Building a capacity for junior leaders to ask deep questions and possess a greater integrated view of Air Force specialisations is central to Isaac Stephenson’s argument about improvements to the Officer Training School (OTS) regime. In this piece, he offers several actionable recommendations for improvement to the initial training framework for Air Force Officers, including opening the aperture in timing and curriculum to empower Junior Officers with a greater understanding of the why behind their mission. In Stephenson’s mind, such adjustments would better position the RAAF for the future.
2022 is my fifth year of service in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and consequently I am due for my time-based promotion to Flight Lieutenant. I am yet to complete the required course for this promotion and so I thought I’d reflect on my initial experience as an Air Force Junior Officer. As an eager twenty-year-old with a keen interest in all things military, I couldn’t wait for my moment to engage in discussions about doctrine, strategy and military history. However, due to the compressed time period granted to Officer Training School (OTS) I found all these topics had to be left by the wayside. I would like to use this article to start a discussion around improving RAAF initial military training. I propose three big changes which I believe can set the RAAF’s officer core up for future success and enhance tactical and strategic thinking.
Step One. Introduce and encourage open discussion on doctrine, history and strategy to every specialisation to build awareness of how every role in the RAAF contributes to a wider military strategy from Officer Training School.
History is the foundation of who we are today. Understanding military history and the origins of military doctrine is the cornerstone of today’s Royal Australian Air Force. It’s the platform to learn from past mistakes and advance military tactics so the Air Force’s Officer Corps is well equipped to contribute effectively at every level. It also introduces respect and understanding between different roles and functions of the RAAF.
YouTube Channels such as one named Military History Visualized that broadly document various case studies can be used to teach the importance of a whole-of-team approach to military strategy. In one particular case study Military History Visualized looks at the relationship between logisticians and engineers and the United States and German Air Force’s in conflict. In this video “Logistics of the German Air Force in World War 2,” a few examples of Luftwaffe logistics and doctrine are compared to that of the United States Army Air Corp in the Second World War. The key lesson I drew from this case was the understanding in the integration of logistics and aircraft design in military strategy which appears to have been taken into consideration by the United States Army Air Corp and not so by the Luftwaffe. Instead, the Luftwaffe’s doctrine stated “...supply chain management is always servant of operational and tactical leadership and must never become its stumbling block.” (Logistics of the German Air Force in World War 2, time 3:00) Looking at this statement alone, it is clear the Luftwaffe didn’t have an appreciation for the importance of logistics in its culture and decision-making. This demonstrates the dangers of having an Air Force that doesn’t respect the gravity and prominence of including these critical support roles in decision-making and strategy. This way of thinking limited the Luftwaffe severely as the war deteriorated and the supply situation became more limiting and critical. Today, to avoid these pitfalls the RAAF must understand the significance of support roles in developing military strategy. By providing Junior Officers with the context and the history behind why the symbiosis between support and warfighting roles is so essential will assist in cultivating respect and understanding between specialisations from day one.
Step Two. A cultural shift must occur to encourage personnel from all specialisations to become instructors at Officer Training School.
I found during my initial Officer training, many of my directing staff were from select specialisations, such as; logistics, personnel capability, environmental, ground defence and engineering. Although this offers a strong spread of different musterings and perspectives, there was a distinct lack of aircrew, medical and intelligence representatives, just to name a few. As I continue along my pilot path, I have noticed few aircrew have a desire to instruct at OTS or the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). Some factors that contribute to this include; a lack of flying and allowances that follow, perceived hindrance to career progression, a seemingly undesirable location and an overall lack of interest in becoming an instructor at OTS.
To generate the cultural shift required, the Air Force could consider offering the following incentives; shorter posting lengths to OTS, a financial bonus to all instructors, a Pay and Conditions Manual update to include Sale as a regional area for regional bonuses, a clear posting plan to a location or position of their choice. Similar to Royal Military College (RMC) Duntroon for Army, OTS or ADFA should be honourable and desirable postings for anyone in the Air Force to contribute to OTS. This in turn will provide greater perspective, inclusion, and understanding across all the various specialisations. I have found in my short career that very few specialisations have an understanding of what other specialisations do and everyone appears to work in their respective roles and not look outside their lane. This can create confusion and misunderstanding of job allocation and responsibility. I hope by incentivising all personnel to teach in our initial training schools we will push to bridge the gap between specialisations from day one.
With this experience in OTS, instructors can provide personal insight from their careers and deliver briefs that explain how their specialisation contribute to developing and operationalising the wider Air Force strategy. Furthermore, they can tailor their operational experience to include how other specialisations enabled them to complete their role. This will provide inspiration, context and real world experience to Officer students and provoke discussion.
Step Three. Allocate more time and resources to the Officer Training Course.
The Royal Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force allocate six months to initial Officer Training courses to develop their Air Force Officers. During these extra two months they add more emphasis on military history and doctrine as well as more time allocated to the current curriculum. I suggest an additional two months for OTS to include extra content tailored to military doctrine, strategy and history. A longer OTS course with a larger cohort will also provide more diversity in specialisations. OTS is the best time in an Officer’s career to have such a wide variety of specialisations working together. Extra time in this environment not only provides time for military content to be taught, it also enables the creation of established relationships and networking that will carry into their careers in the wider Air Force.
During my training at OTS, I was told that many of the topics I have previously mentioned would be introduced to me during my initial pilot training. However, I have found that throughout the Pilot Training Continuum (Basic Flying Training School, Advance Flying Training School, P8A Poseidon Operational Conversion), and now a year into being a Co-Pilot on the P8A, there is no time for these subjects to be introduced and taught. Immediately after my conversion, I deployed on OP GATEWAY within the South China Sea. If it wasn’t for my own interest in geo-politics and strategy, I believe I would’ve felt embarrassed to ask the purpose of what we’re doing. By the time I finished my conversation on the P8A, I felt I should’ve already known. I believe we shouldn’t rely on people’s interest in these important military topics, but rather give everyone an introduction from the start. Many people may not continue to engage in the material. Notwithstanding, the Air Force should give Junior Officers the tools to encourage them to ask questions early in their careers. I don’t believe we should wait for professional military education (PME) courses as part of promotion or Staff College to introduce people to these ideas, because by then I feel it is too late.
These suggestions will cost the Air Force time, money and resources; however, it has been my experience that for Officer Aviation Candidates at least, there are significant periods of waiting for their respective courses. I have often found that the experience of other colleagues who have gone into the wider Air Force directly after OTS have often felt “undercooked” and their respective Initial Employment Training courses don’t cover the subjects mentioned in this post, the same as my pilot training experience. Likewise, many of my ADFA colleagues found that throughout their ADFA training there were similar shortfalls and therefore these changes will need to be implemented into the ADFA Single Service Training which is primarily conducted at OTS. Furthermore, it will likely take some time to adjust to the scheduling changes, but once it has settled it will become the new norm. Improving our initial Officer training is a pivotal component that will place the Royal Australian Air Force in good stead in defending Australia and our national interests. This begins at Officer Training School.
Isaac Stephenson graduated pilots course in November of 2019, on the final CT4/PC9 course and is posted to 11 Squadron as a Co-Pilot on the P8A Poseidon.
Military History Visualised, “Logistics of the German Air Force in World War 2,” YouTube Video, 4:05, January 15, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgGXRJg-NNU&ab_channel=MilitaryHistoryVisualized
Military History Not Visualised, “Why were Wehrmacht Logistics so Bad?” YouTube Video, 11:23, July 20, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n0BpQj9jqc&ab_channel=MilitaryHistorynotVisualized
Produced by Media Services Royal Air Force College Cranwell, 2017, A Guide To Initial Officer Training https://www.raf.mod.uk/recruitment/media/2337/20170804-iot_course_info_booklet.pdf
US Air Force Officer Training School Website https://www.airforce.com/education/military-training/ots/overview
David Turnbull, 2021, PME is NOT a Dirty Word! https://airpower.airforce.gov.au/blog/pme-not-dirty-word