The Royal Air Force celebrated its 100th birthday on 1st April 2018. The RAF has marked the year with a series of events, the centrepiece of which was a centenary service in Westminster Abbey, followed by a parade in The Mall and a flypast over Buckingham Palace in July. 

Members last discussed the anniversary a year ago, on 17 November 2017, to mark the centenary of the Air Force (Constitution) Act 1917. This made provision for the establishment, administration, and discipline of an Air Force and the establishment of an Air Council.

The Government published a Combat Air Strategy in July 2018. The RAF’s combat air fleet is undergoing a generational change. The first of the new Lightning aircraft will enter service in the new year, replacing the aging Tornado GR4 aircraft which will retire in March 2019. Lightning will then partner Typhoon in service until the latter retires in 2040. The Strategy lays out the Government’s ambition for a future combat air system to replace Typhoon in the mid-2030s. Library briefing paper The Combat Air Strategy: From Typhoon to ‘Tempest’? examines this in more detail.

Air Command plans to spend around £34bn on new equipment and support for in-service aircraft over the next decade. Other new aircraft include the P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft, with the first expected to be delivered in 2019, although the in-service date for the new Protector remotely piloted air system has been delayed by two years to save money (the Equipment Plan 2018). The RAF is also looking to replace Sentry, its Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft. The Ministry of Defence’s decision to enter single source discussions with Boeing for its E-7 Wedgetail aircraft has drawn concerns from the Defence Committee about the lack of a competition for the capability (see the correspondence section of the Defence Committee website for letters between the Committee and MOD).

The full-time trained strength of the RAF currently numbers 30,070 a deficit of 6.4% against the target of 31,750 laid out in the 2015 SDSR for 2020 (Table 3, Quarterly Service Personnel Statistics, 1 October 2018). Only 41% of RAF personnel described themselves as satisfied with Service life in general and 32% report having high morale in the most recent Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey 2018 (table B2.1 and B2.2).

More information on the history of the Royal Air Force can be found on the following websites:

The Library will not be producing a debate pack for this debate.

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