We are privileged and excited to introduce our first Central Blue debrief with the Chief of Air Force (CAF), Air Marshal Leo Davies, AO, CSC. In his debrief, the CAF discusses the value of public debate and outlets such as the Central Blue in generating the airminded strategists necessary for Royal Australian Air Force to realise its potential as the world’s first fifth-generation air force.
Central Blue (CB): Sir, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. What role do you think a forum like The Central Blue can play?
Chief of Air Force (CAF): I, and the rest of Defence, need airmen that understand air power. But we also need airmen that can take their airminded perspective and think critically and creatively about how to develop, employ, and adapt joint forces to meet the nation’s needs. We need airminded strategists.
When I took command in 2015, I outlined a commitment to ‘better enable the development of superior air power strategists and strategic thinking.’ One of the key ways to do that is for Air Force personnel to engage in intellectual and intelligent debate about air power, strategy, and any number of other topics.
Developing and implementing strategies is an intellectually demanding task that is quite akin to engaging in thoughtful debate – both require you to think and communicate simply and clearly about circumstances that are anything but. Getting good at anything takes practice and I see things like The Central Blue and other blogs as a great way for people to practise developing and communicating their ideas. I particularly appreciate that The Central Blue provides a more accessible means of debate, for authors and readers, than submissions to formal journals.
Thus, The Central Blue provides an important means of developing airminded strategists and strategic thinking. I thank the Williams Foundation for supporting The Central Blue and I encourage serving members to contribute to it and to similar forums.
CB: Serving members are often reluctant to engage in public debate for a variety of reasons, including concern about repercussions about stepping out of line or putting an idea out there that might be wrong. What are your thoughts on this issue?
CAF: Obviously, members of the ADF need to be mindful about the comments they make in public but I trust my people to exercise their judgement and discretion about what is, and is not, appropriate. You as editors have a role to play in that well but there is nothing that has been published on The Central Blue so far that has given me cause for concern.
The posts on The Central Blue that have suggested alternative ways for Air Force to do things have been constructive and thoughtful. No organisation is perfect and there is no single answer to any question so I fully expect there to be different views. As for being wrong, well I have always found that to be a particularly useful way of learning! But more importantly, even something that people might tell you is wrong might just force them to reconsider their assumptions or preconceived ideas.
The most important of the five vectors in the Air Force Strategy is the people vector and I have committed to modernising our education and training system. But not all education comes through formalised programs, and I think informal networking, reading, and writing is a critical part of Air Force’s professional development and education efforts. Our investment in formal education and training will be undermined if we prevent people from practising their skills and refining their thinking.
I need Air Force people to engage in these discussions because the ideas on how we are going to execute the Air Force Strategy and position our Air Force to meet the challenges of the future can come from anywhere and anyone. Moreover, the strongest ideas are those that have been most thoroughly tested – and public discussion is the most competitive arena for ideas. The Central Blue is an unofficial outlet so nothing on this blog, aside from my own words, is endorsed by the Air Force, Defence, or Government — but that does not mean we won’t borrow from it!
CB: That’s a great segue. You have explained how you see The Central Blue contributing to the development of individuals. What organisational benefits do you think the blog can generate?
CAF: The organisational benefits of enhancing the public debate around air power and strategy are many. Public discussion increases external organisations’ understanding of the contributions of air power, and encourages Air Force personnel to challenge their own assumptions about air power and its role in national strategy. One of my priorities when I took command was having an Air Force that understood and could explain air power’s role in national security and The Central Blue is deeply engaged in that effort.
Enhancing the cognitive capacity of our personnel by developing agility of thinking and individual initiative will be imperative in shaping the organisation’s ability to adapt to change. Future warfare will bring challenges to our way of operating that we must begin to articulate and consider now. Some of these will be unpleasant and difficult for the organisation to address internally – so an unofficial outlet like The Central Blue can provide a really useful avenue to kick ideas around without creating organisational churn. The Williams Foundation seminars have been performing this function for years so I see The Central Blue as a natural extension of that support.
The Central Blue also flattens the structure and makes ideas and arguments accessible. There is no shortage of good ideas inside Air Force but we are a hierarchical organisation so it is difficult for people in one Force Element Group to see the ideas coming from another. I think The Central Blue is a really useful means of cross-pollinating ideas between the community of communities that we have in Air Force.
I know that you guys are heavily involved with your counterparts at The Cove, and Grounded Curiosity, and are supporting the Defence Entrepreneurs Forum coming up in December. I mention those links because I think it shows The Central Blue is already starting to act as a hub for a professional network that crosses organisational lines. That is a great thing and is fundamental to our future success.
CB: Sir, thanks again for your time. Any closing thoughts?
CAF: Air power is not a static concept; rather it must be studied, reflected upon, debated, and challenged. As airminded members of the profession of arms, Air Force personnel have a responsibility to participate in this contest of ideas. It is far, far better that we should respectfully engage in that contest than to hide our thoughts, only to find them wanting when it matters most.
The Central Blue provides a forum for those ideas to be proposed, evaluated, and debated. I congratulate you, thank the Williams Foundation for supporting the blog, and I encourage Air Force members to read, reflect, discuss and write on this forum and others like it.
Air Marshal Leo Davies joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a cadet Navigator in 1979 and graduated to fly P-3B and P-3C Orion aircraft with No 11 Squadron at Edinburgh in South Australia. In 1987 Air Marshal Davies completed pilot training and after completing F-111 conversion course was posted in 1988 to No 1 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley. His appointments include commands of No 1 Squadron and No 82 Wing, Australia’s Air Attache in Washington, and Deputy Chief of Air Force . He was promoted to Air Marshal and appointed Chief of Air Force on 4 July 2015.