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16 July 2015

Royal Air Force Air Power Conference Opens in London

The annual Royal Air Force Air Power conference in London began on Wednesday with a welcome from Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, Chief of the Air Staff who was mindful of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. He said that delegates to the two day conference included representatives from 32 air forces and that the theme Securing the Skies: Protect and Project was being held at a time of uncertainty.

The keynote speech followed and was delivered by Gen. Sir Nicholas Houghton, Chief of the Defence Staff in the UK. He said that while reviewing the upcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) he did so against that positive news that Michael Fallon, the UK Defence Secretary, had just announced that defence spending would be increased in the coming years and that the UK would meet the NATO requirement of 2% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) until the end of the decade.

Houghton revealed that the Review has only formally been formulated over the last six weeks. He said that the currently the national perception between defence spending and security had been eroded. Since 1989 and the ending of the Cold War with the collapse of communist regimes in Europe, he argued that there had been a redefinition of national security. “Defence became more discretionary to national security,” he said. After 9/11 the principal threat was perceived more in terms of terrorism and the best way to address it was where they were provided sanctuary. “The view that there is no direct military threat to the UK in the classical sense has taken a firm hold,” he said adding that the perception included the belief that defence was expensive and inefficient.

The UK and Europe was based on a rules-based order that had been preserved since 1945. Their status was also based on power: that of the United States and Europe. However a decline was now being experienced which would limit. “It is [not only] a more competitive world…but order is being challenged by violent extremism.”

Another challenge he said, came from Russia which, “was prepared to use the full breadth of hard and soft power to achieve its aims - allied to massive disinformation.”

The questions for the SDSR came down to how much power was required, what sort of power and how would it be employed?  He said that the UK’s natural ambition was to lead not follow events; to help shape the world around it, not be shaped by it. Carrier projection [the two new QUEEN ELIZABETH-class ships] spoke to the language of strategic authority. “We need to retain those capabilities that make us a natural framework nation for others to rally round in coalition,” he affirmed.

There would be three key roles: A mixture of protection and deterrance (including space and cyber) and defence against terrorism at home and abroad; there would also be a contribution towards stability and understand and shape the security environment; finally, the effective response to crisis. This was, he said, the most difficult to get right.

In conclusion he said that the actual spending power of the defence budget will now rise in real terms during the parliament and that every saving will be reinvested in defence. “It is no longer about the management of decline…there is a lot here for air professionals and the industrial base to think about.”
Andrew Drwiega, Westminster, London

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