RAF Centenary

Part of Leaving the EU – in the House of Commons at 6:09 pm on 26th November 2018.

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Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Defence 6:09 pm, 26th November 2018

I take on board the hon. Lady’s comments. I am not sure whether this has been released or if I am breaking some sort of cross-Government embargo, but apparently recent surveys show that those in the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces have the most positive attitude out of all Government Departments—more so than the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions and all the others. That shows that there is a real sense of purpose and a very positive attitude about what we are achieving.

I know that Nia Griffith will set out a very positive view and vision of our armed forces and our RAF. We see an RAF that is creating two new Typhoon squadrons and new Lightning squadrons and investing in new technologies, drone capability, heavy lift, Poseidon and all the things that will be so vital for a vibrant future Air Force. We can be incredibly optimistic about that. We are sometimes in danger in this country of talking down what we are achieving; I would not accuse Seema Malhotra of doing that, but we should focus on the positives and the incredibly bright future of our Air Force.

As we look to the future, the sky is no longer the limit for our Royal Air Force. Earlier this year, I announced that it had taken command and control of the UK’s space operations, defending our space assets and infrastructure, alongside our allies and partners. As I say, we are lifting our eyes even further than just the sky. In early 2018, the RAF launched a space-based imaging satellite, Carbonite-2, allowing us to take high-resolution colour pictures and video from space. The launch was an important step in integrating the RAF’s ground, air and space capabilities.

But if our Royal Air Force is to keep ahead of our adversaries, we must look not years but decades into the future. Besides investing more than £2 billion by 2025 in Typhoon and future combat air systems, we have launched our combat air strategy. Designed to preserve our national advantage, it will keep us at the cutting edge of air power for years to come. Significantly, we unveiled at Farnborough this summer the Tempest jet fighter concept demonstrator—an aircraft with sixth-generation capabilities.

It is that investment and vision that will keep Britain at the cutting edge in terms of capabilities, bringing great benefits to not only the Royal Air Force but British industry, which is investing. We need to see Britain investing in these new capabilities to keep that cutting edge. The air sector is a great success in terms of our ability to export worldwide. In the last year, we have secured a £6 billion order from Qatar for Typhoon and Hawk trainers. That is vital for jobs and prosperity long into the future.

Anyone who has studied the RAF will know that our aircraft are only as good as the people who pilot them and the skilled crews that support them. We must keep doing everything in our power to inspire and attract a new generation of aviators and engineers. Britain’s first air chief, Hugh Trenchard, once famously appealed for those with “mathematical genius”, “literary genius”, “scientific brain”, “initiative” and “action” to come to the RAF. Today we continue that tradition, following in his flightpath. Not only is every branch of the RAF now open to women, including ground close combat units such as the RAF Regiment, but we are creating new RAF training, education and apprenticeship systems for the next century, with training academies planned around the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that our armed forces are the biggest employer of apprentices of any organisation in this country, with more than 20,000 apprentices employed in our armed forces.

But we must do more to enthuse. Our ranks have included incredible flying aces like Johnnie Johnson and remarkable inventors like turbo-jet pioneer Frank Whittle. We must tell their story. In 2018, once more under the banner of RAF100, we delivered the largest science, technology, engineering and maths programme of any Government Department, bringing the wonders of aerospace and science to more than 1.6 million young people. Who knows? The next Johnson or Whittle might have been among those 1.6 million young people, being inspired to contribute to our Air Force and aerospace sector.