This is the first of a few Blog posts in response to questions asked over on Twitter…I am working on the rest, unfortunately, my recent Manthrax (cold) and lots of work on has slowed me down somewhat – needless to say, the other posts are in progress.
The first one is an easy one – What changes have I noticed in the RAF in the time I’ve been in.
Wow. I actually had a think the other day about this, and I realised I’ve been in the RAF for 22 and a half years. 23 years in July! Blimey!
In that time the RAF has changed fundamentally…it’s changed from facing a threat, that – to be honest – wasn’t a real one. Back in the 1980’s, of course, there was still the Red Empire that was threatening World Domination and spreading global communism, etc, etc. There was the danger of nuclear war and Mutual Assured Destruction and all that crazy scary stuff associated with superpowers going “toe-to-toe in thermonuclear combat ” (to quote my favourite film Dr Strangelove).
But lets be honest – for all the threat they were never really going to fight a nuclear war…the global superpowers found it convenient to have the threat, but not actually follow it through, simply as there was too much to lose.
I joined the RAF at that time. The Russkies were our enemy and we were going to have to defend the UK against masses of Backfire bombers flying across the North Sea. And we trainded to fight accordingly.
The basic scenario was this – they were going to send loads of bombers across. We were to launch our air defence fighters to protect us. I was working on an air defence squadron at this time and we sent aircraft flying and “fighting” to prepare for it. Knowing that in reality – deep down – it never would really happen – but it was a good giggle and we had a lot of fun on exercises and we were ready to defend the nation if we were called upon to do so.
And then the Berlin Wall fell.
And the Russians admitted that they weren’t ever really going to attack and couldn’t do it in the future. We sort of lost our role for a year or so we didn’t really know what we meant to do. We continued to train to fight for the war that would never come. But to a much less intensity.
And then Saddam invaded Kuwait.
And the First Gulf War kicked off and we went and fought a war that we were not used to. Going AWAY to fight? Not being at home in our nice warm protective Hardened Aircraft Shelters. These were proved to be a BAD thing anyway as our bomber aircraft blitzed Saddams airforce bases and took out each individual hanger and shelter with their bunker busting bombs.
And it was that moment that the RAF changed.
It stopped being about sitting waiting for the enemy to come and attack us and became about expeditionary warfare – about going off and fighting whatever war we were instructed to do so by the government.
Instead of sitting in our nice warm bases we were now all about going off to protect the UK from outside it – we are now all about Expeditionary Operations
The wars we have to fight became more assymetrical – and the training we had for it became more specific to it. We stopped spending so much time learning about the effects of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological warfare, and more about how to carry out immediate actions on how to deal with an IED when travelling in a vehicle. The first aid is more about dealing with first aid on battlefield casualties. We didn’t worry so much about burns from chemical agents – and more about how to deal with blast and gunshot injuries.
It all became more serious. It all became more specific. And it all became more real.
And that is what the biggest change I have noticed about the RAF over my time. It’s got more real. We are still about defending the nation, but in a much different way. It has been painful to change our focus from “at home” operations – to “expeditionary warfare”. Some people found it difficult to cope and couldn’t handle that change, but over the time we have got more used to it as the “Cold War Warriors” have become time-expired in the service.
To the new people joining it has always been that way, and that is how organisations really change. The RAF has changed. It’s become applicable to the modern world – as it has had to. I would like to think that we’ve become more professional, and more military. When I first joined my military knowledge was all about how to fire a gun. As simple as that. My job was to fix aircraft and the soldiers did the fighting.
But now, as the nature of how and where we fight has changed I have had to learn the skills that will help me survive should I go to a warzone. Now I know how to carry out immediate actions on a rocket or mortar attack. How to carry out fire and manoeuvre drills. How to extract injured personnel from a vehicle under fire.
And it is this stuff that has allowed us to be able to hold up out heads slightly higher as part of the military. We are no longer “garage mechanics” who just fix aircraft, but we are also able to fulfill our role as fighting members of the armed forces.
We are fitter, leaner, sharper and as I say, more applicable.
And I for one think we are better this way.