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- December 1, 2020 | 1:15 AM
- #AFSTRAT 2020: We’re on the road to… somewhere – Marija Jovanovich
History is a story written by the victors – but how do we formulate the story when history has not happened yet? The narrative surrounding any future vision of success must captivate an entire organisation if we are to expect everyone to come along on the journey and visualise themselves within the tale toward success. This week on The Central Blue, Wing Commander Marija ‘Maz’ Jovanovich highlights how the #AFSTRAT holds the key for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to write that creative and inclusive tale beyond simply platform-centric thinking and semi-formed conceptual understandings. The #AFSTRAT is an important step forward in the RAAF’s journey into the future, but how can we be more proactive in shaping our narrative of success? Big changes require bold ideas and actions. In September 2020, in response to profound geostrategic changes, the Chief of the Air Force released a new Air Force Strategy document that was a bold reframing of how we think about our purpose and our environment. This key document followed the earlier release of the Defence Strategic Update 2020, which did a similar thing for the broader Defence enterprise. Nested underneath the Defence Strategic Update, the Air Force Strategy does exactly what it set out to do, in that it ‘outlines how [the RAAF] will posture for responsive, agile and potent air and space effects across the operational spectrum.’ Whether it does everything a strategy should do is a more difficult question, one that requires consideration of what strategy is and who it is for. Across the board, the newly released Air Force Strategy is a welcome departure from and a big improvement over previous iterations. It acknowledges that previous iterations were ‘anchored to the right side of this [the competition] continuum,’ in the realm of openly declared military conflict. It purposely broadens the ‘options air and space power provide to the joint force to include operations below the threshold of direct military conflict.’ It also recognises political warfare and influence as key factors, leading to the requirement for the RAAF to ‘provide an enduring contribution to statecraft.’ In other words, it moves beyond traditional, platform-centric concerns and looks towards a bigger picture, in which the RAAF ‘must be part of Australia’s ability to synchronise and mobilise all aspects of national power.’ So far, so good. With its coherent and comprehensive lines of effort, the Air Force Strategy is an excellent and exciting plan. However, is that all a strategy should do? To answer that question, we first need to decide what the role of strategy is. The question ‘what is strategy’ is itself a hotly contested topic of discussion. Pose the question to 10 practitioners of strategic thought, and 12 different opinions will likely result. Some, of course, are more enduring than others, and two concepts stand out. The first is strategy as a ‘theory of victory’ – or, adapted for activities below the threshold of armed conflict, a ‘theory of success’ – put forward by a range of luminaries, including the late Colin Gray and Eliot Cohen. The second is the concept of strategy as a relationship between ends, ways and means, probably best encapsulated by Colin Gray as ‘direction and use made of means by chosen ways in order to achieve desired ends.’ Although the latter has been fairly criticised as one-sided and overly formulaic, combining it with the ‘theory of success’ concept provides a useful framework for analysing strategy. Both concepts suggest that, in order for a strategy to be effective and complete, we must know what we want to achieve and what success looks like. In other words, we need some defined end-states. Of note, ‘defined’ need not mean ‘finite,’ a common misapplication of the ends-ways-means idea – ‘success’ can be a prolonged state of ‘succeeding.’ So, in addition to providing the plan for how to get there, it should articulate a vision of what success looks like. This becomes critical during periods of rapid change when future success might look significantly different to the current state. It should also communicate that vision in a universally understandable way that gets everyone on board. After all, at least half of communication happens at the receiving end; if some of us can ‘see’ the desired future but most of us cannot, how do we ensure we are all pulling in the same direction? Moreover, how do we articulate that desired future to others and make sure it meshes with theirs? Take the concept of a fifth-generation air force. The term ‘fifth generation’ does not appear in the Air Force Strategy, but it is implied throughout as a desired end-state. The RAAF website explicitly draws the connection, stating that the ‘Air Force Strategy outlines [the RAAF’s] intention to become a fifth generation Air Force.’ However, what does ‘fifth generation’ actually mean? I have had more than one conversation with practitioners of air power whose answer to this question was a shrug and “I don’t know, F-35 and stuff.” In reality, the definition on the RAAF website is not much more enlightening. If one of the desired goals of the Air Force Strategy is a fifth-generation RAAF, should we not do a better job of visualising and articulating what that looks like – particularly for those who do not work on the F-35? After all, the ability to explain our future to ourselves is a prerequisite to being able to explain it to others, on the way to our goal of achieving strategic influence. Even our idea of what ‘fifth generation’ looks like in today’s RAAF is flawed. The RAAF website envisions ‘a fully-networked force that exploits the advantages of an available, integrated and shared battlespace picture to deliver lethal and non-lethal air power’ – and then directly relates that word picture to the F-35. Capabilities like the E-7 and the P-8 are occasionally mentioned in broader discussions too. Arguably, the most ‘fifth generation’ platform currently in RAAF operational service, at least in terms of connectivity, access and contribution to an ‘available, integrated and shared battlespace picture,’ is a 50-year-old aircraft with a bunch of very modern systems in the back, the AP-3C(EW). Nevertheless, the focus on the anointed fifth-generation platforms has meant that for a decade now the AP-3C(EW) has remained a platform that many in the ADF do not realise the RAAF even possesses, let alone understands what it does or how. Our strategy says that we aspire to ‘consider effects rather than aircraft, thereby resisting platform-centric thought,’ yet to date even our conception of a fifth-generation RAAF seems platform-centric. However, the fifth-generation concept is just an example. The underlying issue is that the Air Force Strategy was conceived and delivered as a plan. As such, it does not do enough to articulate what success looks like before it dives into what we need to do to get there. Why it lacks a vision of success is itself worth considering, although the scope of that question exceeds the scope of this analysis. As a starting point, the Air Force Strategy is inherently limited by overarching documents. TheDefence Strategic Update postulates the ‘shape, deter, respond’ triad as its strategic objectives. However, although these are high-level concepts, they are essentially courses of action, and therefore ways, not ends. A readily visualisable desired end-state remains elusive. Given that the Air Force Strategy must aim ‘inside’ the Defence Strategic Update, it is understandable it has fallen into the same trap. However, the Air Force Strategy may itself contain the seeds of its own salvation. In another welcome divergence from previous iterations, it identifies novelty and creativity as ‘central characteristics when engaging in an environment of strategic competition.’ Applying this idea reflexively, to the strategy itself, might allow us to imagine and clearly articulate our vision of success. The power of narrative, long the darling of psychology, increasingly features in strategic thought. After all, stories are how humans think, how we order information and how we communicate with each other. Harvard icon Joseph Nye articulated the power of narrative in the military context when he observed that: conventional wisdom has always held the state with the largest military prevails, but in an information age it may be the state (or non-states) with the best story that wins. Because of the centrality of narrative in how people think, this idea applies not only externally but internally: the better our shared story of success, the better our chance of achieving that success. All the Air Force Strategy needs to do is take its own advice. The RAAF – and, more broadly, the Australian defence establishment – should apply the creativity bubbling away inside the enterprise to come up with a narrative that clearly articulates our vision of success, both to ourselves and others. What does delivering 21st-century air and space power as part of the joint fight, above or below the threshold of military conflict, look like? Make this narrative a compelling insight into the future, that makes concrete some of the abstract ideas shaping our environment during this period of rapid change, told from multiple viewpoints to allow people to place themselves within that future, and we will have the vision to go with our excellent plan. Wing Commander Marija ‘Maz’ Jovanovich is a Royal Australian Air Force aviator. She is a graduate of both the USAF Test Pilot School and USAF Air War College who is about to assume command of No. 10 Squadron.
- How RAAF Air Power Lost Its #AFSTRAT and Got It Back - Dr Heather Venable
The Royal Australian Air Force is breaking through nearly a century of Western militaries’ operational focused 'air force strategy.' In this installment of the series, Dr Heather Venable brings her wealth of knowledge to the #AFSTRAT. Heather casts the AFSTRAT against its predecssors, providing historical context for the change in Western air force strategies. The importance of what the AFSTRAT has done differently is coupled with why these changes are important and how RAAF can continue to break out of the operational mold and into a highly relevant and effective strategic service. Western air power 'strategy' - if one can even call it that - stresses above all how to employ air power jointly, especially using networks, to act as a force multiplier. These capabilities are essential to modern warfare, but they also are not enough as they largely support the operational level of war. Meanwhile, air forces tend to ignore the strategic level of war, which entails considering how one can achieve the desired effect upon one’s enemy, in part because it has become so joint minded. That is not to say that air power practitioners should NOT be used jointly; rather, it is to point out that a focus on jointness lends itself to thinking operationally rather than strategically because the emphasis is on the how rather than the why. In effect, Western air forces have lost their strategic thinking, generally stressing 'ways' than 'ends.' Unfortunately, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is not an exception to this tendency. However, there are signs that it is emerging from the group-think of recent Western air power thinking as can be seen by comparing Air Force Strategy 17-27 (2017) to Air Force Strategy 2020. The currently abysmal state of air power strategic thinking is ironic. Shortly after the First World War, for example, the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the future US Air Force (USAF) took decidedly strategic visions in developing theories (albeit imperfect ones) designed to win wars. This approach does not mean that they were inherently strategic because they pursued strategic bombardment or seeking to avoid the battlefield by flying directly to an opponent’s homeland. Rather, they demonstrated strategic thinking because they pursued a theory of victory regarding how to use air power to have a strategic effect. By 1936, for example, the U.S. Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) developed a strategy that targeted the 'vulnerabilities' of 'modern industrial nations' aimed primarily at one point of Clausewitz’s triangle: the people. ACTS advocated the destruction of carefully selected points in societies to cause 'moral collapse' – or effects on the population – as the immediate effect of strategic bombardment. As one airman explained, the nation’s 'will to resist' could be found 'centered in the mass of the people.' Airmen theorized that attacks on 'vital elements upon which modern social life is dependent' allowed for a focus on an opponent’s will rather than the more circuitous and inefficient focus on its means. It is essential to point out that these theories had significant problems, including making erroneous assumptions. One instructor, for example, struggled to connect the effect on the people to any 'express[ion] through political government.' Nevertheless, at least they were thinking strategically, and the Combined Bomber Offensive ultimately made significant contributions to the Allied defeat of Germany, such as achieving air superiority, that enabled other key joint operations. By contrast, current air power thinking - indeed, Western military theory writ large - lacks a theory of victory beyond joint networks. As the US military has turned its focus from the Global War on Terror to great power conflict, it has stressed multi-domain operations (currently joint all-domain operations) above all. Multi-domain operations emphasize the 'ways' in which the U.S. military needed to connect its various branches of warfighters. 'Ends,' it seems to assume, must wait until an actual conflict unfolds. Strategy, however, is not only a wartime endeavour but a peacetime one as well. An air force strategy should not only strengthen the institution but also prepare for future warfare. However, the USAF, which has led the charge for networked command and control in the US, largely has neglected strategic thought. This is epitomized by how it largely ceased producing its own strategic documents, at least for public consumption. This trend partially reflects the US military’s greater comfort with the operational rather than the strategic level of war. This embrace of the operational level of war began largely in the wake of the Vietnam War when military officers sought to insulate themselves from civilian interference due to what they saw as micromanagement. This approach continues today. In some ways, Western air power has become unmoored from its early theoretical foundations, and that is a positive development because it is no longer wedded to theories of strategic bombardment. On the other hand, air power strategy now rests somewhat awkwardly on the untested and untried theory of John Boyd’s OODA loop. Western air forces - and militaries - essentially seek to foist multiple dilemmas on an opponent before it can react. Critics, however, have suggested that Boyd cherry-picked his historical examples. As Lawrence Freedman further explains, the military thinking that coalesced during this time period, which continues to inform current thinking about maneuver warfare, 'reflected an essentially romantic and nostalgic view of strategy, unhampered by the normal constraints of politics and economics.' Regarding Australian air power strategy - or the lack thereof - it is important to note that the RAAF has not sounded terribly different from the USAF or the RAF. Like recent defence documents in the West, its documents have stressed agility and speed as Boyd did. Western air forces tend to pursue a one-size-fits-all operational plan to create 'fifth-generation warfare,' or what the RAAF described in Air Force Strategy 2017-2027 as a 'fully networked force that exploits the combat-multiplier effects of a readily available, integrated and shared battlespace picture.' This, it asserted, would enable the RAAF to compete in 'increasingly complex and lethal threats of warfare in the Information Age.' One of the problems with this thinking, though, is its emphasis on what it can do rather than the effect it can have. In effect, it is about 'us' rather than 'them,' or how it enables the RAAF to create effects more than what effect those actions will have on an opponent. As the Strategy further explained, the information age’s key attribute is supposedly transforming the 'speed at which large amounts of information can be generated and disseminated,' thus requiring Western nations to stay 'ahead of the ever-quickening decision-making cycle of our adversaries.' The RAAF is not alone in this thinking. It provided a brief quote from a 2016 Australian Defense White Paper calling for the need to apply force 'more rapidly and more efficiently.' While it is essential to adopt a joint posture, it is also important to consider how air power can best contribute to future warfare. In other words, the 'end' of Australian air power strategy is not creating a fifth-generation air force. Rather, the appropriate 'end' is a strategy that puts ideas at its heart as to how to defeat its most-likely opponents and its most-dangerous ones. A hint of the most dangerous threat comes through briefly in the strategy, with the RAAF stating its assumption in Strategy 17-27 that it would be 'outnumbered' and facing a 'shrinking technological edge.' However, it offered no specific strategy to combat this significant threat. Networked jointness is essential now and into the future, but jointness does not mean that air power cannot be used independently to support jointness. The pursuit of better jointness, moreover, should not be a substitute for national strategy or air power strategy. An air force must envision how it can use air power most effectively, because that provides one of the greatest services to the joint force. In this light, the most promising aspect of the RAAF’s recent Air Force Strategy 2020 is that it seeks to get outside the overarching trends in Western air power thinking by seeking 'creative and non-prescriptive compositions of platforms, capabilities and priorities to address complex grey-zone threats.' This emphasis on creativity should be intensified at the strategic level in the Indo-Pacific theatre beyond grey-zone threats to envisioning how to apply airpower for strategic effect during a range of conflicts. In that way, the RAAF can really get its #AFSTRAT back. Dr Heather Venable is an associate professor of military and security studies at the U.S. Air Command and Staff College and teaches in the Department of Airpower. She is the author of How the Few Became the Proud: Crafting the Marine Corps Mystique, 1874–1918. She also edits for The Strategy Bridge and is a non-resident fellow at Marine Corps University’s Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity.
- #AFSTRAT: Agile and Coherent Governance: More Than Just a New Set of Regulations – Josh Vicino
The Central Blue welcomes Josh Vicino, who is sharing his thoughts in The Central Blue’s latest series, ‘What is the Air Force Strategy?’ – a series designed to build on Australia’s long-standing tradition of commitment to strategic thought. Josh delves into the importance of changing mindsets with the implementation of new governance structures to meet the challenges presented by the #AFSTRAT in turning an organisation focussed on preventing accidents to the effective generation of air and space power for strategic effects. When Heraclitus famously said that “the only constant in life is change,” he would have been hard-pressed to imagine the sheer pace of change in the 21st century. However, if, in response to this ever-changing environment, your strategy calls for fundamental change in one area or another, is modernising frameworks enough to bring about that change? In the world of aviation safety, the introduction of a new framework is, in and of itself, not enough to reform aviation safety practises. For real change to occur, members across the defence aviation safety community must reform their normative behaviours to truly reap the benefits on offer concurrent with the introduction of the new framework. In other words, achieving positive outcomes within a new system relies not just on the system itself, but also on the cultural norms and behaviours of those that are implementing it. This idea transcends the aviation safety context and speaks to ‘agile and coherent governance’ in line with Line of Effort 5 (LOE5) of the newly released Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Strategy publication. In 2016, the introduction of the Defence Aviation Safety Regulation (DASR) represented a paradigm shift in airworthiness regulations. The intent was for the framework to be ‘outcomes based’, which would replace the ‘process driven’ Technical Airworthiness Regulations (TARegs) and therefore allow members of the aviation safety community ‘to determine what processes and actions suit their business to satisfy a regulatory objective’. Born out of European Military Aviation Requirements, the adoption of the DASR was intended to ‘optimise effect while reducing administrative burden and unnecessary bureaucracy’. This new, outcomes-based governance system was introduced as a replacement for the process-driven TARegs, which themselves were introduced to meet a need borne out of accidents in the 1990s that warranted a process-driven regulation system. Although it was never the intent of the authors, the process-based TARegs and the existing narrative around them led to the unintended consequence of creating conservative behaviour. In particular, engineers and technicians perceived that they were required to memorise processes by heart rather than showing an understanding of the ‘why’ behind the governing philosophy and ideas that underpinned the system. Comparatively, the DASR based system saw a shift in focus to effective outcomes, supported by an understanding of the core ideas of safety, an ability to generalise thinking across varying situations, and a demonstration of sound judgement and application of policy for a given situation. Today, with an established safety culture that supports the effective generation of air power, the outcomes-based DASR provides a sound basis for an agile and coherent governance system. At the Air Warfare Centre (AWC) in 2017, this very approach under the DASR was used to beneficial effect. The Chief Engineer who introduced the regulatory framework made excellent use of the new system to instil a generalised concept of safety amongst the workforce and an accompanying accountability chain that fostered a rigorous yet dynamic engineering development process. On numerous occasions, this new way of thinking led to decreased development timeframes, all the while providing an exemplary level of safety assurance. In the context of LOE5 outlined in the Air Force Strategy, which aims for ‘optimising effect while reducing administrative burden and unnecessary bureaucracy,’ the AWC was ahead of the game. When undertaking developmental engineering tasks in support of Aircraft Research and Development Unit flights, the organisation was able to both ‘curate leading edge research’ while ‘honing ideas through to realisation in a safe environment that is failure tolerant.’ It was a perfect manifestation of LOE5 in an engineering context, albeit some years before Air Force Strategy 2020 came into being. Interactions with external contractors and Force Element Groups, however, revealed that not everyone in the aviation safety community had adopted the new mindset. Whereas under the new system organisational approvals could be leveraged to demonstrate compliance and facilitate ease of assurance, it was often found that such third parties had retained their TARegs based methods of thinking which forced cumbersome and unnecessary processes. In numerous cases, the choice to re-assess all the analysis that the engineers in the AWC had already conducted caused timeline delays with no tangible benefits. This occurred because in adopting the DASR system, those parties external to the AWC had simply retained the existing process structure of the TARegs and mapped terminology and positions between the old and new systems without understanding the need to shift their behaviours in adopting the new safety framework. Whilst the Defence Aviation Safety Authority recognised this as an efficient way to adopt the new system, it provides only one of many potential implementations that were intended to be refined as organisations matured under the new framework. Moreover, this singular implementation is one that does not make use of the flexibilities available to ‘develop and implement a range of lower-cost management solutions while achieving the same level of aviation safety outcomes.’ What this example shows is that to utilise the flexibilities, agility, and benefits of a given system fully, those responsible for its application need to embrace not only terminology and position requirements but also the required change in mindset. The introduction of an appropriate framework is a necessary precondition for agile and coherent governance, but evidently not sufficient in and of itself. The new framework must be accompanied by a change in mindset, approach, and narrative that seeks to exploit the new guidelines without reverting to old practises fully. Failing to do so will only ensure that the overly conservative compliance and conformance focused culture will be unable to step outside of the boundaries that were established some 30 years ago. As a broader concept, this is something that can be generalised outside of the aviation safety context. An extraordinary amount of experience exists within our organisation; the RAAF needs to ensure that it pays careful attention to how this experience is leveraged as it moves forward into new governance structures lest it falls into old habits. Only by bringing a cultural shift and a change in thinking in the pursuit of agile and coherent governance can the RAAF ‘create space for the organisation to grow and operate while ensuring safety and regulatory compliance.’ Flight Lieutenant Joshua Vicino is an Electronics Engineer working in the Royal Australian Air Force. He holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Electrical Engineering from The University of Melbourne. He is currently the Officer in Charge of Maintenance at No. 10 Squadron.  Department of Defence, 10 Ways to Better Aviation Regulation: Assuring Safety of Defence Aviation, 2016, p. 33.  Ibid.  Department of Defence, Introduction to Defence Aviation Safety, Edition 2.1, 2019, p. 5.  Department of Defence, Air Force Strategy Key Highlights, 2020, p. 14.  Ibid.  Department of Defence, 10 Ways to Better Aviation Regulation: Assuring Safety of Defence Aviation, 2016, p. 33.  Department of Defence, Air Force Strategy Key Highlights, 2020, p. 14.