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#FutureChiefs: Future CAF – why blue?

The Royal Australian Air Force is the principle air and space force of Australia, and yet each branch exclusively conducts its own air power projection operations. Squadron Leader Stephen Bell leads the #FutureChiefs discussion by considering the possibility that the role of future CAF could be opened to all services as ADF moves further into an increasingly joint approach in building an integrated force.


Submissions in this #FutureChiefs series will likely focus on broadening the Chief of Air Force (CAF) position to all Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) officers, not just pilots. However, I propose that if we are to truly embrace the Joint / All-Domain operating concept, then the ‘Head of Air & Space Power’ should not be limited to a subset of the Air & Space workforce who wear blue.


To consider the requirements for future CAFs, it is important to understand what the role of the Service is within Defence and therefore what functions the CAF performs. The recently released Australian Military Power doctrine defines the role of the RAAF as the generation of Australia’s Air and Space Power.


To lead the RAAF in this role, CAF has three primary responsibilities: raise, train and sustain (RTS) Australian Air (fixed wing) and Space military capabilities; be the ADF capability lead in the Air and Space Domains; and act as the Defence Aviation Authority. Being able to lead, and advise government, across these responsibilities with credibility and legal defensibility is fundamental to any choice for future CAFs.


Underpinning credibility and defensibility is relevant experience in the Air and Space Domains, including in operations, sustainment and administration. However, that experience is not exclusive to the aviators of the Royal Australian Air Force. Army Aviation Command and the Fleet Air Arm also produce Air Power specialists with a variety of experience that could meet all the responsibilities of CAF and bring diversity to Australia’s Air Power senior leadership.


Fundamentally, this question is about ‘what is the role of the single services’. The logical conclusion from recent doctrinal and policy changes is that the mission of the Services is to be domain leads. Therefore, there is no reason a future CAF couldn’t be a Lieutenant General (LTGEN) or Vice Admiral (VADM) as fixed wing RTS remains blue through the RAAF Air Commander. Extrapolating this further, if the RAAF is doctrinally the Air & Space domain lead, then why doesn’t it own Army Aviation Command and the Fleet Air Arm, further justifying a tri-service CAF. But that’s another debate entirely…


Squadron Leader Stephen Bell is an Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. An Aerospace Engineer by qualification, he has held a variety of Joint, Capability and Operations experience including flying squadrons; capability project & sustainment offices; and headquarters experience at the operational and strategic levels. He has also gained exposure through operational deployments both domestically and overseas. He's on Twitter at @Wigles5


More information on this #FutureChiefs series can be found here.