The ‘Future air and space operating concept’ is founded on the basis that the fundamental purpose of UK air forces will be to protect the UK (and its overseas dependencies) from attack, and to provide the most rapid and responsive military means of projecting national power globally.
In particular, the impending shift from campaigning to contingency will put an emphasis on air and space power’s ability to contribute to rapid understanding and to hold potential adversaries at continuous risk: either directly from the UK, or through the global deployment and employment of aerospace capabilities.
Enhancing capability will largely depend on spiral development of existing platforms, through incremental upgrades to sensors, weapons and networks. However, beyond 2030, the scheduled retirement of fourth generation-plus capability offers the opportunity to migrate to a combat air system based on a mix of fifth generation manned and sixth generation unmanned technologies.
Command and control will be critical in creating momentum through tempo rather than mass in a smaller joint force. While component command will endure for large scale operations, with NATO architecture as the default, small-scale, UK only operations will be conducted with a flatter, more integrated command and control structure.
The USA’s strategic pivot means the UK may have to act as a framework nation for operations in and around Europe. Accordingly, access to foundation enabling capabilities, like command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and strategic mobility will be vital. However, the UK air component is deficient in combat mass. Increased reliance on partnerships and alliances will be necessary, while the persistence of remotely piloted air systems in more permissive environments will provide some mitigation. A greater emphasis on weapons (including modules deployed on less sophisticated carrying platforms) could also provide additional combat effects.
Electronic and navigation warfare and cyber operations will continue to grow in importance as enabling capabilities, defensive necessities, and for offensive use. Space will become increasingly integral to all military operations, but its delivery is disjointed across defence.
Roles and responsibilities must be coordinated for the space control mission and space-enabled command, control, computing, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions. The most urgent requirement is to develop an enhanced national space situational awareness capability, through the creation of a cadre of military space expertise and the development of existing capabilities into a proper hub that can be used to fuse existing military, civil and commercial space surveillance capabilities.