April 24, 2009:
Britain�s Royal Air Force is suffering from shortages of more than just helicopters, spare parts, and pilots. The entire force is facing a massive shortage of manpower in all its branches. This is rapidly reaching a crisis point and is causing some of the Air Force�s rules to be bent, if not broken, in order to sustain operational capabilities.
The extent of the problem can be emphasized by the fact that Royal Air Force regulations require that deployed personnel be sent overseas for no more than 140 days per deployment. This applies specifically to pilots, air traffic controllers and weapons officers. Reports vary, but, in contravention of the RAF�s own rules, support personnel, doctors, and nurses have seen deployment periods that range from a few days over the maximum limit, 140, to extremes of 160 days in theatre at a time.
Other specialists such as mechanics and intelligence analysts, are in pathetically short supply. The situation has gotten so bad the RAF is lacking 13 percent of the specialists that it needs in those occupations in order to operate at maximum efficiency. Another element of the service that has been hard-hit is the medical branch.
The ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are, unsurprisingly, the primary culprits of this shortage. It's been known for years that the RAF and many air forces around the world were consistently facing shortages, sometimes severe, of pilots, but the wars have caused the manpower crisis to infect other areas that are just as important. Things like keeping the planes flying and gathering the intelligence needed to determine which targets to hit on the ground, as well as treating casualties.
In addition to the ongoing wars Britain is trying to wage at the same time, two other factors are emerging that have got the government�s attention. The first, obviously is money, namely the current Labor government's consistent slashing of the Air Force�s budget, and the defense budget in general, which leaves little money left over for salaries and benefits. Secondly, because of either the stress of the job or the aforementioned low pay, hundreds of RAF personnel from all specialties have been resigning their posts recently in order to look for less hectic, and higher paying, jobs. Without more money, more people, and shorter deployment periods, the RAF�s contribution to operations in Afghanistan may be jeopardized.