Speech by the Chief of Air Staff at the Global Air & Space Chiefs Conference

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Speech by the Chief of Air Staff at the Global Air & Space Chiefs Conference

The United Kingdom Government published the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy last year, as you heard yesterday. It was an important statement about Britain’s place in the globe, as well as the role of the UK Armed Forces in that role.

Ukraine is a vital test of our shared resolve to counter unprovoked bullying and aggression. It is a vital message around the world too – well beyond the security of Europe – where other allies and partners face constant and sometimes existential threats from state and non-state actors and proxies.

It underlines yet again the strength of collective defence through alliances of like-minded responsible nations, like NATO, now more united than ever.

Much of what I will say today is shaded by the heroic and effective defence of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s aggression.

Story Highlights

  • It tells a lot about our shared cause and the personal bonds that drive so much of what we accomplish. I’m going to talk about why that matters now, as much as it has always done.

  • The review recognised that the world we operate in today is increasingly fraught with danger and uncertainty. It’s brought into stark relief by what we are seeing in Ukraine, the outrageous and brutal invasion of a sovereign country in Europe, something we all thought we had consigned to history.

But what we have seen in Ukraine is a rallying call for all of us as air and space chiefs, and for those who depend on us for the decisive effects we bring to the fight. Because maintaining our leading edge will require our total commitment to adapting together at speed, to embrace technology and to thinking carefully about the concepts that optimise it.

It’s a salutary reminder that, throughout our collective histories as air and space forces, our greatest successes and most groundbreaking progress have been the results of our deep-rooted partnerships, our technological innovation, and our conceptual imagination.

The conflict in Ukraine has reinforced some key truths. It has been a crystal clear reminder that Control of the Air is vital for operations by land or sea, as is uninterrupted access to space and the electromagnetic spectrum. Without those, you have little hope of decisive advantage and, the swift success that brings. The heroic defenders of Ukraine have also shown us that the democratisation of previously exquisite technology, rapid technological innovation, fused with their boundless imagination when it comes to employing that technology, will they become catalytic force multipliers in their own right.

We have all marveled at the exceptional tenacity and fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people in the face of overwhelming force. But I also give their commanders at every level enormous credit for their technological agility, flexibility of approach, and their lethality. Massed armoured columns have been annihilated with the effective use of ISR fused from multiple sources including commercially available drones. Space has been a game-changer too, at the heart of how the Ukrainians have maintained their fighting edge, using improvised space-based services from military and significant commercial sources.

These approaches have been a revelation to those who chose not to see them like that before Ukraine; a wake-up call for those happy to just do the current stuff a little bit better and think it will be enough. It falls to us as air and space leaders, to highlight how much has changed, and how fast, in the modern battlespace.

The Russian Air Force, by contrast, has shown what happens when you invest in modern technology but don’t invest in the people, the training and learning that generates a truly effective 21st century air force. Its inability to conduct complex missions or to integrate air effects across domains is plain to see, as is the unreliability of their technology. That is why training together as air and space forces and with our armies and navies is so important, generating truly effective and seamlessly integrated multi-domain effect.

We have all benefited for many years from our especially close relationships with our fellow Air and Space Forces. We have literally grown up together, and developed the tactics, techniques and practices to operate together as a formidable integrated force. Air and Space power amplifies the Joint Force’s effectiveness across all domains. It is the guarantor of freedom of manoeuvre by land or sea. So as aviators and guardians, we are uniquely placed to provide the conceptual leadership to take that forward in the way Ukraine has shown we must.