HC Deb 12 December 1946 vol 431 cc288-90W
Mr. Parkin

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he will now make a statement about the organisation of the technical services of the R.A.F. and the consequential arrangements for recruitment and training.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

As one of the most important elements in our postwar plans, we have decided to consolidate the work of the technical branch of the Royal Air Force by placing it on a permanent footing under a new Department in the Air Ministry, the Department of the Air Member for Technical Services, and to reorganise its scope and functions to bring them into line with modern requirements.

Before the war officers for technical duties were provided from two sources:

  1. (i) From General Duties branch officers who had specialised in Armament, Engineering and Signals and who divided their time between technical and non-technical posts.
  2. (ii) To a limited extent from warrant officers in the skilled technical trades of the R.A.F.

Such a system was suited to an era when aircraft were comparatively simple, but with the advent of more modern types with their increasingly complex equipment, it became clear that the general duties specialist officer could not longer undertake the responsibility for Technical equipment without reduction of his efficiency in either the G.D. or technical spheres. In 1940, therefore, the technical branch was formed and many of the officers of the general duties branch who were qualified as technical specialists were transferred to it.

The re-organised Technical Branch will embrace the three main technical services—Armament, Engineering and Signals. Its chief responsibilities will include inspection, servicing, repair and efficiency of R.A.F. aircraft, weapons and technical equipment in service, and advice on their technical potentialities, together with the technical training of both officers and tradesmen. It will also make a valuable contribution towards research and development by providing trained and experienced officers to work in the Ministry of Supply and its establishments. Since, however, there is an increasing tendency for, the work of the three main sections of the Branch to coalesce, there will in future be the greatest possible measure of integration between them though provision will be made for specialisation in Armament, Engineering or Signals where required at practical working levels. This will improve the scope and broaden the outlook of technical officers as they rise to positions of high responsibility and will permit of greater flexibility in management. The existing high standard of the branch will thus be brought into line with changing conditions and it will be possible to make intelligent provision for future developments, while training will be so designed as to ensure the most economical use of skilled manpower and the continued technical preeminence of the Royal Air Force.

The immediate requirements for officers will be met partly by permanent specialist officers who transferred during the war from the General Duties branch to the wartime Technical branch, partly by technical tradesmen who have been selected for commissions, and partly by qualified officers holding emergency commissions who have been granted permanent or extended service commissions. For the future it is the intention that about one-third of our technical officers shall be university graduates with honours degrees in Science or Engineering, approximately half of whom will be selected Air Force apprentices trained at the universities at public expense up to the same standard, while the remainder—and by far the greater proportion—will be chosen from the best of our technical tradesmen, including those who have served on aircrew duties. The scope of the careers open to the technical tradesmen will, in consequence, be considerably widened. There will be no provision for short service commissions in the Branch. University entrants will, on commissioning (after graduation) be given officer and general service training followed by a first instalment of specialist training in armament, engineering or signals. This will be followed by practical productive work in the Service for about 4½ years, after which officers will receive advanced technical training. Officers commissioned from the ranks, who will already possess considerable technical knowledge and experience, will be given officer and general service training as well as the necessary specialist training.

To ensure that officers employed on technical duties are kept in close touch with flying and fighting requirements and can work in true partnership with officers engaged in the conduct and control of air operations, flying training up to an appropriate standard will be given in the University Air Squadrons to university candidates for commissions in the Technical Branch, followed by further flying experience, in the course of their technical duties, after commissioning. For their part, General Duties Branch officers will be sufficiently trained in technical subjects to have a proper appreciation of the functions of the technical branch.