The Ministry of Defence has announced that a senior RAF officer is to become the next Chief of Defence Staff, the individual charged with leading all three Armed Forces in the UK.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, 59, will succeed General Sir Nick Houghton in the summer, marking the first time in six years that a member of the RAF has taken the top job.
His appointment comes somewhat as a surprise. Whispers within the MoD had pegged Admiral Sir George Zambellas, the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, and the Commander of the Joint Forces Command (JFC), General Sir Richard Barrons as favourites for the role.
Although The Queen is still Commander-in-Chief of all three UK Armed Forces, the government still maintains their daily operations and provides their direction through the Defence Council that currently has 16 members, led by the Secretary of State for Defence.
The Chief of the Defence Staff is are appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister before being approved by The Queen.
The position has been held by Army Generals since 2010 and the Royal Navy haven’t seen a representative of their service in the role since Admiral Sir Michael Boyce stood down in 2003.
Regardless, Sir Stuart Peach has already proven himself as a worthy candidate. Commissioned into the RAF in 1977, he has seen active service in some of the world’s most volatile war zones and has led the RAF in some of its more difficult operations in recent years.
Starting as a Pilot Officer, Sir Stuart began to climb the ranks of the RAF early in his career. Within a year, he had been promoted to Flight Lieutenant (equivalent to Lieutenant in the Royal Navy or Captain in the British Army) and flew aboard English Electric Canberra jets as a navigator. He then undertook three tours in the ground attack and reconnaissance variants of the famous Tornado aircraft, which the RAF has used for many years.
In 1986, Sir Stuart became Squadron Leader and qualified as a Weapons Instructor. Four years later, in the 1990 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, he was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. He commanded IX (Bomber) Squadron at RAF Brüggen in Germany between 1994 and 1996 and, throughout his career, he has also served in Iraq, Belize and Hong Kong.
Having initially graduated from the University of Sheffield with a degree in Geography, Economics and Social History, Sir Stuart went on to study for his MPhil degree at the University of Cambridge. His promotion to Group Captain in 1996 helped him to become the Director of Defence Studies (Royal Air Force) and he would edit and write articles and books on air power and defence.
The father-of-two commanded forces in the 2000 Kosovo conflict, a feat which earned him a CBE. He would then receive his promotion to Air Commodore as he took over control of the Air Warfare Centre, an RAF research facility dedicated to weapons testing and training service personnel on its responsible use.
Between 2003 and 2006, Sir Stuart was the Director of General Intelligence Collection at the Ministry of Defence, before going on to serve as Chief of Defence Intelligence and Deputy Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which oversees the three UK intelligence and security agencies (MI5, MI6 and GCHQ).
His recent career has seen him awarded the Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 2009 New Year’s Honours list, following his appointment as Chief of Joint Operations in March 2009. After his promotion to Air Marshal in 2006, he became Air Chief Marshal in 2011 – sitting one rank below Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh, both of whom hold the rank of Marshal of the Air Force.
Currently the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, he was awarded a GBE in last month’s New Year’s Honours list and is expected to begin his new role as Chief of the Defence Staff later this year.
He will have a challenging few months as he attempts to lead efforts against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as to try to help the deteriorating situation in Libya. He was the Commander behind Britain’s 2011 intervention in Libya and it is thought that Prime Minister David Cameron met him several times before making his recommendation to The Queen.