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F-35B Lightning jets during a refuelling exercise with an RAF Voyager over the skies of Charleston, US. Courtesy of MoD/Crown copyright/PA Images/Ken Pike

Changing Character, Changing Context: Enhancing Operational Airpower Employment in the Royal Air Force's Second Century

Johnny Stringer
RUSI Journal, 30 August 2018
Aerospace, UK, Defence Policy, Europe
The British Air Vice-Marshal reflects on the future of the RAF.

As the RAF celebrates its centenary, the changing character of conflict and a rapidly changing context within which airpower can, is and will be employed offers profound challenges and opportunities. Established technologies and capabilities – many associated with and honed since the first Gulf War of 1990–91 – have been joined by exponential development in space, cyber, artificial intelligence and the information environment. Recent operations in Afghanistan, Libya and the Gulf have reflected this, yet have also highlighted the competitive nature of the geopolitical, societal, legal, ethical and reputational contexts within which airpower is employed. In this article, Johnny Stringer draws on his own experience at the tactical and operational levels of UK, joint and coalition operations. He examines those contexts to provide pointers to the rapid evolutionary changes required to enhance what integrated airpower can provide, and the potential consequences of inaction or timidity. In particular, he articulates changing ways in air warfare – access, targeting, non-kinetic and information/influence operations – and the need to move beyond technology and tactics to fully exploit the conceptual component of air and space fighting power to the full.

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