2010/11/01 - Air Power Middle East Conference

Speech delivered by Under Secretary of State in Doha, Qatar on Monday 1 November 2010.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Lord Astor of Hever DL

Thank you Phil [Air Marshal Sturley, Conference Chairman] for that very kind introduction.

General, distinguished guests.

It is a great privilege to be here in Doha on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, and I thank our Qatari hosts for the splendid hospitality they have shown us - thank you very much.

Let me also thank the Shephard Group for organising this important Air Power conference.

It could not be better timed, or better located.

The new British Government is committed to strengthening relations across the Gulf, and is serious about realising results on issues that are of mutual importance, not least Defence.

We saw early evidence of that last month when several British Ministers and their Gulf counterparts met in London.

And the historic and enduring ties which Britain and Qatar have enjoyed were reinforced when Her Majesty The Queen welcomed His Highness The Emir to Britain during last week’s highly successful state visit.

This conference also comes hot on the heels of Britain’s Strategic Defence and Security Review - the SDSR - which sets a path to a coherent and affordable Defence capability in 2020, as well of course, as supporting our main effort in Afghanistan.

The SDSR has generated great interest in many countries around the world - countries which share similar security challenges, and the need to modernise and reform.

And I know that the Secretary of State for Defence was grateful for the frank and open discussions when General Al Attiyah visited London. So I want to use this opportunity to reinforce our commitment to British-Qatari Defence relations.

And use the example of Air Power to discuss how we approached our Review.

Britain is proud to be counted among Qatar’s friends and allies.

Our historic ties are strong in many areas, not least culturally, academically, and commercially.

And we are both bidding to host the football World Cup, though thankfully in different years; we wish you well.

But in today’s uncertain world, nowhere are they more important than in the field of Defence co-operation.

Your continued support to the United Kingdom as we conduct our operations is greatly appreciated.

And many Qataris have graduated from Sandhurst, Dartmouth, and our Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury; or attended prestigious British courses such as the Royal College of Defence Studies in London.

But we’re keen to do much more.

We want to broaden and deepen our co-operation - through our continued participation in Qatar’s Exercise FEROCIOUS FALCON, through training, and long-term industrial ties.

Indeed, I very much hope that British companies will be viewed as “partners of choice” in Qatar.

And I promise that British Ministers will be regular visitors, because knowing each other personally helps us to understand each other’s concerns and further our shared interests.

Qatar is important to us, not simply as an oil- and gas-rich nation, or even because of our long-standing friendship.

Though it can hardly escape our attention that, in the last year alone, Qatar’s exports to Britain increased by an incredible 565%, in large part thanks to your Liquefied Natural Gas now flowing through the South Hook terminal in Wales.

Qatar has one of the largest GDP per capita in the world, and is a major investor in the United Kingdom, not least as the second biggest shareholder on the London Stock Exchange.

And despite the recent difficulties in the global economy, Qatar has weathered the storm very well.

We are proud that around 11,500 British people are working here, contributing to that resilience.

Your place on the world stage is growing.

And now you have more to protect.

So the challenge for Qatar, and for all of us who have shared interests, is deciding how, where, and when to engage to contribute to security and stability in the Gulf and around the globe.

Such decisions will be driven by many concerns: national security, financial, and trade; others by alliance obligations and shared interests, by humanitarian aims and altruism.

To be candid, how nations see themselves and how they wish to be viewed by others also plays a part.

One thing is certain: the world has changed greatly in a short time.

We are now decades away from the Cold War, and approaching the end of the post-Cold War era too.

Britain’s National Security Strategy highlights a complex array of new and growing threats from a variety of sources.

In our view, the four highest priority risks are those arising from: international terrorism; international military crises; major accidents or natural hazards; and, as long-overdue recognition of the importance of our critical national infrastructure, cyber attack.

The nature and character of conflict itself are also changing.

We are still dealing with the strategic shock of 9/11 when many of our assumptions were shattered.

The callous and cowardly willingness of terrorists to harness technology to murder large numbers of innocent civilians has emerged as one of the key challenges of our times.

Yet, we must not assume that state-on-state conflict has been consigned to history.

The circle of international decision making has become wider and more multi-lateral as new, increasingly self-confident and potentially powerful nations seek to take their place and assert themselves on the world stage.

All of this has major resonance for the role of military force around the world, not least the way we view Air Power.

In Britain, we have concluded that this requires an adaptive Defence posture to make our Armed Forces among the most versatile in the world.

The means to achieve these ends were set out in our SDSR.

And reaching these decisions was very, very difficult.

There are legitimate pulls and pushes from every part of Government; from industry; from academia; from the media; from friends and allies; and of course from those that the SDSR is designed to serve - the British people, and our Armed Forces.

Not all of these pressures faced up to the realities of the post-Cold War world.

And because Air Power tends to come at the more costly end of the spectrum, our future requirements for Air Power had a high profile.

So maintaining a clear sense of purpose has been vital.

For example, even with the difficult decisions we had to make, and even with the cuts we had to take, we were clear that our commitment to the Gulf would never waver.

In fact, this is one of the reasons why we want to increase our engagements with our friends in the Gulf.

And now that the SDSR has been published, I thought it might be helpful if I explain Britain’s vision for Air Power, and how we reached the conclusions that we did.

We approached the SDSR with three principles in mind for Air Power.

First, history has taught us that it is always a mistake to base one’s decisions and design one’s policy on the basis of the last war.

Yet, it would be equally foolish to ignore the lessons of history.

In Britain, we have the enduring lessons of the Battle of Britain; the Falkands; and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.

Second, our ability to project military power over large distances offers political flexibility for any mission we might want to undertake.

It also gives us built-in military flexibility to adapt our approach - be that deterrence, containment, or lethal force.

Third, we should never forget that Air Power provides us with our asymmetric edge, not least the formidable advantage of combat ISTAR.

This technical superiority has allowed the precise targeting of insurgents and terrorists but, more important, with minimum civilian casualties.

We know the contained havoc that an Apache helicopter and a missile can cause an adversary on the ground, while sparing the civilians caught in the battle zone.

Today’s asymmetric adversary would love to see Air Power taken out of the equation.

And with our three principles in mind, the SDSR was clear about the vital role that Air Power will continue to play across all four pivotal roles: Control of the Air; Air Mobility; Intelligence & Situational Awareness; and Attack.

It was equally clear about the need to invest in programmes which will provide flexibility and advanced capabilities, reducing legacy capabilities which we are less likely to need as we move into a world of precision weaponry where the battlespace increasingly involves unmanned and cyber operations.

Now, what does this mean for Britain’s future Air Power capabilities?

The SDSR concluded that we need:

  • Air Defence at home and for our South Atlantic Overseas Territories;
  • a credible and capable combat air presence to contribute to conventional deterrence and containment;
  • an expeditionary combat air contribution in support of enduring land operations;
  • strategic and tactical airlift;
  • and other Air Power capabilities, including ISTAR, helicopters and RAF Regiment ground units.

We will also develop a long-term coherent strategy for the use of UAVs.

And we concluded that there is a strategic requirement for a future carrier-strike capability that will last well into this century.

On top of this, we are examining the most efficient means of aligning our logistics support right across the fleet.

We do so because an organisation delivering Air Power teeth without the tail will not last very long.

The fast jet component will be provided by our world-beating Typhoon aircraft, capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions; supplemented by the Joint Strike Fighter from the end of this decade.

They will be backed up by the most modern air-to-air refuelling aircraft, extending their range and endurance.

And they will be complemented by a growing fleet of Remotely Piloted Aircraft in both combat and reconnaissance roles.

And the enhanced strategic and tactical air transport fleet will allow us to fly our forces wherever they are needed in the world.

On top of this, we will continue our long-term investment in helicopters, air launched weapons, and strategic surveillance and intelligence platforms as part of our broader combat ISTAR capability.

We have had to take several tough decisions, not least the decision to remove our Harrier from service and nor will the MRA4 see service.

But this formidable array of Air Power is only possible because we have re-balanced our investment in technology, equipment, and people to meet the challenge of irregular warfare, while retaining our ability to respond to emerging state-led threats and other military challenges.

I hope that sharing some of our decision-making process and conclusions will help you to inform your own thinking and planning.

The Prime Minister and His Highness agreed last week that we will build a new and dynamic partnership for the future, building on the rich shared history between our two countries.

So I also hope that I have reflected the Defence component of Britain’s strengthened commitment to Qatar.

Indeed, I insisted that one of my first overseas trips as a Defence Minister was to Qatar, I am determined to build on the personal relationships that I have begun or renewed and I very much look forward to returning here.

Whatever the reason, when you get in touch with us you will always find a friend - someone you know that has Qatar’s best interests at heart - at the other end of the line.

That’s how I believe true friends show their commitment to a future of even closer Defence co-operation at all levels.

Thank you very much.

Published 1 November 2010