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New Chief of Air Staff highlights RAF equipment for Next Generation Air capability


Doug Gale - Strategic Engagement Director, Air & Space

The world leading Defence Security and Equipment International exhibition (DSEI) continues this week. The first keynote speech of Day 2 (Weds) saw the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Mike Wigston, give his first DSEi speech in his new role.

The strategic context is increasingly challenging, with well-publicised threats to the rules-based world order posed by, for example, Russian ambitions to re-assert itself as a major power, China’s increasing military capabilities plus regional assertiveness, not to mention Iran. Potential adversaries continue to watch and learn from our innovation in order to develop their counter-technologies that challenge our capabilities. Emerging capability in Space underpins a range of essential military and civil functions, including secure communications, satellite-navigation, ISR capability, personal mobile communication networks, broadcast media, financial markets etc. In the Information Age, ‘Space’ represents both a critical strategic growth area and a strategic vulnerability. The risk of complacency in tackling these challenges affects more than just our security, but our future prosperity too.

Air and Space Power will play a vital role in addressing these strategic challenges. The RAF continues to modernise and transform to deliver its strategy, including the ‘Next Generation Air Force’ (NGAF). Having the right people, the right equipment and the right partnerships are all key factors in delivering the NGAF, but for DSEi ACM Wigston focused on key aspects of the RAF’s equipment programme. He emphasised the continued importance of international collaboration, and highlighted the recent announcement that Italy is to sign up as a partner on the Tempest programme. In this regard, he also highlighted the Flying Test bed contracted by Leonardo to help accelerate and de-risk Tempest capability, and that there were now over 130 sub-contractors involved in the programme. The MOD Combat Air Strategy (announced last year) and the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI), within which Tempest sits was reaffirmed as a strategically significant programme for the UK. ACM Wigston also highlighted the recent announcement of a counter-drones contract awarded to Leonardo (details here) and a contract with General Atomics to deliver performance assurance of the new Protector RPAS (due to enter service in 2024). On Space, ACM Wigston highlighted RAF participation in the Artemis Programme, joining Raytheon, Airbus and Surrey Satellites, develop and exploit small satellite constellations. He also mentioned a SPEAR3 EW capability programme contract between MBDA and Leonardo. Other key platforms/capabilities relevant to the NGAF were called out, including P8, and Voyager. ACM Wigston also highlighted how industry collaboration has successfully delivered next generation capability such as the F35, where the UK contributed critical technical skills, or the A400M, which recently broke the record for the largest single cargo drop at 23 tonnes (see here).

In closing ACM Wigston, trailed a new RAF Campaign (‘ASTRA’) that would bring together the various elements of work underway to deliver the NGAF in a single plan. International and Industry partners would have a huge role in this going forwards. In fact, a key theme in this speech and others delivered by senior figures at this year’s DSEi event was that of collaboration between the MOD and Industry, and how relationships with Industry need to change if capability is to be introduced and assured in a more agile and adaptable way, including greater use of experimentation and spiral-development. By innovating, creating, testing and delivering together, Industry, academia and government can ensure that the NGAF is ready and can truly protect the UK’s security, prosperity and way of life. These themes resonate well with our QinetiQ Value Proposition and the approaches now being taken in our various engagements with DE&S Air delivery teams and the RAF Air Capability organisation.