Sources claimed that the alleged pause has prompted the Royal Air Force (RAF)’s head of recruitment, a senior female officer, to resign in protest as restrictions on hiring could undermine the service’s ability to fight. The unnamed defence sources also reportedly accused Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston of compromising UK security at a crucial time given growing threats from Russia and China.
Claiming the UK was facing a similar level of rising tensions to those preceding the Second World War, one of the sources told Sky News: “Then you look at the head of the RAF and he’s prepared to break the operational requirement of the air force just to meet diversity [targets].
“I think he needs to be hauled up by the Ministry of Defence and told: This is the defence agenda, get on it.”
Rishi Sunak’s leadership campaign has jumped on the claims, with a spokesman for the Conservative contender saying: “The only thing that should matter in recruitment is the content of your character, not your sex or the colour of your skin.
“That the Ministry of Defence would allow Britain’s security to potentially be put at risk by a drive for so-called ‘diversity’ is not only disgraceful, it is dangerous.”
The sources alleged that the RAF were risking failing to meet sufficient staff numbers in the hopes that more women and ethnic minorities would apply so that they could meet diversity quotas.
However, the RAF said there is no such pause on recruitment in place.
A spokesperson for the air force said: “There is no pause in Royal Air Force recruitment and no new policy with regards to meeting in-year recruitment requirements.
“Royal Air Force commanders will not shy away from the challenges we face building a service that attracts and recruits talent from every part of the UK workforce.
“As with the Royal Navy and British Army, we are doing everything we can to encourage recruiting from under-represented groups and ensure we have a diverse workforce.
“The Royal Air Force has a well-earned reputation for operational excellence that is founded on the quality of all our people. We will always seek to recruit the best talent available to us”.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence added: “Operational effectiveness is of paramount importance and no one is lowering the standards to join the Royal Air Force.
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“The RAF recruits for many professions and, like the rest of the armed forces, is determined to be a force that reflects the society it serves to protect.”
But the sources blasted the diversity targets, with one saying: “We are all really pro-diversity and we want to see better representation across the services but … levels of ambition for ethnic targets … are absolutely crazy.”
Another called the targets “impossible”.
The sources also pointed to other ways by which the Chief of Air Staff has adapted the force to the modern era and claimed they were evidence of a “woke” agenda.
Among the changes they highlighted were allowing staff to grow beards, changing the term for a member of the service to “aviator” from “airman”, and embracing gender-specific or gender-neutral pronouns in signatures.
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Defence chiefs have in the past emphasised the importance of diversity in the armed forces.
Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the head of the armed forces, said during his first public speech in-post last December that it was not “about wokefulness. It is about woefulness. The woefulness of too few women.
“The woefulness of not reflecting the ethnic, religious and cognitive diversity of our nation.”
The MOD has announced it aims to increase the ratio of female recruits coming into the armed forces in general to 30 percent by 2030 from around 12 percent.
The RAF, meanwhile, which was the first of the services to open all roles to women and has the highest ratio of females, is aiming for the ratio of female air force recruits to hit 40 percent by the end of the decade – more than double the current level.
Meanwhile, the target for ethnic minorities is to reach 20 percent of all air force recruits within the same timeframe, up from around 10 percent.