First Class People for a Fifth-Generation Air Force Part 1: Where are We? – Ulie Yildirim

We welcome Ulie Yildirim to The Central Blue to examine concepts of the military profession and discuss the profession’s status and role in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). This first of two parts presents an overview of the historical debates surrounding the characterisation of the military profession.

‘[A]lthough one would clearly want to have superior technology, the most important competition is not in the technological but the intellectual one. The main task is to find the most innovative concept of operations and organisations, and to fully exploit the existing and the emerging technologies’ Dima Adamsky[1]


What is a profession? What does it mean to be in the profession of arms? What is professional mastery? Is professional mastery in the military a concept that is applicable to combat arms only? Within this context, how should the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as the most technical branch of the military view itself within the profession of arms? More importantly, how should the RAAF develop future air power strategists capable of operating in an integrated and joint force to meet the Australian governments’ needs?

Such questions have occupied the minds of scholars and practitioners since at least Samuel Huntington’s The Soldier and the State, published in 1957.[2] While Huntington’s proposed model was aimed at providing a broad framework for civil-military relations, his narrow interpretation of Carl von Clausewitz ignored the dynamic nature of professions in general which are continually competing for jurisdiction. This struggle for the link between a profession and its work requires professions to evolve and find ways to remain relevant.[3] In this light, the RAAF participates in the jurisdictional competition of protecting the nation’s interests through the use of complex air materiel, operated by a specialised workforce in which exposure to combat risks is typically confined to a very small proportion of the force.

The RAAF has won its jurisdictional competition of protecting the nation’s interests by training, educating and promoting specialists. This investment in specialists has enabled the RAAF to remain efficient by using a smaller workforce and retain its position as a policy device of choice for the civil executive. However, this approach has seen workforce disengagement from the military profession due to strong connections with their specialisation. A symptom of this is the lack of importance RAAF personnel place on professional military education (PME) outside their specialisation.

To articulate this argument requires an overview of the debates surrounding the military profession to show that an analysis of ‘the system of professions as a whole’ through the lens of jurisdictions provides a more accurate interpretation of the military profession, within which the RAAF adapts to remain effective and relevant. Second, a discussion of the RAAF’s training, education, promotion and employment continuum reveals that in its efforts to maintain its jurisdiction through the aerospace domain, the RAAF is developing specialists disconnected from the military profession. Finally, the rapidly changing Indo-Pacific region is shown to mean that the RAAF and its workforce concurrently must re-prioritise PME to remain effective and relevant.

The Military Profession: From Characterisation to Jurisdiction

Huntington began Part I of The Soldier and the State with the assertion that ‘[t]he professional officer corps is a professional body and the modern military officer is a professional man.’[4] Huntington then compared military officers to physicians and lawyers, while contrasting them from the warriors of the past through his model of professions.[5] In this model, Huntington argued that ‘[t]he distinguishing characteristics of a profession as a special type of vocation are its expertise, responsibility and corporateness’.[6] Huntington argued that officership is fundamentally a profession, despite acknowledging that no vocation meets the ideal, and officership falls shorter than most.[7] Huntington stated that the central expertise of officership is ‘management of violence’ with responsibility beyond gaining personal advantage, and corporateness defined as a sense of unity with its members and distinction from the laymen. [8]

Huntington was attempting to frame civil-military relations for a military profession based on his perceptions of an idealised Prussian military and a narrow interpretation of Clausewitz’s principle that war as an extension of policy is the only means to exert one’s will over another.[9] He was responding to the US’s political and military context during the Cold War and arguing for an idealised objective civilian control of the military. [10] In doing so, he used Harold Lasswell’s definition of the role of the military to be the management of violence viewed through the lens of the United States’ military’s experiences during the First and Second World Wars.[11] Christopher Gibson explained that despite the idiosyncrasies and flaws of Huntington’s model, it was widely accepted and shaped the way several militaries saw themselves, even to this day.[12]

In 1960, Morris Janowitz published The Professional Soldier as a response to Huntington’s objective civilian control of the military and characterisation of the military professional.[13] In his book, Janowitz argues for a subjective civilian control of the military while describing the military establishment as ‘a struggle between heroic leaders, who embody traditionalism and glory, and military “managers,” who are concerned with scientific and rational conduct of war.’[14] He argued that the increased complexity of military materiel led to the rise of military technologists and engineers. However, ‘[n]either heroic leaders nor military managers perform as military engineers or technologists.’[15] Akin to Huntington, Janowitz provided a characterisation of military professionals based on their expertise, lengthy education, group identity, ethics and standards of performance.[16] However, a stark difference from Huntington is Janowitz’s recognition of the evolving nature of the military profession ‘as a dynamic bureaucratic organisation which changes over time in response to changing conditions’ beyond the management of violence. [17]

Extending Janowitz’s observations on the dynamic nature of the military profession, Charles Moskos suggested a pluralistic model to define the military profession encompassing a variety of units that exhibit divergence and convergence from civilian society.[18] Moskos argued that divergence from civil society was apparent in parts of the military that value traditional military roles and emphasised the heroic leader, such as combat units. Conversely, convergence with civil society would be observed in military roles such as education and medicine, where the task is not unique to the military.[19]

The observations of Janowitz and Moskos were in response to the effects of the Cold War and the Vietnam War during a time of great upheaval within the American political and military cadre. This led to criticism that their models created two militaries in response to a crisis unique to the US, and potentially diluted the professionalism of the military.[20] In response, Moskos suggested a redefinition of the military profession representative of the current context may be required while recognising that any such definition faced a similar fate as Huntington’s due to the profession’s dynamic nature.[21]

Arguably the models developed by Huntington, Janowitz and Moskos represented snapshots of the military’s role and position within society observed through the perceived characteristics of professions. These have led to considerable disagreement and misperceptions due to a lack of a consistent approach in assessing the military profession, further complicating debate.

Recognising this problem within the study of professions in general, Andrew Abbott proposed an analysis of ‘the system of professions as a whole’.[22] Abbot provided a more compelling interpretation of an ever-changing nature of the military profession, continually adapting to new contexts and demands to remain effective and relevant, akin to any other profession.[23]

Abbott’s analysis focused on the work performed by professions rather than their characteristics and demonstrated that professions evolve in similar fashions for acceptance by society or become obsolete.[24] He argued that by developing an abstract knowledge system, professions could redefine their ‘problems and tasks, defend them from interlopers, and seize new problems’ because professions conducting similar work are in constant competition over what he terms jurisdictions —‘the link between a profession and its work.’[25] Abbott argued that:

[p]rofessions develop when jurisdictions become vacant, which may happen because they are newly created or because an earlier tenant has left them altogether or lost its firm grip on them. If an already existing profession takes over a vacant jurisdiction, it may in turn vacate another of its jurisdictions or retain merely supervisory control of it.[26]

The creation of the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) is a case in point. The RAF partially won its post-First World War jurisdictional competition of defending the nation and its interests by arguing that it was able to conduct various roles including strategic bombing and colonial policing better and cheaper than the British Army and Royal Navy.[27] The RAF’s jurisdictional control and role within the military and society were reinforced at the start of the Second World War when the fear of German bomber aircraft redefined the problem of defending the nation.[28] Post-war debates over the efficacy of air power during the war and the validity of air power theories did not affect the RAF’s jurisdictional control, as its role was redefined again with the introduction of nuclear and precision bombs.

The RAAF’s operations since World War Two fit well with Abbott’s observations that it is in continuous jurisdictional competitions. Furthermore, it can be seen that the RAAF has evolved beyond the management of violence to remain relevant due to the military profession’s changing context as identified by Beatrice Heuser, who stated:

[c]onflict management is not enough, and it is not sufficient to impose one’s will on the enemy merely temporarily, through a successful military campaign… in order to be effective and lasting, a victory has to be built on military success, but has to contain a very large admixture of politics.[29]

For example, the RAAF’s participation in Operations Catalyst and Slipper highlighted the RAAF’s response to this changing context. The RAAF provided two C-130 Hercules aircraft for air mobility support as part of these operations during the period between 2003 and 2008[30] ‘Although these aircraft represented only 3 per cent of the Coalition Hercules fleet, they had carried 16 per cent of the cargo lifted by all Hercules in theatre.’[31] During this period, the RAAF was not engaged in the direct application of violence, indicating that the RAAF has evolved beyond the management of violence.

Furthermore, this evidence also highlighted that the RAAF’s efforts during this period ensured it was able to extend its jurisdiction over the air mobility domain. Air mobility support could have been obtained from coalition partners, but at least two RAAF C-130 aircraft was in theatre for an extended period of time. Nevertheless, the RAAF’s small commitment demonstrated its evolution to maintain its jurisdiction and remain a trusted policy device for the government. The Government’s subsequent decisions to expand the RAAF’s air mobility fleet through the acquisition of C-17A Globemaster and C-27J Spartan aircraft highlighted the RAAF’s success.

Squadron Leader Ulas ‘Ulie’ Yildirim is an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect the views of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government.

[1] Dima Adamsky, The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the U.S. And Israel (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2010), p. 68.

[2] Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State (Cambridge MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1957); Morris Janowitz, The Professional Soldier (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1960); Gwyn Harries-Jenkins and Charles C. Moskos, ‘The Military Professional and the Military Organization,’ Current Sociology 29:3 (1981).

[3] Andrew D. Abbott, The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 2, 20.

[4] Huntington, The Soldier and the State, p. 7.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 8.

[7] Ibid., p. 11.

[8] Ibid., pp. 10-4.

[9] Ibid., p. 1, pp. 28-56; Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Translated and Edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976).

[10] Nadia Schadlow and Richard A. Lacquement Jr., ‘Winning Wars, Not Just Battles-Expanding the Military Profession to Incorporate Stability Operations’ in Suzanne C. Nielsen and Don M. Snider (eds.),  American Civil-Military Relations-the Soldier and the State in a New Era (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2009), p. 116; Christopher P. Gibson, ‘Enhancing National Security and Civilian Control of the Military – a Madisonian Approach’ in Ibid., pp. 241-3.

[11] Huntington, The Soldier and the State, p. 11.

[12] Gibson, ‘Enhancing National Security and Civilian Control of the Military – a Madisonian Approach,’ pp. 241-3; Eliot A Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime (New York: Anchor Books), p. 245.

[13] Janowitz, The Professional Soldier.

[14] Ibid., p. 21.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Harries-Jenkins and Moskos, ‘The Military Professional and the Military Organization,’ p. 10.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Charles Moskos, ‘The Emergent Military: Civil, Traditional, or Plural,’ The Pacific Sociological Review 16:2 (1973), pp. 255-80.

[19] Harries-Jenkins and Moskos, ‘The Military Professional and the Military Organization,’ p. 17.

[20] Ibid., pp. 17-8; Gibson, ‘Enhancing National Security and Civilian Control of the Military – a Madisonian Approach,’ p. 246.

[21] Harries-Jenkins and Moskos, ‘The Military Professional and the Military Organization,’ p. 21.

[22] Abbott, The System of Professions..

[23] Ibid., p. 2.

[24] Ibid., pp. 2-3,19.

[25] Ibid., p. 2, 20.

[26] Ibid., p. 3.

[27] John Buckley, Air Power in the Age of Total War (London: UCL Press, 1999), pp. 101-4.

[28] Alan Stephens, ‘The True Believers: Air Power between the Wars’ Alan Stephens (ed.), The War in the Air (Tuggeranong: Air Power Development Centre, 2009), pp. 27-39.

[29] Beatrice Heuser, ‘Clausewitz’s Ideas of Strategy and Victory’ in Hew Strachan and Andreas Herberg-Rothe (eds.), Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 162.

[30] The Governor General, ‘Royal Australian Air Force to Be Awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation Queen’s Birthday 2016 Numbers 36 and 37 Squadrons,’ Australian Honours and Awards (Canberra, Australia, 2016).

[31] Australia. Royal Australian Air Force. Air Power Development Centre, Australian Air Publication 1000-H: The Australian Experience of Air Power (Canberra. Australia: Air Power Development Centre, 2013).

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