success of the UK Military Flight Training System (UKMFTS) for fixed-wing training had not been mirrored yet by similar improvements on the rotary side, where there is still an urgent need for a “glass cockpit” equipped training helicopter to alleviate conversions still being done at squadron level.
Chief of Air Staff Any Pulford gives the keynote at DSEI. Photo by Andrew Drwiega
One of Pulford’s key messages was that he no longer saw the RAF “as a separate uniformed element” supported by others, and seemed to indicate an increase in the trend toward inter-meshing political, industrial and civilian contributions in all their forms “to get the full benefit of the collective effort.”
Perhaps surprisingly, he seemed to espouse the development of the contracting of aircraft and support: “Industry could own boxes in a hangar and every six months download software to update the system.” He explained that the RAF could then operate to a schedule of what was needed, where, and for how long. Perhaps this was more playing devil’s advocate; as he said that he was aware how much he needed to look at all options going forward to maintain the RAF’s capability.
On the subject of remotely piloted vehicles, he said it was necessary to understand the strengths and weaknesses of all air vehicles. “What is clear is that autonomous is coming – I will let the studies and requirements drive where we go.”
AVM Andy Pulford is the first helicopter pilot to achieve the post of Chief of the Air Staff. He piloted Westland Wessex helicopters during the Falklands War in 1982 and later Boeing Chinook helicopters, logging more than 5,000 hours.