Sir Stephen Dalton - LLD (Doctor of Laws)

Thursday 14 July, 3pm at De Montfort Hall

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton is Chief of the Air Staff, or, in layman’s terms, head of the Royal Air Force. Leicester is his native city. He was educated at Clarendon Park Junior School, just across the park, and then at Lancaster School, which is known locally as Lanky Boys. He studied Aeronautical Engineering at Bath University and on graduating in 1976 he joined the RAF. He initially trained as a Jaguar pilot, at a time when the Jaguar was the RAF’s newest plane. Stephen Dalton flew Jaguars in both tactical reconnaissance and ground attack roles, and then migrated to Tornados; the GR1A which he flew was the all-weather reconnaissance aircraft, and could operate at night. He was subsequently appointed to command 13 Squadron and deployed on Operation JURAL, which was the UK’s contribution to the coalition operation Southern Watch, tasked with monitoring the southern no-fly zone over Iraq. In due course Stephen became Commander British Forces JURAL, based in Riyadh.

On his return to England Stephen Dalton was given command of the RAF’s Jaguar Force and appointed station commander of RAF Coltishall, in Norfolk.  Five years later he became Director of Air Operations in the Ministry of Defence. This was a period dominated by the planning and implementation of Operation TELIC, the UK contribution to the multi-national operations in Iraq, which lasted from 2003 until May 2011. As one who has flown to Baghdad in RAF Hercules transporters and Puma helicopters, I am one of many who can testify to the professionalism and courage of the air crew involved in such operations, and of the need for renewal of the air transport fleet. A year later on, promotion to Air Vice-Marshal, he became Capability Manager for Information Superiority, with defence-wide responsibility for reconnaissance and communications capability requirements.  In April 2004 he was appointed Controller Aircraft, a post that carried with it a place on the Air Force Board. He was subsequently appointed Director-General of the Eurofighter Typhoon Programme Assurance Group. This was the post that brought Stephen into the Ministry of Defence and into the political maelstrom of defence procurement.

In 2009 Stephen Dalton was promoted to Air Chief Marshal, at present the highest rank in the RAF, and three months later he was appointed Chief of the Air Staff. There has not been a more difficult time to command the RAF since World War Two, in that increasingly demanding deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya have been combined with huge cuts in budgets. 13 Squadron, which Stephen had commanded, has been disbanded, and RAF Coltishall, another of his commands, has also been closed. This year the implementation of the Strategic Defence and Security Review has meant that thousands of jobs have been lost in the RAF; all three services have suffered cuts, but the RAF has lost the greatest proportion of resources. RAF Kinloss is to close, and two squadrons of Tornados have been disbanded.

In such circumstances extraordinary demands are made on the head of the RAF, who must balance the need to defer to the legitimacy of an elected Government with the need to point out to that Government the consequences of its decisions. Sir Stephen speaks directly to Government, and was the first of the service chiefs to speak publicly about the demands on the RAF and the other armed services. He has made it clear that if Government expects the RAF to maintain its present level of capabilities throughout the range of operations demanded by ministers, then reinvestment in the next Comprehensive Spending Review in 2014-15 will be essential. The RAF is the most important component in our military intervention in Libya, to which Sir Stephen has committed bombers, fighter jets and surveillance aircraft, so stretching the capability of the RAF to its limit, but also demonstrating how effective it can be: talk about scrapping the Tornado fleet has been silenced by its successes in Libya. Sir Stephen’s leadership throughout this turbulent period has been exemplary.

The University is not the first to honour his accomplishments. We were preceded by Her Majesty the Queen, who knighted Stephen Dalton in 2009. The honour that we are about to confer recognizes a particular aspect of his accomplishment, which is that it all started here in Leicester. We are, Sir Stephen, immensely proud of you, and of our links to the RAF through the membership of some of our students in the East Midlands Universities Air Squadron.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, on the authority of the Senate and of the Council, I present Stephen Dalton,  that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws.

Written and delivered by Professor Gordon Campbell

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