UK RAF Chief of the Air Staff talks current challenges and future solutions

UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, today gave an audience at the DSEI show in London an overview of how the RAF is responding to the current threat environment and the future technologies it is developing.

Major Threats

He started by emphasising that partnering and collaboration are as important now as they have ever been in today’s challenging times. “The international system that has served us so well since 1945 that we rely on for our security and prosperity is being eroded likes by states like Russia, Iran and China actively destabilising the world order, challenging our stability, our security and all prosperity,” he said.

Speaking on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, he said that air and space had been the critical enabler in tackling violent extremism across Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and the streets of the UK and its allies are safer as a result. He identified some of the major threats facing the UK, ranging from cyberattacks, hypersonic missile, and spam on social media to potential interference with our national interests in space.

Final Enabler

“At this time of year, when we remember the Battle of Britain, it is worth reflecting that now as then control of the air remains the final enabler of all we do,” Wigston said. “To quote Field Marshal Montgomery, ’If we lose the war in the air, we lose the war, and we lose it quickly.’ I would now add space to that of course, but I’ll forgive Monty for overlooking it. As Chief of Staff, maintaining the ability to secure control of air and space for all our operations at home and abroad is my foremost responsibility, to ensure that we have the right equipment and the best people to do that.”

Future RAF technology

He went on to give an overview of recent investments the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has made in the equipment programme, including the Combat Air Strategy it released last year. He said Britain has a 50% stake in every F-35 sold and the money that brings plus the 25,000 jobs that depend on it represent a return that far outstrips the cost of the 138 aircraft the UK is set to buy. Wigston went on to say the Tempest Future Combat Air System (FCAS) represents the commitment of the Air Force and UK industry to the development of cutting-edge combative technologies.

Operate Worldwide

“It will mean that from the early 2020s will be able to mature technology from across the domain at an accelerated pace, de-risking programmes, and reducing the cost of bringing capability to the frontline faster than ever before,” he said. The MOD signed a contract worth approximately £100m at DSEI to test the performance of the Protector, the first remotely-controlled aircraft capable of attacking targets anywhere in world, due for introduction 2024. “Protector exemplifies the benefits that military-industry partnering can bring,” said Wigston. “Through the embedding of experienced RAF operators in the programme, we are helping bring to life a world-leading capability which will provide the RAF with a remotely-piloted air system that can operate worldwide in unsegregated airspace.”

In-service RAF capabilities

Moving on to in-service capabilities service capabilities, Wigston said that the Typhoon, the backbone of the RAF fast jet force, will continue to outlast the competition with the introduction of new technologies including electronically-scanned radar and the Smart Dispenser System (SDS) pyrotechnic smart self-protection system. “Another super example of spiral development is the Spear 3 weapons family,” Wigston said. “I’m delighted to announce that yesterday the MOD signed a one-year, £10m technology demonstrator programme with MBDA and their partners Leonardo to develop and test cutting-edge electronic warfare technology as part of the Spear 3 programme.”

Dambusters

Wigston concluded with an update on the F-35B, which is about to begin trials with the 617 ‘Dambusters’ squadron operating off the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier ahead of full operations in 2021. “I recognise the obligation that we share in delivering the capability and the partnership that has to go with it. We’re going to be handing a legacy to our successes that we need to be proud of, and that our country will be proud of,” Wigston concluded.