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Announcement: The Dr Alan Stephens Air Power Literary Prize winner

As we enter the final approach on the most astounding of years, we are also set to announce the inaugural winner of the Dr Alan Stephens Air Power Literary Prize.

Dr Alan Stephens giving a keynote address on strategy and joint warfare at the RAAF air power conference in 2016. (Source: ADF)

This year’s prize is given for the best essay or article to provide a novel perspective on the new Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Strategy (#AFSTRAT). In determining a winner, The Central Blue editorial team looked for pieces that explored how the RAAF will ensure that it generates sustainable and resilient air and space power within the Joint Force.

The Central Blue received a number of high calibre entries, with many varied and interesting themes. While there can only be one winner, we felt it particularly pertinent to turn a brief spotlight to a group of emerging authors from the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and their fresh contributions to the #AFSTRAT conversation. Being at only the beginning of their careers, these cadets offered a unique set of perspectives highly relevant to turning #AFSTRAT from a vision to reality. We were highly impressed with their endeavours to grapple with the conceptual challenges that face the RAAF.

Emerging RAAF Thinkers

Officer Cadet L. Kourinos and Officer Cadet I. Price raised several good points in their review of #AFSTRAT. They stated that the strategy 'has the potential to bring Air Force people together by proving a standard for our ‘why" and that it also presents a new 'opportunistic space' for the RAAF to transform itself into a 'potent integrated future fighting force.' They also raised some important, practical questions. Specifically; How would a junior officer go about implementing ‘jointness’ noting the challenge that 'junior leaders may lack the ability to effectively translate vision into their team structures.'

The mismatch between innovative possibilities and reality was a key focus of analysis from Officer Cadet T. Beck and Officer Cadet C. Howard. In their assessment, the 2020 AFSTRAT functions as a 'visionary piece rather than an actionable plan,' one that needs significant efforts to implement in a “highly bureaucratic and hierarchical organisation”. It’s a point that AFSTRAT openly acknowledges, with 'the concept of innovation and creativity and the aim to reduce unnecessary administration and bureaucracy within the RAAF,' a key theme of the strategy. They closed by reflecting on their experiences as early career professionals, and their generation’s willingness to embrace new ideas and concepts.

Whilst all ADFA contributions touched on the importance of cultural evolution, Officer Cadet Wendy Qu devoted her entire piece to this theme. She offered four central recommendations:

  1. utilising ADFA as a means to support the building of a strategic culture.

  2. supporting the concept of a learning organisation.

  3. considering wider environmental factors inhibiting an inclusive culture.

  4. implement further support mechanisms to supplement cultural intelligence.

She recommends viewing ADFA as a 'critical learning ground for developing strategic acumen,' noting that it’s a training ground for raising a workforce of the future with skills and values that should be instilled from day one. She also raises the importance of cultural intelligence as a competitive advantage, with an emphasis on building an inclusive culture to enhance the RAAF’s posture of professionalism. This also includes acknowledging and responding appropriately to contemporary societal matters and its effects, such as rising escalations between the West and China, and how this might reflect upon Chinese-Australians’ view of the ADF.

Prize Winner

While there are a number of other stellar contributions which you can read on our webpage, we can only have one prize winner. We are pleased to announce the 2020 Dr Alan Stephens Air Power Literary Prize winner is Squadron Leader Chris Kourloufas.

We could not go past his erudite piece on Creative Forces. With innovation a key theme of #AFSTRAT, his piece focuses on the messy, unpredictable, but essential competency of creativity as a key part of realising the vision of the strategy.

His article dismantled the realities of creative success and highlights the necessity of failure tolerance – a proposition which can be hard to accept with military pursuits because 'many lessons are paid for in blood.'

To realise the vision of #AFSTRAT, isolated solutions will no longer be enough. Cross-domain creativity is vital for lasting long-term impact and to fully realise the potential that exists within the organisation. He argued that the RAAF must also ensure that people know that their actions matter, no matter how small the idea.

To embrace the notion of being a ‘Creative Force’, military organisations need to strive for an environment that dispenses with ‘dangerous comfort’ and embrace a culture of psychological safety and disruptive innovation. He sums this up with a great quote from Major General (Ret.) Duncan Lewis AO DSC CSC:

Your first responsibility as a leader is to create atmosphere.

We congratulate Squadron Leader Kourloufas on his winning article.

Looking to 2021 and Beyond

Despite the troubles that have emerged in 2020, we’re looking to 2021 with excitement as we celebrate 100 years of the RAAF. It has been a monumental Century, with much to be remembered and celebrated.

At The Central Blue, we are also turning our attention to the next 100 years. What will the RAAF look like in 2121? What lessons from the past 100 years can we apply to the next 100? How do we build and grow people for the future Force?

We will have more specific invitations for contributions in the new year, but in the meantime, we encourage prospective contributors to think along these lines in preparing articles for next year.


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