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The Value of an Independent Royal Air Force - Breaking the Oscar Wilde Paradigm in British Defence

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Technical Report

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Air War College School of Advanced Air and Space Studies Maxwell AFB United States

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This study explores the continuing need for an independent Royal Air Force in UK defense. Prompted by suggestions in the UK media that the Royal Air Force should be disbanded, the author looks at how the Ministry of Defence should configure itself to deliver air power in an uncertain world. Central to the paper is the issue of resource constraints and how policy makers have to balance efficiency savings against operational effectiveness. Using organizational theory, the author demonstrates that the current UK defense structure is optimal for dealing with uncertainty. Growing personnel in independent Services cultivates different ways of thinking which, when combined in Joint teams on operations, delivers innovation and success. The theories prove that the existence of an independent RAF contributed to success in an uncertain world. However, the issue is whether the UK can afford the additional cost of independence. By exploring the last existential threat to the Royal Air Force, in the 1920s, the author derives enduring questions about independence that need to be answered. Each question is explored in the modern context, to determine whether the effectiveness gains produced by independence outweigh the potential efficiency saving of abolishing the junior Service. The author determines that the true value of Royal Air Force independence lies in the fact that airmen are brought up to think differently, without being constrained by subordination to another Service. This independent thought is vital for innovation and countering uncertainty in the UKs National Security environment. Without an independent RAF, policy makers options are constrained and less focus will be placed on vital missions away from the line of troops or fleet, and on homeland air defense.

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