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‘Whole Force’-style resilience into the Service; it was upon this idea that pre-Second World War expansion schemes were based. A foundational link between Halton and Cranwell resulted in hundreds of former apprentices, or ‘Halton brats’, being commissioned, with a handsome number rising to air rank. A meritocratic approach combining technical skill with opportunity prevailed, perhaps best exemplified by the career of Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle, the jet engine pioneer.



The Second World War saw a period of considerable innovation and conceptual development, as early disasters in ‘air-surface integration’ with the British Army gave way to highly successful cooperation between the RAF and its sister services in all theatres of war. After the heavy demands of the war, the RAF was called upon to face the challenge of introducing nuclear weapons and becoming the nation’s strategic deterrent, bringing a number of key changes to the way in which the

outset. Underpinning this throughout the Service’s history has been robust training. The RAF’s flying training system is globally recognised as a world-leader, emulated by many other air forces, and the 21st-century approach, in which synthetic training will play an increasingly important role (as described elsewhere in this publication) seems likely to prove just as influential. Since the end of the Cold War, the RAF’s capabilities and skills have been in high demand. This has predominantly been in conflicts in which ‘control of the air’ has been largely uncontested, but the future will be less certain here as potential adversaries become more capable, requiring deep thought about what the RAF does and how and why it will need to adapt at all levels if success is to be maintained. This is reflected in the Thinking to Win (T2W) programme, through which we seek to reignite and fan the flames of conceptual innovation. The message is that inspiration and the aggressive pursuit of innovation, to redefine the RAF as a fighting force fit for the challenges of the next 100 years, are required. Some of what we do and how we do it will endure, but some may not. Our Chief of the Air Staff’s comments during his Thinking to Win launch reinforced the point: “‘We live in a world with rapid changes in society, technology and our operating environment. Change is accelerating, bringing with it new challenges and new vulnerabilities. If we can’t consistently come up with new concepts to confront new challenges; if we remain rushed and reactive – too busy to think – we shall become less and less relevant and increasingly ineffective. To carry on doing what we have always done will simply not do – busily perpetuating tactical activity alone simply will not suffice. This is about making us all better at beating our enemies – violently, if necessary.”

THE NEXT 100 YEARS The RAF has continually been among the first to introduce innovative procedures, such as air-to-air refuelling


Service conducted its business. Further innovation was required with the passing of the deterrent to the Royal Navy’s Polaris SLBM (submarinelaunched ballistic missile) system, and once more to meet the complex security environment that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Further examples of innovation can be found in the development of air-to-air refuelling; the adaptation of extant platforms to achieve air power effects at long range was exemplified by the ‘Black Buck’ Vulcan raids and the deployment of 1(F) Squadron’s Harriers during the 1982 Falklands conflict. During the latter part of the Cold War, the RAF Harrier force was operating at the sharp end of dispersed fast-jet operations for survivability close to the East German border. These few examples highlight that innovation cannot be simply pulled through the Service from the top, but that it has to be ‘woven in’ to the fabric of the Service from the

Thinking to Win is an evolutionary step along one continuum that is the conceptual development journey of the RAF; it is reinvigorating its organisational culture, not establishing one. The maxim ‘the future belongs to those who prepare for it’ is prophetic in this regard. Fortunately, Trenchard’s legacy left strong foundations on which the Service can once again build, just as he planned. For a successful future, the RAF needs to refine its collective understanding of what is important and what is not, recognising that this will be context-dependent and not universal for all parts of the Service. The pedigree is strong, but the challenges ahead are significant. The conceptual element has never been more important, but the basis for success here was laid 100 years ago, and the task now is to recapture the spirit of innovation that drove Trenchard to apply it across the RAF, thus creating the conditions for success in the complex, dangerous and challenging world that we now face.


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RAF Air Power 2016 – Inspiration and Innovation  

An official publication of the Royal Air Force

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