Dr Robbin Laird, Agile Basing and Endurability as a Key Deterrent Capability: A Conversation with the Air Commander Australia, 11 April 2023
My colleague John Blackburn and I met with Air Vice-Marshal Darren Goldie, the Air Commander of the RAAF, in his office on 4 April 2023. One key element which we discussed was the growing significance of agile basing and operations as part of the evolving Australian deterrent posture.
In my earlier conversation that week with Goldie’s boss, Air Marshal Chipman, we discussed the new basing and support structure being worked in Australia and across the alliance.
As highlighted in that interview: “A key aspect of the evolving alliance situation in facing the China challenge is how the core allies Japan, Australia and the United States actually will craft more effective use of the air, maritime and land baes they use over the Pacific thought of as an extended operational space.
“If the three countries can work creatively land basing, with seabasing, with air basing with the use of new autonomous systems they can field and evolve an effective force for the long game of competition with China. Certainly, from this perspective, I would view Australia is the strategic reserve of the broader alliance.
“As Chipman commented: “I haven’t heard it described that way. But I think that’s what we are working towards. I think that’s the mindset that we have. The idea that Australia provides strategic depth for forces moving forward, is absolutely part of our thinking.”
Air Vice-Marshal Goldie picked up on that theme as follows: “Our engagement through two decades in the Middle East has arguably driven us down a single service route to force generation, focused on expeditionary operations, hosted from secure bases. We now need to look to evolve our approach to joint force generation from Australian territory.
“We don’t have the level of knowledge and normative experience we need to generate regarding infrastructure across Western and Northern Australia for the Australian version of agile combat employment.”
He contrasted the Australian to the PACAF approach to agility. The USAF in his view was working on how to trim down support staff for air operations, and learning how to use multiple bases in the Pacific, some of which they owned and some of which they did not own.
The Australian concept he was highlighting was focused on Australian geography and how the joint force and the infrastructure which could be built — much of it mobile – could allow for dispersed air combat operations.
This meant in his view that “we need to have a clear understanding of the fail and no-fail enablers” for the kind of dispersed operations necessary to enhance the ADF’s deterrent capability.
A key element of this is C2. Rather than looking to traditional CAOC battle management, the focus needs as well to focus on C2 in a dispersed or disaggregate way, where the commander knows what is available to them in an area of operations and aggregate those forces into an integrated combat element operating as a distributed entity.
Goldie commented: “We are developing concepts about how we will do command and control on a more geographic basis. This builds on our history with Darwin and Tindal to a certain extent, although technology has widened that scale to be a truly continental distributed control concept.
“We already a familiar with how an air asset like the Wedgetail can take over the C2 of an air battle when communications are cut to the CAOC, but we don’t have a great understanding of how that works from a geographic basing perspective. What authorities to move aircraft, people and other assets are vested in local area Commanders that would be resilient to degradation in communications from the theatre commander – or JFACC?
“We need to focus on how we can design our force to manoeuvre effectively using our own territory as the chessboard.”
Air Vice-Marshal Goldie underscored that the ability to work with limited resources to generate air combat capability is exercised regularly by the normal activity of 75 Squadron, flying F-35s in Australia’s Air Combat Group. This squadron operates from RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory and as Goldie put it: “they have to operate with what they have in a very austere area.”
He highlighted a recent exercise which 75 squadron did with their Malaysian partners. The squadron operated their F-35s, and each day practiced operations using a different support structure. One day the operated with a C-27J which carried secure communication, along with HF communications systems and dealing with bandwidth challenges each bearer posed. Another day they would operate with a ground vehicle packed with support equipment and on another day they would operate without either support capability. The point being the need is to learn to operate in austere support environments and to shape the skill sets to do so.
By learning how to use Australian territory to support agile air operations, and to take those capabilities to partner or allied operational areas, Australia will significantly enhance its deterrent capabilities going forward. This is a key challenge being squarely addressed by the RAAF.
Air Commander Australia
Air Vice-Marshal Darren Goldie, AM, CSC
The Air Commander Australia is responsible to the Chief of Air Force for effectively preparing air combat forces. Headquarters staff help the Air Commander control the activities of six Force Element Groups.
Growing up on the Gold Coast, Air Vice-Marshal Goldie joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1993 and attended the Australian Defence Force Academy. Following pilot training, Air Vice-Marshal Goldie flew C-130 E, H and J model Hercules on Operations in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was an A Category Captain and has 5,000 flying hours.
Air Vice-Marshal Goldie was Commanding Officer No. 37 Squadron in Sydney from 2012 to 2015 and Officer Commanding No. 92 Wing in Adelaide in 2017 and 2018.
His staff appointments include Aide de Camp to the Chief of the Defence Force, Staff Officer VIP Operations, Director Military Strategic Commitments and Director General Air Combat Capability. In 2020-21 he was seconded to International Division at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet where he provided strategic foreign policy advice to Government.
Air Vice-Marshal Goldie received an Australia Day Medallion in 2007 for his work as a Flight Commander at 37 Squadron, a Conspicuous Service Cross in 2012 for his tenure at VIP Operations and was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to Air Mobility in 2015. He also captained a crew that received a Chief of Joint Operations Gold Commendation for the rescue of an international sailor over 1,000km south of Tasmania.
He has a Bachelor of Science from ADFA, a Masters of Management from UNSW and a Masters of Strategic Studies, obtained on posting to US Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama.
Air Vice-Marshal Goldie assumed the role of Air Commander Australia in April 2022.
In the featured photo, Air Vice-Marshal Goldie is seen attending the Williams Foundation seminar on deterrence held on 30 March 2023 and seated next to chief of army and chief of the RAAF.