National Statistics published this month the latest defence statistics revealing that Royal Air Force aircraft numbers are reducing while its uniformed regular personnel increase in numbers.
National Statistics’ annual report ‘UK armed forces equipment and formations’ gives the number of aircraft in all three armed forces, and its ‘quarterly service personnel statistics’ the number of uniformed regular personnel.
RAF personnel have now increased to 33,370, such that there are now fully fifty-six uniformed RAF regulars for each and every one of the 586 aircraft in the Royal Air Force fleet.
By contrast, the Royal Navy has 34,040 regular personnel, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary some 1,922 merchant seafarers. The Navy has, for the first time in decades, more personnel than the Royal Air Force.
The budgets for both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are broadly similar and the RAF maintains a structure of senior officers (air commodores and all three grades of air marshals) similar to its Royal Navy equivalent (commodores and all three grades of admirals).
Yet, whereas the Royal Navy operates all HM ships and submarines, as well as some 101 Fleet Air Arm aircraft and a Corps of 6,000+ Royal Marines, the RAF operates 586 aircraft, some 75% of the UK’s naval and military aircraft, while maintaining a headquarters structure as if it were operating all 775 of the UK’s naval and military aircraft.
It would require a Sir Humphrey on top form to explain why the RAF operates so inefficiently, when it could operate considerably more cost-effectively with less manpower while not impairing operational efficiency at all.
The RAF details on its website ten display teams – five with aircraft – and this, indeed, omits an eleventh, the RAF Police Dogs Display Team. It is impossible to determine the current costs or the manpower days spent on these displays but, in 2014/15, the estimated cost for the Red Arrows was reported as some £9.1m with some 112 full-time RAF personnel.
In the light of these new statistics and ahead of next month’s Autumn Budget, it would be a surprise if the Chancellor, who launched Spending Review 21 earlier this month, were not to seek cuts in defence spending on the RAF appropriate to the defence operational requirement, as public money is surely not for spending on unnecessary displays or more personnel than necessary.
Long a matter of concern, in addition, has been the RAF’s Harmony Guidelines. The Harmony Guidelines measure separated service from loved ones over a 36-month period, and the limits are 660 days away for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, 498 days away for the Army and 468 days away for the Royal Air Force. These guidelines also inform the number of personnel required by each service and it follows, of course, that the RAF requires significantly more personnel to undertake often almost exactly the same job or, at least, a job that is broadly comparable, to those in the other services.
It is not just among the most senior ranks that over-manning is evident in the Royal Air Force for it is plain to see at all levels. Anecdotally, among both serving personnel in the Royal Navy and the Army, as well as among the retired community, RAF over-manning is both a source of mirth and of disgust.
In short, man for man, woman for woman, it costs defence a lot more to run the RAF because of this long-standing propensity for over-manning. 56 uniformed RAF regulars for every aircraft is the key statistic. The RAF should be much more cost-effective with personnel numbers in particular, but the RAF is actually flying in the other direction.
This news story was prepared on 20 Sep 2021 by Lieutenant Commander Lester May, Royal Navy