RAF sees '˜best recruiting year' as centenary events draw to a close

The RAF is beginning to address a shortage of pilots after its best recruiting year in a decade, its Air Chief Marshall said, as the service held its first joint graduation ceremony for officers and non-commissioned airmen.

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier (left) reviews ranks of officers and airmen during a joint graduation at RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire.

The event at RAF College at Cranwell, Lincolnshire, marked the end of the official RAF centenary celebrations.

Sir Stephen Hillier, chief of the air staff, said: “Our recruitment is strong at the moment.

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“That’s welcome news, but as those recruits flow in it takes some time to go through training, particularly for pilots.

“It’s a long and intensive process so it’s going to be a while before we actually see the results of that at the front line.”

A report by Whitehall’s National Audit Office in April warned that as of January this year the country’s full-time military was operating at 5.7 per cent below its current target. It said the RAF needed 800 pilots.

“You just look at how busy the RAF is from defending the UK, right through to defeating Daesh and of course most recently an A400 (transport aircraft) deploying out to help in the disaster relief in Indonesia,” the Air Chief Marshal said. “Yes, I’d like more pilots, we’re getting more pilots through the door, we’re training them up but there’s nothing at the moment that stops us from doing the job that we do.”

As Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that Russia’s intelligence service was waging a campaign of cyber attacks across the globe, Sir Stephen said the RAF felt under “increasing” pressure from the east.

“You can see that by incursions into the air space that we’re required to defend around the UK,” he said.

Yesterday’s graduation ceremony saw 91 recruits, 106 officer cadets and 10 commissioned warrant officers performing a parade in front of their families. There were flypasts by a Spitfire and two F-35 Lightning fighter jets.

Sir Stephen said: “It’s about celebrating what we are as an organisation, focused on the talent of the individual.”