Following the lastest disagreements between the War office, Admiralty and Air Board over aviation supply and policy, the editors of Flight, a publication well read by most of the officers of both flying services, have waded into the debate.
In an editorial of the latest edition of the magazine published today, they savaged the failure of the Air Board. and called for the creation of an Air Ministry.
“The Air Board stands confessedly a failure. It was bound to be in the very nature of its constitution. Devoid of any vestige of power to enforce its views on either the Admiralty or the Army Council, and with no clear idea of its own raison d’etre, it would have required a miracle to make it a success—and the age of miracles is past.
We have heard a great deal recently about the impossibility of the Admiralty attitude towards the Board, and it is on the shoulders of the Admiralty that the major portion of the blame for the Board’s failure is placed by the critics who stand outside and comment from a standpoint which necessarily is one of insufficient premises. Vaguely we hear rumours that the Admiralty blocks the way to progress, but we are not told exactly what shape the opposition takes. Opposition there may be, but the crux of the matter is that the whole constitution of the Air Board as ultimately framed, without any executive power whatever, was wrong from the start. It has been tried and found wanting. It was conceived as a stopgap, and, like all stop-gaps, it was foredoomed to failure. Not but what it has done a certain amount of good work in a few directions, but it most certainly is not the body with its mere advisory powers that was required to infuse something like cohesion into our Air Services.
Criticism of this kind is easy enough, we know. What is required at this juncture is something constructive. What is it, then, that is required to replace the Air Board? It has been strongly urged that what we require is an Air Service, separate and distinct altogether from the Navy and Army, having is own board of control and responsible only to Parliament. That is to say, there should be created out of the R.N.A.S. and the R.F.C. a new Service, using the word as we now understand the Navy and Army. As a result of the Air Board experiment, let us confess that we regard this as impossible now. Whatever may be the case in the years to come, with the war in full blast, it would require considerable optimism just now to justify such a course. Within a decade, or perhaps two, supremacy in the air will mean all that is implied in the command of the sea now. But that day is hardly yet, and we have to regard the situation as it exists to-day, and as it will continue to exist for at least the period of this war.
Let us examine for a moment the true relation of aircraft to naval and military operations. The aeroplane and the airship have two main functions— those of long-range artillery, and long-range reconnaissance. These functions are so integrally a part of the larger tactics of war, that they cannot be separated from the main issues any more than can, let us say, the functions of the artillery arm. It would be possible to elaborate this point to a much greater extent were it necessary, but the argument will serve as it stands.
Now, if we concede this simple proposition, the case for a separate Air Service falls to the ground for the time being. But admittedly the present position is impossible. Jealousy and competition between the two Services are doing much to hamper efficiency and to bring the administration of the flying services into disrepute, while there really appears to be serious danger of the main issues of the war being lost to sight while the War Office and the Admiralty are fighting among themselves.
On Tuesday afternoon Mr. Balfour met the Air Board to discuss the situation, and in particular to talk over the future of the R.N.A.S. Apparently the meeting got us no farther in the direction of -a clearing of the present unsatisfactory position of things. We did not think it would. What is required is not the discussion of academic attempts to reconcile conflicting interests, but the immediate application of a drastic remedy which will relegate existing competition and overlapping to the place they belong. That remedy we believe to be the formation of a central air authority—whether it be the Air Board reconstituted or otherwise—not to interfere initially with the tactical dispositions of either of the two Air Services, but with absolute power in all matters save this and internal administration. It should have—as most people thought the Air Board would have—complete control over all contracts for machines and supplies, thus putting an end to the present ruinous competition between the two services. In or after consultation with the Admiralty and the Army Council it should deal with strategical dispositions in so far as the definition of what may best be described as the respective spheres of activity of the two services are concerned. We should like to be more precise on this point, knowing what we do of the impossible situations which have arisen as a consequence of the overlapping of duties, but for obvious reasons we must refrain. Such powers vested in the present Air Board, which is admirable in its composition, would end the present most unsatisfactory state of things, which is the fault of the system more than of individuals. Whatever is to be done must be done at once. It is worse than deplorable that after 27 months of war we should have to discuss ways and means of stifling interdepartmental jealousies, and it cannot be too strongly insisted that now the way out has been indicated the remedy must be applied without an instant’s delay.”