The UK Air Force must keep a balanced approach to rapidly changing modern conflicts if it is to remain a leading power, a defence head has warned.

The UK’s Commander in Chief of Air Command, Sir Clive Loader, said that the current backdrop shows the unpredictability of modern conflict and places urgent need to be able to leverage air power.

When speaking at the Future Prospects of UK Air Power on 13 November in London, he said: “At the turn of the century, it was believed that the threat of air power alone could deliver our democratic objectives. Since then events such as 9/11 have polarised the world and revealed the volatility of modern conflict. We now know the rashness of discounting the possibility of large-scale interstate war.”

“The future of British air power is still very bright. Air power can and will be the deciding factor in resolving conflict.

“What we need to do now, however, is to integrate air power and leverage its capabilities in order to operate in the new framework.”

But the dominant role air power is playing in insurgency conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq could result in an approach that is too narrow for future UK strategy.

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“We need to move away from the concept of ‘the war’ to the concept of ‘a war’,” Loader said. “Concentrating purely on insurgent activity will leave us vulnerable. We need to balance the capability to fight current wars with the ability to fight future wars.”

The greatest value of air power is that it can deliver rapid, precise and decisive firepower, while keeping valuable assets off the ground. This has been especially evident in recent Middle Eastern conflicts with the use of unmanned drones such as the Predator.

The UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) has also shown its value as a support tool and as a means to gather vital intelligence.

The air force also undertakes humanitarian duties, as was shown by its involvement in the response to the earthquakes that devastated Pakistan earlier this year.

By Daniel Garrun.