17 NOVEMBER 1961, Page 12

Per Ardua Ad . .

STEWART By OLIVER INCONSISTENCIES in official statements about the Royal Air Force threaten to turn the recruiting campaign that has been filling adver- tisement space in the newspapers into a gigantic flop. These inconsistencies are the immediate affair not only of the young men who are being invited to become pilots and navigators, of their parents and of the headmasters of their schools, but of everybody in the country; because they reveal a state of confused thinking about air power today and about the equipment needed to exercise it. The Royal Air Force is no longer sure where it is going.

Young men are being encouraged to join it as pilots and navigators by the promise that manned aircraft will continue in service and that in consequence Service flying will continue to offer a stable career—a point that had to be made because of the contrary impression created by the Sandys White Paper of 1957 (which, though it did not, in fact, forecast that inhabited aircraft would go out of service, said that in- creasing emphasis would be placed on guided weapons).

But the promise that inhabited aircraft will continue in service does not accord with govern- ment action. If, for instance, there are to be successors to the Lightning fighter and to the Vulcan and Victor bombers, where are they? What is being done to provide them in time? Prototypes of aircraft intended as replacements should by now be more than half-way through their development trials. We ought to have seen them at Farnborough. But no such prototypes exist. None is being built—the aircraft industry is complaining that none has been ordered. Great play is made with the TSR 2 strike air- craft. As yet no one knows whether it will be good or bad, because it has not been built.

Whatever it may say on the subject, the Air Ministry has already taken the delaying action which must put an end to the traditional Air Force structure based on manned first-line fighters and bombers. Transport aircraft there are to be. They will not be specialised Service machines, but adaptations of civil aircraft, some of which have not yet been built.

So here is an unresolved conflict between what the Air Ministry says when it wants men and what it is doing to the Royal Air Force. It may be right to abandon manned first-line fighters and bombers—it probably is. But recruiting should not then lean upon promises of their continued existence.

Another conflict is between the emphatic way in which mobility is now lauded and the ac- ceptance, a short time ago, by the Air Ministry and the Royal Air Force of foreign-built rockets and static rocket sites. When these rocket bases were first introduced into England I described the move as indicative of a 'Maginot mentality' in the Service. I argued the case for mobility; but neither the Air Ministry nor the Royal Air Force was then interested in mobility. Now that they need pilots and navigators they suddenly discover its virtues. Here again is a conflict be- tween official statements and actual events. But the most serious conflict concerns the deterrent power of the bomber force. Does any- one, friend or enemy, really believe that it could carry out the Foreign Secretary's threat and 'put most of Russia's big cities out of existence'? Does anyone believe that, in the words of Mr. Julian Amery, Secretary of State for Air, it could 'cripple not just the military potential of the Soviet Union, but a large part of their popu- lation, their industry and their machinery of government'?

Lacking an acquaintance with the history of military aeronautics, these statesmen can hardly be expected to see the contradiction inherent in their remarks. What is surprising is that the Air Staff should have failed to steer them to- wards coherency. All experience of air warfare teaches that high performance is the key to tactical success. Existing means of delivery do not justify bomb-happiness.

The V-bombers are fine aeroplanes, capable of quite a good performance in speed and alti- tude. At the moment they are not equipped with stand-off bombs or air-launched ballistic missiles, so that, if war came, they would have to drop their bombs in the old-fashioned way when close to their targets. But they are not capable of supersonic speeds.

These bombers would be confronted by fighters. But all modern fighters are supersonic. Most of them can fly three times as fast as these bombers. They all carry radar tracking and gun- nery equipment. No supersonic bombers are on the way. When the Royal Air Force gets its Skybolts its crews will still move out to launch them at speeds no higher than those With which businessmen are familiar on the regular Atlantic run.

If that lack of bomber performance is to re- main so unimportant that no replacement air- craft will be wanted, something remarkable must have happened to aerial tactics and to the whole basis of success in physical conflict. It is as if the smaller, slower man with the shorter reach were to win the prize fight.

With what I believe to be the best aircrew Material in the world the Royal Air Force is manning fleets of first-line aircraft which are falling into obsolescence and which must soon become obsolete. Meanwhile nothing is being done to replace them, yet pilots and navigators are being asked to come forward to devote their careers to them. The sooner those facts are honestly acknowledged, the better for the Ser- vice itself.

There are said to be plans for the integration of the three Services, rather on the lines pro- posed by General William Mitchell in 1924. If such plans were to be put into effect the Royal Air Force would suffer unless it had first brought its ideas and its equipment up to date. Both the Royal Navy and the Army know better where they are going.

It is inefficient, unjust and uneconomic to assemble a body of men of high intelligence and outstanding loyalty and then to leave them with- out leaders who know where they are going and without equipment appropriate to the epoch in which they serve. The motto per ardua ad antra is curiously dated. Per ardua, perhaps; but ad astra? It seems not.