It must engender at least a little sympathy when the high point of a man's career is accompanied by the gift of a chalice, containing, potentially, more than a little poison. Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, who took up his post as the Royal Air Force's Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) almost four and a half years ago, retires on 9 April. He characterises his period in the post as "-probably the most challenging years the air force has had for a very long time".

His main task has been to try and navigate the air force through the clashing rocks and whirlpools of operational stretch, ageing equipment, fierce competition for resources and the widespread public expectation of a reduced defence budget, while maintaining commitments. At the same time he had to manage the implementation of the Options for Change and Defence Cost Study recommendations.

Commissioned because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the consecutive defence studies called for considerable cuts in RAF numbers, both in personnel and units.

The machinations surrounding Options for Change and the negotiations on public expenditure brought Graydon into the public eye when, during the Andrew Humphrey Memorial lecture in 1993, he warned that "-a campaign has been conducted aiming to discredit my service and its efficiency", adding darkly that "-we know who has instigated it and why".



In the ensuing political row, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that Graydon would either choose, or be forced, to resign. In the event he stayed in his post. Given the palliative of time, Graydon appears now to be sanguine about the incident, saying: "We'd been got at quite a lot that year." He admits, however, that he "...probably wouldn't do it that way again".

That said, he does not give the impression that he would back away from a fight when protecting his service. Nor does he give the impression of having viewed the cuts, particularly in personnel, lightly. "Anybody who was involved in the reductions was faced with difficult decisions-With the Defence Cost Study, the most difficult issue was that of people," he says.

During his period of tenure, the RAF has fallen in size - from 89,000 personnel, it has nearly reached the projected revised target of 52,200. "Dealing with that in the timeframe, and with the redundancies, while trying to maintain morale, was really the crux of the problem," Graydon says.

He does not try to paper over the morale problems within the junior service. "There were very hard personnel issues, and there was a lot of agonising over it-I wouldn't pretend morale has been good."

With the alacrity of the cuts has come the concern that perhaps they had been made in too much haste, while the RAF was being tasked with an ever-increasing number of operations, many out of area. A spate of crashes at the beginning of 1996 also raised the spectre of a service being stretched too far. The crash figures for the rest of the year now support the view that what was happening earlier was a statistical anomaly rather than a harbinger of a service on the brink of breakdown.

Graydon, however, is not complacent about RAF numbers, nor the tasks the service's political masters ask of it, particularly in the light of a possible defence review following a general election in the second quarter of 1997.


Reduction difficulties

"I find it difficult to see where any further reductions, from 52,200 which is our current target, can be made unless defence as a whole is looked at and they say there are commitments that we can give up," he says, adding: "Every element of our air power is on operations, there is nothing that is not being used."

Graydon explains that the RAF has used defence-planning assumptions as a baseline from which to work out the number of service personnel required in the force. "This has been crucial, and pioneering work. It represents a serious and clear analysis," he says.

Another area which Graydon has had to oversee has been the contracting out to the civil sector of many areas traditionally carried out by uniformed personnel. Some 17,000 jobs previously catered for by the RAF have been pushed into the civil arena. "No military man is ever wildly happy about getting rid of uniformed staff, but most civilians give us absolutely no problem at all. There is no difficulty about contracting out work," says the CAS.

What he does consider needs to be kept under review is where the line is drawn between the uniformed and civil contractors. "What one has to be very careful about is that you don't stretch it too far at the expense of our ability to support operations at the front line."

While it is evident that the cuts have not been easy for Graydon to bear, he is proud of having also steered through, pretty much unscathed, several critical procurement projects. These programmes were processed in the face of restricted budgets, both at departmental and at government level. "Besides the downsizing, the other feature of this period, not appreciated at the time, is that we secured a quite superb equipment programme," he says.

He is the first to admit that there were occasions when the RAF has had to fight to keep its projects on line, faced with "-attempts to get public expenditure down". Graydon says that there have been times when he has had to fight extremely hard to get the equipment through, "-but we've had tremendous support from our Secretary of State".

Graydon's reign has seen approval given to two air-launched-weapons programmes, the GEC-Marconi Brimstone, to meet the advanced Anti-Armour Weapon requirement, and the Matra BAe Dynamics Storm Shadow, to fulfil the Conventional Air-launched Stand-off-Missile need. The acquisition of 25 Lockheed Martin C-130Js to replace half the RAF's C-130H fleet has also been cleared, as has the order for a total of 24 British Aerospace Nimrod 2000.

As for the RAF's key procurement - the Eurofighter EF2000 - Graydon says that he would dearly have loved to have seen production investment in place before leaving his post.

Graydon, as with the other air forces, signed up to the EF2000, is a stalwart supporter of the project, not just from a service perspective, but also from the UK and European military aerospace industries' point of view. He is concerned over the financially driven German delays in approving the production-investment phase, pointing out that it is a poor "-expression of European aerospace if we don't get this [EF2000] together".

Another European project which, despite the purchase of the C-130Js, has continued to demand Graydon's attention is that of the Future Large Aircraft (FLA) military transport, within the context of the debate over an increased military-transport capability.

"The formation of the Joint Rapid Deployment Force has meant that, if the 'Rapid' is to mean anything, we need to determine our airlift requirement," he says. "Twenty-five C-130Js are not enough, we must have something else, and that is the big 'if'. We believe we need a bigger load aircraft, if we can get it an affordable price."


Looking at the options

Several airlift studies are now being carried out to look at options ranging from the FLA to the McDonnell Douglas C-17, and to private-finance-backed initiatives to modify off-the-shelf commercial aircraft.

In determining how to address this need, Graydon says: "What we don't want to happen is to run the C-130Hs long past their sell-by date, because this is expensive. The aircraft will increasingly cost us money. One of the things that has confounded us with the Eurofighter [EF2000] is that we have had to run on the Panavia Tornado F3 air-defence variants."

An obvious concern over the FLA is that, with repeated delays to the launch of the project, meeting the RAF's 2004-5 replacement date for the C-130s appears increasingly difficult (although not yet impossible) to meet.

As with contracting out, Graydon does not dismiss the potential attractions of private-finance initiatives to meet the heavy-lift requirement. "It might be worth pursuing, because I don't think we'd necessarily need to own all the assets," he says.

Another area which has received some attention is the possibility of commercial cargo operators, such as Air Foyle or Heavylift, sharing leasing costs with the RAF.

Graydon also envisages that, in the future, the RAF may move towards reducing the number of front-line combat-aircraft types it deploys, with the advanced short-take-off and vertical landing (ASTOVL) capability likely to come under scrutiny. The British Aerospace Harrier GR7 is projected to be withdrawn from service in 2012, while the Sepecat Jaguar GR1B is earmarked to be finally retired from service in 2008-9.

"I can intrinsically see the merit in reducing the number of types we operate in the long term, but the Harrier GR7 is relatively new - the aircraft is still getting clearances - so we are in no hurry to reach a decision. It's nice to have a choice of that nature," he says.

He adds that what "-might help us make up our minds-is the way the US-led Joint Strike Fighter [JSF] develops". As well as providing a possible ASTOVL successor to the GR7, Graydon says that a JSF derivative will also be considered as a candidate for the RAF's Future Offensive Air System replacement for the Tornado GR4 strike aircraft.

Graydon, with more than a hint of understatement, describes the past four and a half years as being the "greatest challenge in his service career". The legacy he leaves his successor, Air Chief Marshal Dick Johns, will be to hand on a smaller, but better-equipped, air force. Based on his own painful experience, Graydon may also want to advise Johns as to when, and where, to fight the political battles with which he could be confronted.

Source: Flight International