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Why Not Join the Fighter Controller Association?

By Wg Cdr (Retd) Steve Jones - Association Secretary (1996 - 2004)
(Published here by kind permission of the author)

The brief article that appears below was written a few years ago, so elements might appear a little dated. It is clear, however, that several of the reasons that Steve gave then, for joining the FCA as a young junior officer, are as valid today as they were at the time - and potentially more so when one considers the out-of-Branch roles that have been opened up for ABMs in recent years. So, please give it serious consideration, then follow  this link to get to the page where you'll find the application forms and links to the Rules and Constitution that permit the Association to be the place Steve describes in the following article!


The Fighter Control Association (FCA), or to give it its proper title, the Association of Royal Air Force Fighter Control Officers, was founded on 12th October 1990 at RAF West Drayton. The Constitution identifies a number of short, medium and long term objectives, all of which are aimed at creating an Association that serves, in a number of ways, to benefit serving and retired Fighter Control officers alike. Since its inauguration, however, the FCA has failed to attract a significant number of members from within the serving officer ranks. This article attempts to identify why this is so and goes on to give a personal view as to why FCA membership should be considered a must for all eligible officers!

Whilst on the subject of eligibility, to quote from the Constitution, 'Any officer shall be eligible for full membership of the Association providing he/she is serving, or has served, in the Royal Air Force, Womens Royal Air Force, Royal Auxillary Air Force or Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and has served in the Fighter Control Branch and has been awarded a recognised FC qualification or, has served as a Radar Supervisor, Fighter Director or GCI Controller prior to the formation of the FC Branch.'

When the FCA was formed in 1990, I was a newly promoted Wg Cdr serving Queen and Country in Saudi Arabia during the build up to the Gulf War. Having returned to the UK in December 1990, my reaction on discovering that the FCA had been formed was one of 'so what'. I perceived, wrongly, that the thrust for the formation of such an Association had come from the retired officer corps and that it probably had little to offer someone like myself. In fact, the main effort in establishing the FCA had come from within the Air Force Department of the MOD from the likes of Air Cdre Bill Gambold (then a Gp Capt filling the DDGE/AEW post) and Wg Cdr Peter Hunter (then Sqn Ldr GE4 and the first Secretary to the Association). There had, unquestionably, been pressure from the retired officer community to form such a body but there was a strong in-service lobby to get the Association off the ground. From where I was sitting at the time, unfortunately, it appeared as something of an 'old boys club' and I know from conversations with peers and subordinates alike that many others perceived it to be that way. I remain convinced that because the younger serving officers were not involved directly in the setting up of the FCA they felt no real desire to 'buy in' to the venture; it was then, and is still now, seen to be an organisation that exists mainly for senior serving officers and their retired counterparts.

I must stress that much of my opinion is based on good old 20/20 hindsight and upon a strong sense of guilt that I did not do more at the time to encourage involvement of the young officer (YO) community. I decided to join the FCA in 1992 by which time I was filling the GE5 post in the MOD. Why did I join, when up to that point I had been something of a critic of the FCA? I joined because the Association was one of the only means by which I was able to stay in touch with the Branch (and the people in it) that had for the last 17 years been my raison d’être. Yes, for the first time, I saw the true purpose and value of the FCA. When one is young and serving at or near the frontline, one stays in touch - it’s almost a process of osmosis. But, as one gets older and more senior in rank, one becomes increasingly isolated and staying in touch with the Branch 'scuttlebutt' becomes almost impossible. If you find what I am saying difficult to comprehend, try sitting at a desk in MOD Main Building at 8 o'clock at night drafting some paper or other for ACAS. You might just feel the need for some FC Branch comradeship - I certainly used to. You may be reading this and thinking 'dull old fart' what's this all got to do with a YO like me. First, I'm still only 41 and, second, beware, before you know where you are you'll be a successful Sqn Ldr looking for promotion and, you never know, the MOD may be beckoning.

What is the underlying point that I am trying to make? Well, I think it is that all YOs should look on the FCA as an organisation that has much to offer them both now and in the future. As I have tried to illustrate, it is a very important means by which serving officers may retain their contacts with the FC Branch at those times when they have limited access to the ADGE units. But, it is also much, much more. The following are just a few observations of my own, I am sure there are many other reasons why one should consider joining:

  • The Association is a very exclusive club made up of a widely differing bunch of officers, of all ages and ranks, united by a single common experience - being or having been a Fighter Controller. I did not meet some of the officers who were legend when I was a YO ... until I joined the FCA. I'll tell you what - I now know why they were legends!
  • The FCA represents a vast pool of Battle Management experience stretching from the Second World War to Air Operations over Bosnia. What better place to seek an answer to a question or to get a second opinion on the virtues of passive sensors or whatever?
  • Membership of the Association represents opportunity. Opportunity to influence by speaking directly with the senior echelons of the Branch in a relaxed environment to let them know your views on the latest policy issues etc. Opportunity to get to know officers with whom you have yet to serve. Opportunity to meet your FC Branch legends - who may long since have retired. Opportunity to network - are you looking for a job on redundancy/retirement - many FCA members are high ranking individuals in the Defence or other industry.
  • The History of the FC Branch is one of which we should all be proud and yet, all too often, it is buried in the small print of historical accounts because of the ever-present prominence of the fighter aircraft. Let's change that. Many an air war, the Gulf War being the most recent example, was won by Battle Managers as well as by aviators and weaponry. The FCA has a strong historical element within it. Remember, today's events are tomorrow's history.
  • Above and beyond all else the FCA is a social organisation. We throw some great (heavily subsidised) parties. The presence of more YOs would serve to make those parties more fun for all concerned. Please, don't try to drink your legend under the table - it's true what they said, he did have hollow legs.

It would be foolhardy to ignore the fact that the nature of the FCA beast is determined by the nature of its membership. Right now, out of a membership of approximately 180, about 60% is made up of retired officers and 75% are over 35 years of age. Needless to say, at present, there is not a lot of demand for Raves, the typical FCA event being a cocktail party or dinner. This should not deter YOs from joining. All FCA events can be restructured easily to cope with a younger, or more broadly-based membership. Indeed, the aim of the current committee is to increase membership to more than double the current level which, in itself, would dictate more events of a wider variety. The message here is 'the more the merrier'. The more members the Association has, the better placed it is to offer the social events/membership benefits that become available to larger organisations.

The overarching message is a simple one. The FCA exists for you, the serving FC officer. Support it now, and there is every likelihood it will be there to support you and your family long after you have retired.

How much does it cost? The current joining fee is £nil. An annual subscription fee of £10.00 is charged (by standing order should you wish).

It might be appropriate to add at this point that the membership passed 250 (1 January 2012) and the proportion representing those retired has dropped from about 70% to about 65%. Isn't it time to continue pushing the latter figure down? Click here to get to the page containing the application forms.

Oh, yes, the current joining fee is still zero, although the annual subscription was recently raised. The current amount will always be visible at Rule 12.