Foreign Military Sales

Recent reporting has announced that Governmental process in the US has approved the sale of P8-A aircraft to the UK, pending Congressional approval. I will be the Senior Responsible Owner for the delivery of this aircraft and capability to the UK inventory and wanted to take a moment to explain the significance of what has just happened and the hopefully forthcoming Congressional part.

The UK is acquiring the P8s under an arrangement known as Foreign Military Sales. This is a process the US has established to share military capabilities with allies and partners and is governed by The Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act. To secure a sale under FMS, a government to government agreement is reached (although the negotiations can be complex, the letters that seal the deal are often straightforward) and the customer country then buys the equipment or service from the US government, not the manufacturer. This helps keep costs down for all as it allows us to benefit both from the sunk costs of research and development and from the economies of scale of joining a larger US order.

The actual way this process is managed is that the UK would typically submit a non-binding Letter of Request for Pricing & Availability – it's exactly as it sounds and allows a rough cost to be determined. If the decision to go ahead is made a Letter of Request for Offer and Acceptance (LOA) is sent and when this is returned, we have a limited time period to go ahead and buy, or to withdraw. It's similar to getting any price quote, only on a grand scale

Who is Involved?

The key organisations that make this happen in the US are the Defence Security Cooperation Agency, which administers and supervises all FMS cases on behalf of the Department of Defense. In the case of the P8-A, the

US Navy has primacy so the Navy International Programmes Office provides the Single Service oversight whilst the day to day negotiation and contracts are worked between the US Navy's Programme Management Office 290 and the UK's Defence Equipment & Support

Congressional Notification

For certain programmes, usually high value or ones that fall under the International Traffic of Arms Regulations, US Congress retains the final say and must approve the Foreign Military Sale. This approval comes right at the end of the process described above and means that subject to UK agreement and approval, the deal can go ahead!


Thanks for reading, please leave any feedback or questions and I'll try to get back to you.I'll write a separate piece on how the UK goes about procuring and approving new capabilities another time – there's only so much process anyone can read! I hope this has been useful in explaining how we're going about getting the P8-A and why this Congressional approval is so important. The process is very similar for anything we purchase through this route and if you want to find more detail, the DCSA guide to Foreign Military Sales is here.




Annual Formal Inspection

Annual Formal Inspection – the very words conjur up images of white gloves, parades and door openers! And that's exactly what it used to be like, but not any more. These days, an AFI is still the chance for an Air Officer Commanding (AOC 1 Group is Air Vice Marshal Stu Atha) to get out and check his Stations, but the visit is very much more business-like, much more informative and less, well, formal than in days gone by.

A traditional start to AFI, complete with piper

That said, the AOC visiting is never a day to be taken lightly. He is a very important 2-star officer whose time we can't afford to waste so careful prep is made to make sure we give him the most valuable visit.

On blocks, door open and we're on!

Once the aircraft touches down, we only had a few hours to show our AOC some of the activities and events that are part of every day life and that are contributing to delivering success on Ops around the world. Our main themes running through this visit were 'Ops', 'Our people' and 'Education and training'. First stop for visits like this is usually some time with the Command Team of the base. At Lossiemouth this consists of all the senior military officers running the various Wings and Squadrond here, the civil servants responsible for the 200 or so civilian workers doing anything from logistics support to firefighting and the contractors who deliver our simulator training, our catering and various other services.

A meeting room with a view!

We call this mix of Service, civilian and Reserve personnel the 'Whole Force' and it reflects the fact that the RAF and the other military arms are making increasing reliance on people from all areas to deliver our capabilities.

The AOC discussing current issues with the command team

This initial meeting was held in 3 Hangar, which is already refurbished and ready for Typhoon use. The aircraft were a strong visual symbol of the future of RAF Lossiemouth and we had Officer Commanding 6 Squadron from RAF Leuchars with us to explain just how close the 2 Stations are as we both prepare for the transfer of Typhoons next year. I believe that time spent staring at computer screens and presentations isn't nearly as valuable as time spent talking to people so an aircraft hangar freed us from IT whilst the chilly October helped keep us from over-running….

The next stop was the Station gym, where the AOC was briefed by a small team of all-ranks who formed up last year to deliver on my challenge to help me improve trust and communication and to enhance recognition, reward and retention. These energetic and enthusiastic people – the '3R' committee have been at the heart of a number of initiatives like surveys, a Tweet-like messaging system, the Engineering Night of Excellence and last week's Personality of the Year event.

Members of the 3R team briefing the AOC on their work

The 3R has done a tremendous amount for RAF Lossiemouth and to see 2 of our junior ranks so positively, briefing confidently and passing key information was a great example of empowerment and made me very proud to be the Station Commander.

After the 3R, the AOC went on to hear from Zee Fletcher, who works for ISS (our catering, retail & leisure provider) and Sgt 'Woody' Wood to hear about RAF Lossiemouth's Healthy Working Lives initiative.

See and Woody outlining the Healthy Working Lives initiative

RAF Lossiemouth is the only military establishment to have reached the Gold standard and Zee not only started the programme but has been working for almost 4 years to get us there. The results are stark – a major reduction in civil service illness absences, particularly stress and a sustained 100% fitness test take rate, >96% pass rate and year-on-year reductions in medical exemptions from Op deployments. Added to that, we're all leaner, fitter and healthier!

Next up, our education and training programme was explained – we offer Lean training, junior and senior officer leadership programmes and Air Power studies. We also offer a bespoke course for airmen about to take 'acting' rank that is, promoted in situ as a response to an urgent need. This course gives immediate and valuable training to those people who need it most as they transition to new roles and responsibilities. Again, rather than talk policy, the AOC heard from people who had actually done the course to see what it had meant to them.

The AOC then had the chance to discuss welfare provision with our on-base social workers from the Soldiers Sailors and Air Force Association.

Next up, a change of venue as we lunched with 617 Squadron, who are in the midst of a mission rehearsal week.

Groundcrew tend to a simulated casualty on 617 Squadron

This important Exercise acts as a final test for the Squadron before it deploys to Afghanistan later this year. A team from the Joint Forces Air Component training cell is here at Lossiemouth, 'tormenting' 617 with rocket attacks, car crashes, ground alert scrambles and other challenges. The idea is for them to test their individual skills but more importantly, to behave and respond as a team to unexpected events.

The AOC meeting 617 Sqn personnel in the historic crew room

617 Squadron is flying day and night and with the thud of explosions in the background it was soon time to move on to the next event. The AOC wished the team well for their deployment, congratulated them on their 70th Anniversary and remarked on how he was looking forward to seeing them become the first front-line F35 Lightning II Squadron in 2016.

The next stop was a forum with the Senior Non-Comissioned Officers where this respected group of people were able to put their concerns and issues direct to their AOC. As Station Commander, I left them to this, to make sure there was absolutely no interference from me as our seniors aired their issues – it was a welcome half hour to read the paper!

By now, we were hard up against the time line and with just 5 minutes remaining, we arrived at the Officers Mess, conducted a rapid change into best blues and conducted an honours and awards ceremony. The AOC presented medals, certificates, silverware and personal commendations to about 30 people, all watched by their friends and families. After the formal part the AOC took time to chat with the recipients and their families before once again, time was up.

A short car ride back to dispersal, a sum up of the day and back on the jet with a day's paperwork to catch up on for the AOC. All this was completed in just 6 hours – how's that for a busy programme! So, if you hear any RAF friends talking about Annual Formal Inspection, now you know what it's all about!



Flying the Apache

Today, I was fortunate to fly an Apache helicopter, part of an Army Air Corps detachment to RAF Lossiemouth designed to give instructor pilots valuable experience in mountain flying.

Beautiful? I think so. Menacing too!

So what's it like? Well, mission planning is completed on a computerised system but compared to the fast-jet systems I'm used to, its a little way behind but with an upgrade coming soon I expect it will see some real capability upgrades.

Survival equipment fitting was straightforward – the flying helmet is made up of distinct components that Velcro and screw together to make up the whole thing. Although it is there for head protection, its real purpose is to support the monocle that provides flight and targeting data straight into the pilot's right eye. The aircraft can be flown and fought from either seat so controls and sensors are replicated in both although the UK puts the mission commander in the front whilst the handling pilot occupies the rear seat.


Clambering into the aircraft isn't exactly dignified, but once inside the cockpit is roomy and well laid-out, with extensive use of multi-function displays and Hands on Throttle and Stick-type controllers. The aircraft is fully digital so dynamically works out things like its own performance, safe single-engine

speeds, etc and as you can see above, features easy to interpret displays. This one is the fuel page, showing how much fuel is on board and where it is, along with fuel burn rates and associated endurance.

The checklist is straightforward and swift and soon we lifted from Lossiemouth to conduct some general handling to the south.

The visibility from the front cockpit is excellent all round

My first observation was that the aircraft was very light on the controls and the monocular display made it very easy to maintain a good lookout whilst still flying quite accurately. Apache likes you to interact with it as much as fly it and by that I mean that its always looking to remove the burden of flying so it has a speed hold, altitude hold and attitude hold that pilots with more skill than me can use to make the business of flying very relaxed and virtually hands-off. I struggled with the various trimming modes a little as they weren't either very basic as in Tornado and most older aircraft or fully automatic as in Typhoon. I suspect that with a bit of training though, they become second nature. In the general handling, we looked at the various modes and linking of some of the sensors and operated the Longbow radar in its terrain avoidance and air-to-air modes. The multi-function displays are akin to what you'd find in any modern fighter and allow the pilots to see fused data from all the sensors, making the Apache the fearsome weapons platform it is!

The monocle takes some getting used to but means there is information wherever you look

Next up, off to our Relief Landing Ground at Kinloss for me to embarrass myself in the hover and to try a few landings. The heads-up information is very helpful but I missed the 'reality' of some in-cockpit instruments. This was probably just my unfamiliarity with the symbology, although my instructor did a marvellous job of explaining them and helping me master the HOTAS – it really is an intuitive cockpit. Anyhow, after an approach that did anything but maintain a 'constant sight line angle', I wobbled us down onto the ground and I think we were both grateful for those shock-absorbing undercarriage legs! I found the running landings particularly hard as a fixed wing pilot, especially so because I regularly fly taildraggers. This means that I'm hard wired for a nose-up landing with the stick right back in my stomach – exactly the opposite of this technique, which I found uncomfortably nose-low. With a few thousand fixed-wing hours, its very hard to overcome the muscle memory, especially when it gets more challenging near to the ground and the best I could realistically hope for was 'safe'!

Then it was on to exploiting the weapons system and I have to say, this was fantastic. The aircraft can perform a fully automatic hover, leaving the crew to get on with the business of finding, allocating and striking its targets. The HOTAS is brilliant here and I was soon using the twin grip controllers to control the radar, Forward Looking Infra red and camera, zooming in on various targets. The ability to swiftly cue up a range of weapons, designate using the monocular and even to see where the other pilot is looking means that the Apache brings weapons to bear very quickly indeed.

Then we looked at the manoeuvrability of the aircraft by performing some wing overs, 'short-stop' approaches and transitioning from 120kts into the hover, pointing the other way, with a weapons solution available. Impressive. All too soon we returned to Lossiemouth for a final landing. The Apache blends firepower, manoeuvrability and protection (2 of everything, armour, shock-absorbing, self-sealing, etc) beautifully. It's beauty is in the eye of the beholder but its certainly a potent and flexible weapons system that is extremely fun and enjoyable to fly. I'm glad they're on our side….


One very happy Station Commander after the sortie


Catalina Visit

A special treat for us today at RAF Lossiemouth – we were visited by the only airworthy Catalina in the UK, taking part in a flight to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a round-Britain amphibian challenge. Details are here

Pilot Jeff Boyling is hoping that recreating the flight will inspire young people to be interested in aviation and the aircraft will be displaying right around the UK. I was lucky enough to have a look inside the aircraft and was impressed with the luxury at the back in the bubbles, where there is a 'window seat' arrangement that allows passengers to lie or sit in complete comfort whilst taking in a stunning view of the world going past.

The view looking forward from the Catalina's bubble

Jeff and the aircraft were on the ground for about an hour and as they are fundraising for the RAF Benevolent fund, they took time out to pose for pictures, show Station personnel around the aircraft and sign posters – all in return for a small donation of course!

I was lucky enough to be invited to the cockpit for a look around. The instruments have been upgraded to allow the aircraft to fly in all weathers by day and by night and it has been kitted out with modern navigation equipment too but the feel and smell of yesteryear was definitely still there!


Geoff also very kindly took time out to lay a wreath at the Station memorial for our aircrew who were killed in a mid-air collision last year and it was a poignant moment for us both.

All too quickly, it was time for the aircraft to leave – on its way to Cromarty then on to Oban. More details and images are available on the RAF Lossiemouth Facebook page if you're interested!




The Importance of Saying Thank You

Tonight at RAF Lossiemouth, we held an awards night. It was a special one for me as it was dominated by my personal Commanding Officer's commendations but there were flight safety awards too and one for heroism in Afghanistan.

The military have long understood the power of celebrating success – we have a system of commendations, awards and medals as well as understanding the route into state awards.

The people of Lossiemouth have been through a period of deep uncertainty and now a challenging time of change as we transform into a Typhoon base. All of this is in the context of frozen pay, reduced allowances and a high Operational tempo with people deploying away from home for long periods.

This means that more than ever, our people need to know they are trusted, valued and the work they are doing is crucial. I believe that the very best way to do this is for senior people to take time out to understand the organisation and its people, to realise the importance of people's actions and to take the time to say thank you.

Tonight's award winners, with apologies for the quality of my iPhone picture

So, the simple thank you is very powerful but tonight was something more formal. It was a chance to reward 2 very special kinds of people in particular – first, the often unsung people who toil behind the scenes, day after day, often in repetitive and unglamorous jobs who represent the cogs that keep the base operating. Often, these people are civilians not military and they frequently quietly innovate around them to make things better and more efficient. Tonight we sung their praises. Secondly, teams of people. Teams and teamwork is what makes us tick and so rewarding teams not just individuals reinforces that.

So that was tonight – we celebrated procurement clerks, drivers, photographers, aircraft engineers – and an RAF Regiment corporal who fought the Taliban whilst his friends were wounded around him, stormed the enemy position and killed the enemy. All in a day's work at RAF Lossiemouth!


How a Cartoon is Improving Air Safety

I blogged a while ago about my role as Delivery Duty Holder at RAF Lossiemouth. This makes me personally responsible and accountable for safety and airworthiness in all of our aviation operations.

Our Air Safety Management Plan describes our approach to this task an sets some objectives and targets and our hazard and risk registers describe the major things that could threaten safety and what we do to reduce that risk so as it is both Tolerable (ie acceptable to continue) and As Low As Reasonably Possible (ie the cost or effort to further reduce the risk would be grossly disproportionate to the benefit). But you might have seen risk registers – they are very detailed, very thorough and very, well, dull

My challenge is to raise the awareness of the hazards and risks that RAF Lossiemouth and our Tornado aircraft particularly, could be exposed to. If the awareness of everyone could be raised, its a really positive step to addressing the risks. It's similar to the mantra used elsewhere 'The first step to solving the problem is realising there is a problem' with apologies to Alcoholics Anonymous!

So, this is where Sean Savage of Savage Caricatures came in. He is an established caricaturist with a passion for aviation. He visited the base in July, gaining a good understanding of what goes on and also reading through and discussing our hazard and risk registers. The result was the cartoon. It shows in a graphical and hopefully light-hearted way some of the things we want our people to focus on. We are rolling this out around the base now and are using snapshots of smaller sections of the cartoon to amplify specific issues and how we deal with them. I really hope it helps in our quest to make people more aware of what's out there and in turn that this provides a positive contribution to Air Safety. What do you think?


RAF Lossiemouth – Typhoon Main Operating Base 2

Since it was decided that RAF Lossiemouth would remain open and would become a Typhoon Base, much work has been completed to prepare us for that but the context is a challenging one: maintain an absolute focus on our current task in Afghanistan, be ready for contingent tasks, maintain an Expeditionary Air Wing capability, prepare for the disbandment of 2 Tornado Squadrons, assist in the transfer of the Search and Rescue capability into civilian hands and, oh yes, build a Typhoon base!

These are challenges that affect each and every person at RAF Lossiemouth and this post aims to give you some more information about what and when, things are happening here.

Afghanistan. First and foremost, 12 (Bomber) Squadron are deployed in Afghanistan right now. They will remain there on their last tour of duty until the late autumn, when they will be replaced by 617 Squadron, the Dambusters. Our RAF Regiment Force Protection Wing, made up of both regular and reservist personnel, will deploy on a 6 month tour of duty at Camp Bastion, also in the late autumn so Christmas here will be quieter than normal.

  • Disbandments. In March 2014, both 12 and 617 Squadrons will disband as the Tornado Force is gradually replaced by the more modern and capable Typhoon. 617 Squadron though, will reform in 2016 as an F35, Lightning II Squadron, thereby opening a new chapter in their proud history.
  • New Beginnings. In June 2014, Number 6 Squadron will bring their Typhoon aircraft up from RAF Leuchars and begin the new chapter for RAF Lossiemouth. Over the summer of 2014, Lossiemouth will assume responsibility for Quick Reaction Alert. In the autumn, Number 1 (Fighter) Squadron will move to Lossiemouth, completing the major moves of people and equipment from RAF Leuchars, enabling the Station to focus fully on handover to the Army.
  • And Beyond. In March 2015, current plans will see XV Squadron (the Tornado Operational Conversion Unit) transfer to RAF Marham, as will the Tornado Engineering Flight. At around the same time, a third Typhoon Squadron will form at RAF Lossiemouth, effectively 'grown' out of expansions to 6 Squadron. Finally, by May 2015, the Search and Rescue Sea King helicopters of 'D Flight', 202 Squadron will leave the base as the Search and Rescue service transfers to civilian hands. The capability will be provided by Bristow helicopters, currently planned to operate from Inverness airport.

So that's a summary of the considerable changes that will be happening here at RAF Lossiemouth in the coming months. These changes have already resulted in considerable infrastructure works here to support the new tasks but although our role is changing, a significant number of our people will retrain on the Typhoon and remain in the local area. RAF Lossiemouth will be at the forefront of the delivery of military capability for many years to come and our people look forward to remaining at the heart of the Moray community.

3 Hangar at RAF Lossiemouth in July. Ready now!


Lossiemouth Raft Race


Every year in August, Lossiemouth holds its Raft Race. The event is organised and administered by RAF Lossiemouth and raises funds for selected charities – this year MFR Cash for Kids and Outfit Moray

As the Station Commander, I have the very great privilege of judging the 'Best Dressed Raft', as well as awarding prizes at the end, whilst Sally had the best job, starting the whole thing off.

This year there were 15 entries to the competition – most of the rafts had never been in the water before and everyone had The Steamboat pub in their sights as they had dominated the race for the last 3 years running, winning the coveted toilet seat that marks first place!

Thankfully, we had the rescue helicopter in the local area before the off, as unfortunately one team didn't make it as far as the shore to the starting point and had to be towed back by one of the safety canoes that make sure that whatever else, the race is safe!







The scene at the start line was chaotic as rafts and teams jostled for where they thought the best start point might be. Most seemed to think that it was towards the 'racing line' around the final bend of the river Lossie. The race starts from under the iconic Lossiemouth bridge and once a few eggs and flour bombs had been traded amongst the teams, they were under starters orders and off!


The Steamboat took an early lead and as the rafts rounded the bend on the way to the buoy that marks halfway, it looked like it was going to be a straightforward victory for the reigning champions. Meanwhile, there was real chaos for the back markers and many teams regretted not testing their steeds ahead of the day. Most of them resorted to close-quarters combat, quickly using up their eggs and flour. Several rafts actually fell apart on the first straight and didn't make it beyond the first bend. So, the Steamboat team took the lead and looked about to romp home with that fourth victory….

The finish line! MT beats the Steamboat, ending their 3-year string of victories

But no! As the rafts rounded the corner again, this time against the strengthening flow, the team from Mechanical Transport flight had nudged ahead. For the whole final 200 yards, their lead was reduced by a strong and Swift Steamboat team. As it came to the finish line, the exhausted team from MT prevailed and took a well-deserved victory!


Winners of the Best-Dressed Raft. Lossie Wives and Girlfriends


Winners of the most sought-after toilet seat in Lossiemouth! Congratulations to MT


First-time entrants Accunostics from Forres


The Accunostics team - strong finishers!


Sadly, not glory for everyone! The Hair Force team limping across (literally!) the finish line!


Highlights of the Week

After a busy few weeks at RAF Lossiemouth, hosting the major Exercise that was the Combined Qualified Weapons Instructor operational phase, then a detachment from IV Squadron based at RAF Valley, this week has settled into a more routine flow.

I welcomed new arrivals to the base early in the week. I've blogged before about the importance of speaking face-to-face with people and I like welcoming all new arrivals, explain what we do at the base and who is here as well as highlighting their role both in making sure we are a safe organisation and how I will support them in their continuous improvement activities. Their 'fresh eyes' on our operation are very valuable!

Later on I spent time at the first, then on Friday, the last session of a Lean Fundamentals course that we run here. Mainly for Lossiemouth personnel, but with places for people from other bases, the course is one of 3 we run to teach and train Lean principles, techniques and leadership. This course was like many, a little apprehensive at the start, not sure if it was all just management speak and Japanese words but on the last day, they were full of energy and ideas and keen to get back into their workplaces to put them into action. My take on Lean is that there isn't really anything new in there but it just gives people a different way to view problems and processes and a framework to go about solving them. My role is to make sure they are supported as they do this, because most people are at least a bit suspicious of new ideas and change and of course one of the main ideas is that we want our people to 'challenge everything' and not be restricted by rank-based thoughts of who has the best ideas. I really enjoy the outbrief because I usually get asked difficult questions, frequently have to justify decisions and there are usually at least 2 or 3 'please help – I'm trying to do….' And this course was no exception.

Suzi Mitchell receiving congratulations in the ATC tower at RAF Lossiemouth

Finally on the highlights list was the chance to go to Air Traffic Control and congratulate Flt Lt Suzi Mitchell as she has just been awarded the Babcock prize, essentially the Air Traffic Management prize for being the best Air Traffic Controller in the RAF! Suzi is no stranger to success, having recently been awarded a place on the Chief of the Air Staff's Fellowship scheme. She will spend most of the rest of the year in Afghanistan and will be studying and writing whilst deployed so the very best of luck to her!

Of course the week included one or 2 meetings and the usual paperwork, but these were some of the most enjoyable bits


Do I Have an Honest Face?


Well, I guess it doesn't really matter what I look like, but the question for all those leading at whatever level is 'Do you trust me'? Trust is of course a complex thing but I'm a firm believer that the only way to cultivate it is to speak to people face to face, look them in the eyes and let them make up their minds as you make up yours.

The myriad of communications means available today means it becomes ever harder to find that time to get out, expend shoe leather and explain, debate and engage. At RAF Lossiemouth, we have a complex organisation where people are constantly coming and going, often to places like Afghanistan. The RAF is still downsizing, there has been deep uncertainty regarding job security, pay and conditions and even over the future of the base itself so trust is even more vital than ever, which is why we're working even harder to make that time and enshrine the principle in everyone's working day and week.

Another way to break down barriers and engender trust is to make sure there are no closed doors. We are running a scheme that allows our officers at all levels to participate in the command group meetings and to shadow my command team and me as we go about our business. In this way, they get to see what we're doing at 'senior' level whilst they get to raise issues direct. So far, both parties have found the experience very useful – it has certainly kept me on my toes and its great to have the juniors especially critique your work, it keeps you extremely focussed!


%d bloggers like this: