On 18 February 2018, we published the introduction to our first series examining #highintensitywar in partnership with our good friends at From Balloons to Drones. On 15 April 2018 we published the 19th and final piece in the series. The series supported the Williams Foundation’s 23 March seminar that examined the requirements of high intensity war, which in turn followed the 2018 Air Power Conference that took place on 21-22 March. For eight weeks, we played but a small part in promoting and fostering discussion on security matters from an air-minded perspective. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a time (at least in our relatively and happily short memories) when there has been such a sustained discussion on Australian security affairs in which the air-minded perspective has been so prominent.
We are pretty pleased with how the series ran but acknowledge that there is more to do, and that the conference, seminar, and series undoubtedly prompted more questions than answers. This post is our attempt to take stock, provide our perspective, and ask for your input on where next.
Firstly, the highlights of the series. 19 posts in eight weeks was a furious pace and it was only through teamwork and collaboration between us, the Balloons to Drones editors, and the authors of the pieces that we managed to pull it off. We are also grateful to Dave Beaumont at Logistics in War for running a supporting post on logistics in high intensity war. Quite a few of the posts went back and forth multiple times, often with very frank feedback. This was, without fail, received by our budding contributors in the manner in which it was intended: constructive input on how to clearly articulate a message to a fairly broad audience.
“Good writing is disciplined talking” according to James Boswell and for many folks – us included – taking an idea or an argument from ‘good chat’ to compelling prose is incredibly challenging and confronting. But we think shifting the air-minded discussion on security from ‘good chat’ about equipment and flying to compelling arguments about effectively advancing interests is already vital and is becoming more vital.
You will have probably noted that we keep using the phrase ‘air-minded’ rather than ‘air power.’ This is deliberate choice. The last eight weeks have shown us that it is virtually impossible to have a useful air power discussion in security affairs, but what you can do very usefully is discuss security from an air-minded perspective: that perspective informed by an appreciation of operating in, from, and through the air (and space?) domain but not constrained to discussing operations in the third dimension. We think this air-minded perspective is the unique value that Australian airmen (and air-minded soldiers, sailors, and civilians) bring to our discussion and it is that view that we want to cultivate. We want the Central Blue to be an air-minded blog, not an air power blog.
We think the series helped do that, but perhaps not as broadly as we would have liked. Eight posts came from serving airmen: five Australians, two Britons, and one American. Some were first time contributors. We would like to increase both the number of serving personnel we have contributing and the range of backgrounds from which they come. For example we had one currently serving non-commissioned officer contribute to the series, and one currently serving female member. This is better than none, but these are voices that we need to hear more from. The primary reason we run this blog is to encourage people, especially but not only serving airmen, to write; to practice and develop “disciplined talking”. The content we generate is a means to that end; we are more interested in helping a new writer get their ideas across clearly and effectively than in having the world’s best article written by an established author.
So, how do we do that?
We welcome your thoughts, but we also thought we would throw a few questions out to you to maybe germinate some ideas. We know coming up with an idea is hard and intimidating. We have developed these questions from the discussions and presentations over the last eight weeks and we welcome any additional questions you might have from your engagement with the series, conference, and seminar.
Australia’s Deputy Chief of Air Force touched on organisation in his summary of the air power conference and Chris McInnes specifically talked about organisation in his post on expeditionary air wings. We have heard the organisation of Australia’s air force — particularly platform-centric force element groups — described as “the rock that Jericho has not kicked over.” So, how would you organise the Royal Australian Air Force, or the Australian Defence Force, to generate the capabilities needed to succeed in future security contests?
At the Williams Foundation seminar on electronic warfare in 2017, there was much discussion on the tension between the specialist knowledge needed to operate advanced capabilities and the need for that knowledge to spread through the whole force. This discussion has continued, broadened, and accelerated over the last eight weeks. So, to paraphrase a question that Air Marshal (ret) Geoff Brown asked during his summary of the electronic warfare seminar: are there options, other than the time-based hierarchical rank structure that Napoleon would recognise, that would better serve military forces in the future?
Training and education
Jennifer McCardle’s presentation on live, virtual, and constructive training posed many questions around how we realistically incorporate new capabilities and new challenges into our training and Brian Laslie’s post on the development of Red Flag articulated how a previous generation of airmen addressed this challenge to great effect. Tyson Wetzel’s discussion on Operation Bolo during the Vietnam War highlighted the value of experiential education in enabling airmen to depart from their training and take risks, which complemented McCardle’s point about the difficulties of preparing people for unknown scenarios. So, what options are available to give military personnel experience with new capabilities, new circumstances, and — perhaps most importantly — new failures so that they are best prepared to deal with a future that we are assured will be volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous?
Innovation and disruption
Go together like peas and carrots apparently but are much harder to pin down. Greg Allen argued that we cannot trust existing organisations to navigate the challenge of innovation and disruption because they are often built around operating a piece of equipment. If we were to, as he suggests, develop new arrangements that are aimed at putting the existing structures out of business, what would that look like?
These are just a few of the lingering questions that we identified from the last eight weeks of high intensity blogging. We welcome your thoughts on these questions. More importantly, we encourage you to continue asking the questions that remain unanswered and ask the questions that have not been asked over the last eight weeks. Finally, we welcome your feedback on the series and what we can do differently to help you get your message across. You can get in touch with us via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thecentralblue.