Air Power 2017: RAF looks to regain competitive edge

RAF Eurofighter EF.2000 Typhoon FGR.4

Having ‘lost its competitive edge’ in air warfare, the Royal Air Force (RAF) needs to exploit technologies such as cloud computing and airborne communications networks, a service chief has argued.

Speaking at the Air Power Conference on 12 July, AVM Rocky Rochelle, Chief of Staff Capability, said: ‘We all know there are pressures out there in the contested environment… the very notion is that we appear to have lost our competitive edge and it’s important that we rapidly try to regain our competitive edge.’

He emphasised the importance of creating a fully networked and connected force capability which exploits satellite and cloud technology as well as next generation platforms such as the F-35 and HMS Queen Elizabeth, which connect RAF capabilities to the maritime environment.

According to Rochelle, the UK armed forces needs to change its approach to information and data. The forces should move away from a focus on ‘collect’, towards viewing data as something that can be exploited on a ‘second by second basis’ to provide vital information to fighter pilots.

The air force should also become more accustomed to sharing information with allies, NATO and ‘coalitions of the willing’ in order to fully exploit the benefits that information offers to cooperation and operational effectiveness.

He added that such information sharing is vital in supporting the extended global reach of the RAF, in particular its role in counter terrorism, in which integrated operations need to utilise multiple platforms capable of sharing situational awareness and actively exploiting satellite data.

In addition, he told the Air Power Conference that a significant shift is required to move the RAF away from a focus on platforms and towards prioritising capabilities and outcomes.

Rochelle also warned that the UK had ‘taken its eye off the ball’, in particular with regards to homeland security.

The RAF has established a Rapid Capability Office – governed by three 3-star generals – as one way in which the air force hopes to improve the force’s ability to keep pace with industry advancements, bring down the barriers to innovation and encourage appropriate risk-taking.

The Rapid Capability Office is also designed to improve relations between the air force and industry. Bringing industry to the table at the ‘brainstorming stage’ could save significant time in the development process and contribute to a more agile acquisition process, said Rochelle.

Original article: By Alice Budge, Shephard Media.

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