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  • AVOCADO 101: An Air Force guide to the Australian Command and Staff Course - Matt Kelly

    For the first post of 2021, The Central Blue welcomes Squadron Leader Matt Kelly to provide some timely advice for our Air Force readers about to commence Australian Command and Staff College. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not represent the views of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government. Congratulations! You’ve just been told that you’ll be attending the Australian Command and Staff Course (ACSC) next year. For some this is excellent news, another step in your carefully planned career. For others this is an unusual surprise, as you hadn’t applied and you’re now in a state of mild confusion. Either way, you need to start preparing. For a comprehensive overview of the course, have a look at Dan Ellis’ article on the Chesterfield Strategy. My intent is to add a ‘blue shade’ to the conversation, with the caveat that this is based on my own experience as a student undertaking ACSC in 2020. Results may vary. Academic Preparation Many of you will be tempted to dive in and start reading tomes from Clausewitz, Sun Tzu etc. The reality is that you don’t need to do any of this beforehand, as there will be plenty of time to read on course. Having said that, I had been reading The Strategist and The Central Blue and listening to The Dead Prussian for a few years prior, which I think helped as a lead-in to the course. If you’re brand new to this world, have a look at COMADC's latest reading list for ideas to get you started. With access available to the ACSC ADELE website around Oct-Nov the year prior to course commencement, anytime from here is a good point to understand what academic requirements stand in front of you. I would consider familiarising yourself with college Standing Orders, do the ANU academic module (even if you’ve studied before – as the ANU has a very prescriptive essay structure that you’ll need to master), then enjoy your Christmas break. Buy yourself a second monitor for your laptop (trust me - you’ll thank me later), and strap yourself in for the year ahead. RAAF Pre-courses The RAAF offers two preparatory courses for ACSC: the Air Practitioner in a Joint Environment (APJE) course delivered by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), and the Advanced Air Power Course (AAPC) delivered by the Air and Space Power Centre. Both are valuable in different ways, but not in the ways you might think. The Air Practitioner in a Joint Environment (APJE) course is an insightful two-week adventure where students are introduced to an array of world-class strategic thinkers. Students leave with a broader understanding of contemporary strategic issues, which will hold them in good stead for many of the ACSC modules. There’s even the opportunity to have an essay reviewed by an academic so students can get used to structuring their ideas in the ‘correct’ way. Ironically, what the APJE doesn’t comprehensively provide is guidance on how to be an air practitioner in a joint environment. To be fair, I don’t think this is something the RAAF can or should outsource to an organisation such as ASPI. From what I've seen, the RAAF could better prepare ACSC students by renaming the APJE to something more apt and developing an actual APJE course. This new course would fill a crucial gap; as many (most) of us have limited exposure to how air planning actually occurs owing to our limited RAAF-wide culture. Addressing this deficiency would not only help students on ACSC (where we are all expected to be air SMEs), it would also liberate ASPI to concentrate on the strategic area it knows best. The Advanced Air Power Course (AAPC) consists of 13 seminars (weekly topics consisting of readings and a forum post) and an essay, taking students on a journey from the beginnings of air power to an analysis on what the future might hold. I found the AAPC illuminating as I hadn’t delved into RAAF history as much as I should have, and from this perspective the AAPC provides a solid foundation we should all have as Air Force officers. In terms of preparation for ACSC, the AAPC is useful but not essential. Air power theory and history is mentioned sporadically throughout the course, but this is done at an introductory level to cater for all students (just as Air Force students will learn about land and sea power). However, it is essential that Air Force officers complete the AAPC at some stage to garner a historical understanding of their service. The Avocado Ok, so you have your second screen, did your pre-courses and you’re heading to Weston Creek for your first day. What can you expect? For those who have done joint postings before, the college will have the familiar ‘avocado’ feel i.e., a thin layer of purple with a lot of green (Army) underneath. I will add that the avocado is probably the most suitable model for a course such as ACSC. The finely tuned scheduling mixed with the size and diversity of the class cohort needs the rigorous attention to detail and structure that the Army does best. However, those new to the joint world will need to adapt to a couple of idiosyncrasies throughout the year. The first will be a sometimes-brusque form of satire that permeates the course through rituals such as ‘back-briefs’ and newsletters which aim to inject light-hearted banter to offset the stress of assignments. As is often the case in a melting pot of sub-cultures, some jokes can miss the mark, but in my experience, the quips are well-meaning and the ‘comedians’ are quick to offer an apology if offence is taken. The other notable aspect of the avocado is an underlying tension that comes from an element of the course treating the year as a competition against others. While this is not limited to one service, in my experience, most of this faction comes from our green brethren. To a degree this is understandable, as the end of course score plays a greater role in promotion deliberations than it does for us. The trick is for RAAF officers not to get swept up in the competition. If anything, keep an eye out for it, bring your popcorn and enjoy the show. It can be entertaining! Ride the Wave I agree with everything Dan says in his article on workload, family and general observations, so I won’t repeat his words in depth here. Find the routine that best works for you and your family and don’t get caught up in what others are doing. Build your networks and use them regularly (even if it is just to vent about the assignments or share memes). Above all, remember you’re being paid (well) to study full-time…how good is that? Does the RAAF prepare you sufficiently to undertake ACSC? I think so; however, time with the other Services can remind us that the RAAF needs to do more to instil a deep, inculcated ‘blueness’ into its officers. Where Army officers exude their ‘officer first, corps second’ mantra and Navy officers regale with their ‘whole of ship’ shenanigans, RAAF officers are conspicuously devoid of such Service-centric thinking. All in all, I encourage you to ride the ACSC wave and enjoy it while you can. Follow this advice and I guarantee that you’ll emerge in December much better for the year that was. You will have met some great people, thought plenty of deep thoughts, and laid the foundation for the next chapter in your career. And if nothing else, you now know what an avocado is.

  • Australia and the Chinese Challenge: The Perspective of Brendan Sargeant - by Dr Robbin Laird

    Recently, Dr Laird continued his discussion with Brendan Sargeant, the well-known and well-regarded Australian strategist about how best to understand the challenge posed by the regime of President Xi to Australia and the Indo-Pacific region. Dr Laird focused on how Brendan Sargeant would characterize the nature and focus of the strategy of the Xi regime as a Communist Authoritarian state and then focused on how Australia was responding to this strategy. This raised the question then of how the allies of Australia, notably the United States, and Europe and most significantly the states of the Indo-Pacific were responding to the Xi regime policies and strategy. Link to full article in Second Line of Defense Dr Robbin Laird is a Williams Foundation Fellow

  • China, Australia and Global Change: Why a European Agreement Now? by Dr Robbin Laird

    Recently, Dr Laird had a chance to talk with Ross Babbage, a leading Australian strategist about the pressure Beijing is applying down-under. Australia and its close partners are looking to build a regional coalition to reinforce national resilience, better protect national sovereignty and encourage a change of course in Beijing. See full article in Second Line of Defense Dr Robbin Laird is a Williams Foundation Fellow

  • Call for submissions: How can you help make the #AFSTRAT a reality?

    Toward the end of 2020, The Central Blue made a call for submissions to answer the question: #AFSTRAT – What is the Air Force Strategy? The series aimed to build on Australia’s long-standing tradition of commitment to strategic thought by inviting contributions from all parties - from any rank in any Defence or military, academia, think tanks or policy commentators. Contributors were asked to provide their perspectives on AFSTRAT; specifically, if and how it will ensure the Royal Australian Air Force generates sustainable and resilient air and space power within the Joint Force. These longer contributions (of up to 2,000 words) were published on our website. This call for submission aims to focus on the question: How can you help make the #AFSTRAT a reality? We are not looking for long, essay-style submissions but rather shorth, pithy responses - no longer than 250 words. Contributions will be accepted until the end of February with submissions published in early 2021.

  • Europe, China and Australia: How Far Apart? by Dr Robbin Laird

    With the European Commission spearheaded a closer relationship with China, the gap — not just geographical — between Australia and Europe is clearly growing. Robbin's own recently published book on the evolution of Australian defence strategy highlights the shift from the away game to the home game for the Aussies. The focus is clearly upon the Indo-Pacific and the Chinese reworking of the global rules of engagement and stepping up a wide ranging challenge to the liberal democracies. See the full article in Second Line of Defense

  • The Next Phase of Australian National Security Strategy: Noise Before Defeat 5 by Dr Robbin Laird

    In the release of the new Australian defence strategy on July 1, 2020, Prime Minister Morrison highlighted the important role which Senator Jim Molan plays in his thinking about defence. Recently, Senator Molan has launched a podcast series looking at the way ahead and how Australia might address the challenges which its faces. For the full article see Second Line of Defense Robbin Laird is a Williams Foundation Fellow

  • Joint by Design: The Evolution of Australian Defence Strategy - book by Dr Robbin Laird

    Second Line of Defense have published our latest book which is entitled, Joint By Design: The Evolution of Australian Defence Strategy. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, launched a new defense and security strategy for Australia. This strategy reset puts Australia on the path of enhanced defense capabilities. The change represents a serious shift in its policies towards China, and in reworking alliance relationships going forward. As one senior RAAF officer put it: “The Prime Minister of Australia, the Honorable Scott Morrison, has launched the Defense Strategic Update, which moved Australia’s defense policy away from a globally-balanced approach under our Defense White Paper of 2016, towards a more regionally focused posture, founded in the principles of shape, deter, and respond. The new policy approach places great emphasis on the need for our forces to be well integrated, both internally to Australia, and across our strategic partners. ” Joint by Design is focused on Australian policy, but it is about preparing liberal democracies around the world for the challenges of the future. The strategic shift from land wars to full spectrum crisis management requires liberal democracies to have forces lethal enough, survivable enough, and agile enough to support full spectrum crisis management. The book provides an overview of the evolution of Australian defence modernization over the past seven years, and the strategic shift underway to do precisely that. Although this is a book about Australia, it is about the significant shift facing the liberal democracies in meeting the challenge of dealing with the 21st century authoritarian powers. In this sense, the volume is very complimentary to our book the return of direct defense in Europe, a book that concludes with a chapter that highlights the Australian contribution to the rethinking going on in Europe about direct defense. The book is based on the bi-annual Williams Foundation seminars held since 2014, and include insights and presentations by Australians and several key allies of Australia. In that sense, the book provides an Australian-led allied rethink with regard to how to meet 21st century defense challenges. The two books read together provide a good overview of where key allies are with regard to rethinking defense certa 2020. As Anne Borzycki, Director of the Institute of Integrated Economic Research – Australia, has highlighted: “Dr Robbin Laird brings a unique perspective to his analysis of the journey the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been on over the last six years. As an American, and also a European resident, he understands the military and strategic realities of Europe and the United States and is therefore able to place Australia, as a modern middle-power, into the spectrum of Western Liberal Democracies. And importantly, this book highlights the lessons that Europe and the United States could learn from Australia as the first quarter of the 21st century draws to a close. “This book is a modern history that begins in 2014. The year 2014 might seem recent – however given the upheavals wrought upon the world by changing global power dynamics, national domestic political challenges, military transformations and finally, the pandemic – it could just as well be 60, not 6, years ago.” This book was released on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo on December 22, 2020 in e book form with the paperback and hardback to be released in two months. Links Second Line of Defense Dr Robbin Laird is a Williams Foundation Fellow

  • Announcement: The Dr Alan Stephens Air Power Literary Prize winner

    As we enter the final approach on the most astounding of years, we are also set to announce the inaugural winner of the Dr Alan Stephens Air Power Literary Prize. This year’s prize is given for the best essay or article to provide a novel perspective on the new Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Strategy (#AFSTRAT). In determining a winner, The Central Blue editorial team looked for pieces that explored how the RAAF will ensure that it generates sustainable and resilient air and space power within the Joint Force. The Central Blue received a number of high calibre entries, with many varied and interesting themes. While there can only be one winner, we felt it particularly pertinent to turn a brief spotlight to a group of emerging authors from the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and their fresh contributions to the #AFSTRAT conversation. Being at only the beginning of their careers, these cadets offered a unique set of perspectives highly relevant to turning #AFSTRAT from a vision to reality. We were highly impressed with their endeavours to grapple with the conceptual challenges that face the RAAF. Emerging RAAF Thinkers Officer Cadet L. Kourinos and Officer Cadet I. Price raised several good points in their review of #AFSTRAT. They stated that the strategy 'has the potential to bring Air Force people together by proving a standard for our ‘why" and that it also presents a new 'opportunistic space' for the RAAF to transform itself into a 'potent integrated future fighting force.' They also raised some important, practical questions. Specifically; How would a junior officer go about implementing ‘jointness’ noting the challenge that 'junior leaders may lack the ability to effectively translate vision into their team structures.' The mismatch between innovative possibilities and reality was a key focus of analysis from Officer Cadet T. Beck and Officer Cadet C. Howard. In their assessment, the 2020 AFSTRAT functions as a 'visionary piece rather than an actionable plan,' one that needs significant efforts to implement in a “highly bureaucratic and hierarchical organisation”. It’s a point that AFSTRAT openly acknowledges, with 'the concept of innovation and creativity and the aim to reduce unnecessary administration and bureaucracy within the RAAF,' a key theme of the strategy. They closed by reflecting on their experiences as early career professionals, and their generation’s willingness to embrace new ideas and concepts. Whilst all ADFA contributions touched on the importance of cultural evolution, Officer Cadet Wendy Qu devoted her entire piece to this theme. She offered four central recommendations: utilising ADFA as a means to support the building of a strategic culture. supporting the concept of a learning organisation. considering wider environmental factors inhibiting an inclusive culture. implement further support mechanisms to supplement cultural intelligence. She recommends viewing ADFA as a 'critical learning ground for developing strategic acumen,' noting that it’s a training ground for raising a workforce of the future with skills and values that should be instilled from day one. She also raises the importance of cultural intelligence as a competitive advantage, with an emphasis on building an inclusive culture to enhance the RAAF’s posture of professionalism. This also includes acknowledging and responding appropriately to contemporary societal matters and its effects, such as rising escalations between the West and China, and how this might reflect upon Chinese-Australians’ view of the ADF. Prize Winner While there are a number of other stellar contributions which you can read on our webpage, we can only have one prize winner. We are pleased to announce the 2020 Dr Alan Stephens Air Power Literary Prize winner is Squadron Leader Chris Kourloufas. We could not go past his erudite piece on Creative Forces. With innovation a key theme of #AFSTRAT, his piece focuses on the messy, unpredictable, but essential competency of creativity as a key part of realising the vision of the strategy. His article dismantled the realities of creative success and highlights the necessity of failure tolerance – a proposition which can be hard to accept with military pursuits because 'many lessons are paid for in blood.' To realise the vision of #AFSTRAT, isolated solutions will no longer be enough. Cross-domain creativity is vital for lasting long-term impact and to fully realise the potential that exists within the organisation. He argued that the RAAF must also ensure that people know that their actions matter, no matter how small the idea. To embrace the notion of being a ‘Creative Force’, military organisations need to strive for an environment that dispenses with ‘dangerous comfort’ and embrace a culture of psychological safety and disruptive innovation. He sums this up with a great quote from Major General (Ret.) Duncan Lewis AO DSC CSC: Your first responsibility as a leader is to create atmosphere. We congratulate Squadron Leader Kourloufas on his winning article. Looking to 2021 and Beyond Despite the troubles that have emerged in 2020, we’re looking to 2021 with excitement as we celebrate 100 years of the RAAF. It has been a monumental Century, with much to be remembered and celebrated. At The Central Blue, we are also turning our attention to the next 100 years. What will the RAAF look like in 2121? What lessons from the past 100 years can we apply to the next 100? How do we build and grow people for the future Force? We will have more specific invitations for contributions in the new year, but in the meantime, we encourage prospective contributors to think along these lines in preparing articles for next year.

  • #AFSTRAT 2020: Framework or Fallacy? - David Hood

    Our final instalment within the #AFSTRAT series is offered by Wing Commander David Hood who pits the new strategic vision against strategist Colin Gary’s nine air power fallacies. Hood examines the ways in which the AFSTRAT recognises, and often breaks these fallacies while shaping the future force. However, beyond this foundational policy, there lies potential risk. Hood stresses that if there is a misunderstanding in interpretation, poor implementation, or unrefined vision, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) could fall into the historic failing of overpromising and under-delivering. The winner of the #AFSTRAT 2020 ‘Dr Alan Stephens Air Power Literary Prize’ will be announced on 13 Decembers 2020. Some pundits claim that the release of the RAAF Strategy 2020 (AFSTRAT) is ‘a key milestone […] in articulating the role air and space power play in generating strategic effects as part of a joint and integrated force’. But for this milestone to be of value, AFSTRAT must be based on solid foundations which enable the strategy it articulates to be practicably implementable. In Understanding Airpower – Bonfire of the Fallacies, renowned strategist Colin Gray sought to ‘prevent or reduce error in debates over all aspects of airpower’ by identifying major air power fallacies held by both air power’s advocates, and its critics.[1] While Gray wrote in the American context, these fallacies are applicable to air power more broadly and so represent a valuable lens through which we can review AFSTRAT and identify any flawed assumptions or claims within it. Critiquing air power strategy is important for two reasons. First, air power strategy has a chequered history of over-promising and under-delivering.[2] Second, Australia’s current strategic outlook means that we cannot afford to get air and space power strategy wrong. So how does AFSTRAT stack up against each of Gray’s fallacies? ‘The era of conventional warfare between great states and coalitions has passed. The [RAAF] needs to abandon the paradigm of large-scale regular warfare.’ AFSTRAT recognises this as a flawed assertion by acknowledging that while ‘high-end, state-on-state warfare – is a rare state in our geopolitical system,’ it ‘remains critical that Air Force is able to credibly respond […] with high-end warfighting capabilities’. However, AFSTRAT places greater emphasis on ‘shape’, ‘deter’ and ‘respond’ effects outside the conflict zone, although what these effects are, or should be, is ambiguous. The RAAF is a relatively small force. AFSTRAT does not mention the need to judiciously identify and prioritise which effects can and should be accomplished at any one time – a reality that must be understood by all practitioners of air and space power, at all levels. Consequently, the risk for AFSTRAT is not that it abandons the possibility of large-scale regular warfare, but that in seeking to provide a diverse range of strategic effects over a very broad ‘competition continuum’, it becomes less able to provide strategic effects coherent and most appropriate for the circumstances. To avoid this, AFSTRAT should more clearly articulate the need for prudence in relation to what, when and how strategic effect is applied. AFSTRAT’s Lines of Effort (LOE), which constitute the ways strategic effect will be delivered, should explicitly reflect the need for disciplined application of scarce resources for strategic effect. Despite the investment in the 2020 Force Structure Plan, the RAAF cannot be all air and space power strategic things, all the time. ‘Airpower is an inherently strategic instrument.’ Gray argued that air power is no more uniquely strategic than other military instruments and cannot be independently decisive in peace or war. Rather, it is the consequences of military actions that are strategic, not the tools themselves. AFSTRAT makes no reference to, or assertions regarding ‘strategic airpower’, identifying a need for Air Force to ‘minimize the focus on platforms and enhance the focus on the strategic outcome’. This promising sign is backed by its LOE’s consistent emphasis on the consequences of activities, not the attributes of platforms or materiel. For example, LOE1 recognises that Raise, Train and Sustain activities can generate strategic effects in the joint environment, while LOE3 promotes domestic and international relationships and engagement to shape the strategic environment and provide positive effects through awareness and reputation. More fundamentally, LOE4 seeks to evolve culture to optimise the intellectual diversity through which Air Force can generate strategic effects. ‘The development of airpower is driven by technology not ideas.’ Gray asserted that ‘ideas […] have led technical achievements […] Airpower in all its shapes and forms has always been the product of a specific vision, or visions, of utility’. AFSTRAT agrees. It applies the concept of ‘horizontal integration’ to ‘look past an individual’s narrow technical expertise to identify those with the potential to contribute to delivering of strategic effect’. LOE2 seeks to develop an intelligent and skilled workforce, recognising that the deep specialist knowledge required to use technologically advanced systems creates only the potential to generate strategic effect. The need to foster innovation and ideas is so important that AFSTRAT states a requirement to review the RAAFs organisational structure, to optimise horizontal integration. LOE5’s governance framework facilitates this intellectual edge to ensure ‘Air Force [is] prepared to respond to problems, threats, and opportunities, and encourage ideas that benefit Air Force or the achievement of strategic effects’. While this sounds very positive, there remain two great, but polar opposite, dangers. First, AFSTRAT could still be confounded by the desire of air power practitioners to focus on the technology itself. Such ‘tacticisation of strategy’[3] risks the attainment of strategic effects. Second, if pursuit of ideas and an intellectual edge is taken too far, the imagined strategic effects may not be achievable within available resources. Both these extremes represent a failure to align ends, ways and means, and the right balance between ideas and technology is critical for air and space power’ optimum utility. ‘Airpower is about targeting.’ AFSTRAT seeks to apply strategic effects across a vast competition continuum, clearly viewing air and space power as far more than targeting for kinetic effect. Indeed, its strategic end state, better integration with the joint force in support of Whole-of-Australian-Government efforts to shape, deter and respond to opportunities and threats, suggests that the majority of air and space power efforts should be devoted towards non-kinetic ‘targeting’ for strategic effect. This is not to imply that ‘shape’, ‘deter’ and ‘respond’ efforts should be applied in a linear fashion, only that kinetic response is likely a last resort option for Australia. This shift to a more mature understanding of targeting is supported by the LOE construct; only LOE1 speaks directly to targeting, and even then, far from exclusively. ‘Airpower must always be subordinate to land power.’ AFSTRAT does not address this age-old fallacy, remaining silent on subordination to other forms of military power. Instead, recognising the Australian Defence Force’s continued evolution to an integrated Joint Force, LOE1 details air and space power’s provision of strategic effects in that context. ‘Joint’ appears 83 times in AFSTRAT; ‘land’ or ‘ground’ not at all. This reflects the Chief of Air Force's Intent which states ‘Air Force does not generate air and space power for itself […] We provide air and space power options as a component of [joint] military power […] in support of Government objectives’. While the days of petty and invalid arguments about subordination of one military component below another may be gone, AFSTRAT must also be wary to ensure that its air and space power zealots cease their long-held belief of the opposite, that air and space power can be the panacea for all evils. To achieve this goal, 100 years of RAAF cultural elitism, parochialism and tribalism must be overcome – a difficult task. LOE’s 2, 4 and 5 will be crucial enablers for LOE1’s objective of effectively integrating air and space power into the joint force. ‘The theory of strategic airpower is fundamentally flawed.’ This fallacy overcorrects in response to zealots’ claims that air power is capable of delivering ‘victory’ independently, asserting it can never achieve this. Gray argues this view is incorrect, as the theory of strategic air power is sound if one ‘lowers the bar’ in terms of interpretation. Air power can in some cases deliver strategic effect independently, particularly to shape the environment in order to decide which belligerent will win. AFSTRAT’s heavy focus on generating strategic effects as part of the joint force appears to prudently avoid addressing this fallacy, seemingly adopting the more nuanced interpretation. Gray himself acknowledged that air power has proven independently decisive only in rare circumstances. Examined closely, examples such as Kosovo involved a significant overmatch between belligerents, a condition a small force such as the RAAF is unlikely to experience. Consequently, AFSTRAT is right to focus on providing effects as part of the joint force in the majority of circumstances. ‘The institutional independence of the [RAAF] is a major hindrance to the development of a truly joint, coherently integrated, [Australian] theory of, and doctrine for, warfare.’ Gray described the institutional independence of an Air Force as a ‘regrettable necessity’ because the air domain’s distinctive geography requires an ‘airmindedness’ which can only be obtained by specialists, immersed exclusively in that geography. This argument presents a challenge to the balance of expertise sought by AFSTRAT. Large components of LOE’s 2, 3 and 4 involve generating individuals with joint experience, and refining RAAF culture to support this. The underpinning intent is not clear and could be interpreted as a drive to trade the current levels of ‘airmindedness’ held by air and space power practitioners, for greater ‘jointmindedness’. This might render them less able to employ the right air and space power into the joint environment, at the right time, for best strategic effect. Implementation of AFSTRAT will require great care to ensure an appropriate balance between jointmindedness and specialisation in air and space power is retained. One option to maintain the right balance is to create a specialist mustering for air and space power practitioners. These individuals would specialise in the application of air and space power and could then advise those with joint experience, how to best apply air and space power into the joint environment. ‘Airpower can never be other than a minor player in the conduct of counterinsurgency [COIN] warfare.’ Gray acknowledged that COIN is inherently ground-centric in nature. However, he also asserted that air power ‘will always be quite literally essential’ in support. AFSTRAT does not explicitly mention COIN warfare, but it clearly forms part of the ‘competition continuum’ that AFSTRAT seeks to address. Air and space power are ideally suited to strategic efforts to shape, deter, and respond in a COIN environment, from Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare, through to Command, Control and Communications and kinetic effects. The reach, strategic visibility and flexibility of air and space power make it an attractive strategic option for a style of warfare that will extract large costs on ground forces in its absence. Perhaps the greatest contribution air and space power can make would be to shape and deter COIN warfare from occurring at all, a strategic effect well supported by AFSTRAT. ‘The twenty-first century is the missile, space, and cyberspace age(s); airpower is one of yesterday’s revolutions.’ Gray’s framing of this fallacy centred on the growing obsolescence of ‘manned airpower’, which would be replaced with effects from and through other domains. Even so, this argument remains largely irrelevant in terms of AFSTRAT for two interrelated reasons. Firstly, AFSTRAT’s approach to both air and space domains is premised on effects ‘in, from and through’ these – whether manned or unmanned, including missiles. Secondly, this effects-based approach emphasises the need to move beyond platform-centric thinking. Together, these mean that it does not particularly matter whether manned aircraft, or any other platforms or capability become obsolete or not – the vehicle providing the strategic effect is unimportant compared to the effect itself. Conclusions On paper, AFSTRAT 2020 fairs well when evaluated against Gray’s nine air power fallacies. The real challenge for it will be its implementation. Only through the disciplined application of AFSTRAT’s LOE will the RAAF avoid air power’s historic failing of overpromising and under-delivering. To this end, an AFSTRAT V2.0 could begin by providing greater clarity in the areas discussed above to ensure its intent is understood by the practitioners, at all levels, who are charged with turning strategy into reality, not fallacy. Wing Commander David Hood is an Aeronautical Engineer working for the Royal Australian Air Force. He holds a Master of Gas Turbine Technology (Cranfield, UK) and a Master of Military and Defence Studies (Australian National University). Wing Commander Hood is currently Commanding Officer of Air Training and Aviation Commons Systems Program Office (ATACSPO). [1] Colin S. Gray, Understanding Airpower: Bonfire of the Fallacies, Research Paper 2009-3 (Maxwell Air Force Base, Air Force Research Institute, 2009), p. 2, 3. [2] See for example: Tami Davis Biddle, Rhetoric and Reality in Air Warfare: The Evolution of British and American Ideas about Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); Carl H. Builder, The Icarus Syndrome: The Role of Air Power Theory in the Evolution and Fate of the U.S. Air Force (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1996); Mark Clodfelter, The Limits of Airpower; The American Bombing of North Vietnam (New York: Free Press, 1989); Colin S. Gray, Airpower for Strategic Effect (Maxwell Air Force Base: Air Force Research Institute, 2012); Robin Higham and Stephen J. Harris (eds.), Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2016); David MacIsaac, ‘Voices from the Central Blue: The Air Power Theorists,’ in Makers of Modern Strategy: from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986). [3] Michael I. Handel, Masters of War – Classical Strategic Thought (London: Routledge, 2001), Appendix E.

  • #AFSTRAT: Creative Forces – Concepts to Support Military Creativity – Chris Kourloufas

    In this week’s #AFSTRAT instalment, Squadron Leader Chris Kourloufas takes a deep dive into creative forces. Looking past the rhetoric of ‘creative geniuses’, Kourloufas dismantles the realities of creative success and highlights the necessity of failure tolerance. Moving forward, isolated solutions will no longer be enough, with cross-domain creativity being vital for lasting long-term impact. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) must also ensure that people know that their actions matter, no matter how small the idea. However, for an organisation that can pay for failure in blood, the challenge exists for RAAF to reach beyond the status quo and ‘dangerous comfort’ to a culture of psychological safety and disruptive innovation. The Air Force Strategy (AFSTRAT) 2020 directs command teams to be novel, creative and think critically to challenge the status quo. This is necessary in order to adapt to the continually changing geopolitical environment as well as to maximise air and space power effects for the government. Statements like these will excite and inspire progressive and creative thinkers. It may also draw criticism from the realists who will ask, ‘why isn’t this happening already?’ This article explores creativity in the RAAF and examines what may have hindered such creative forces in the past. This is discussed with the view to understand how we can realise the strategic vision set out before us by the Chief of Air Force (CAF). I first discuss the nature of creativity, then the difficulty of challenging the status quo, the catalysts for change and finally present some concepts that may support the strategic vision. The Nature of Creativity When bringing to mind creative success, we are likely also to tie this with creative ‘geniuses’. This perception is not only misguided, but it also limits the opportunity to take on a creative pursuit. The reality is that a creative breakthrough is not something bestowed upon someone; rather, it is obtained through maximising simple factors of success. So how can the orthodox be unorthodox? The first factor is the sheer volume of creative ideas. Creativity is a random and unpredictable process.[1] Put into an artistic context, for every masterpiece that hangs in a museum, there are likely hundreds of studies made by the artist – all perfecting an element or playing with concepts until they made the critical, creative breakthrough. These studies are a glimpse not only into the creative process that leads to critical acclaim, but also an insight into the hidden failures, or weaker ideas, that never made the canvas. Put another way, a predictor of a breakthrough idea is the volume of work.[2] So, if creating original ideas is what the RAAF wants, then we need to be doing lots of it. I would ask; how often do we allow ourselves to be creative, and secondly, what do we create? In my experience, being creative is something we are often asked to do – usually within the military appreciation (i.e. planning) process and complex decision making. I wonder whether we genuinely create or simply follow a template or process out of ease. Or does our technical mastery merely equate to reaching into previous examples and applying worn-out tactics? This is perhaps where military art comes into the fore. It might seem like a worn-out cliché, but creativity remains the critical element to future success within the profession of arms.[3] Picasso created more than 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics and 12,000 drawings (as well as countless prints, rugs and tapestries). Only a fraction of these works have been considered worthy of acclaim. Mozart composed more than 600 pieces before his death at 35, with a handful considered amongst the greatest of all time. In his book Originals, Adam Grant recommends tripling your usual output of ideas to unleash originality.[4] The second factor is the intersection of a broad array of ideas or concepts. Military professionals must maintain a wide scope of experience and knowledge on topics other than just warfare. Single-discipline breakthroughs are becoming less frequent, and this is apparent within the academic community – where multidisciplinary collaborations are the norm with most publications (and even degrees) being a combination of fields.[5] The most creative and innovative breakthroughs occur at the intersection of fields. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) reports that disruptive technologies rarely create an impact in isolation. It is the convergence or overlap of technology domains with the physical, information or human domains where disruptive and breakthrough advances will occur.[6] This is partly because of the exponential number of possible combinations of concepts that occur within the intersection of fields. Knowing this, and actually being willing to apply it, will increase our chances of a creative breakthrough. This is another way to view what AFSTRAT calls ‘horizontal integration’. CAF implores us to look past the artificial barriers we have constructed (e.g. Force Element Groups, mustering/specialisation, service, group), and come up with new and creative ways to generate effects for the government. These need not be high-tech innovations; breakthrough ideas are typically new combinations of existing ideas. These innovations are the ones that make you think, ‘why hadn’t anyone ever thought of that before?’ Innovation can occur within doctrine, tactics, employment of technology or new technologies. Put another way by the author and director of the Centre for Security, Innovation and New Technology, Audrey Cronin; ‘technology need not be exquisite to have a broad and long lasting impact’.[7] In my experience as an engineer, the creative process is the easier bit. Once we have an idea, we have more to overcome before it is a reality. The difficulty in challenging the status quo It is often hard to rationalise being original with military pursuits because many lessons are paid for in blood. We are conditioned to take the tried and true approach rather than the road less travelled. This is passed down through doctrine, regulation, procedure, or tacit knowledge. As acknowledged by the CAF, we have created narrow ‘silos of tactical excellence’, with these ingrained ways of thinking rewarded by accolades and promotion. Dangerous comfort Our coveted and comfortable conservatism to follow the status quo is growing more dangerous due to the non-linear strategic threat environment. The current context of competition between superpowers, proxies and non-state actors coupled with the explosion of technology and sharing of information cannot be appreciated fully through our conservative lens. The strategy update drops us all into a contradictory situation: leaving the comfort of the known, and venturing into the risky unknown, which may threaten an individual’s status and reputation. This paradigm makes it dangerous for the individual’s career, wellbeing, and social status to speak up and make a change. The difficulty in making this strategy a reality will be the resistance from those who stand to lose the most from leaving the status quo. This will be felt hardest from those in the middle – a well-demonstrated phenomenon known as ‘middle status conformity’. The hesitation by those in middle management in taking ideas in original directions has been quantified by psychologists Michelle Duguid and Jack Goncalo. In their studies, those in the middle-generated 20-25 per cent fewer ideas and 16 per cent fewer original ideas than those in the high or low-status positions.[8] As Grant states, ‘the fall from the middle is too far for some’.[9] Practice may make perfect, but it does not change the status quo The technical masters the organisation has produced to date may fail to recognise the incompatibility of their experience with future complex problems. This is because our experience and intuition that comes from this practice only help us when cause and effect are consistent. That is, our intuition is not reliable when dealing with complex and non-linear situations. Put another way, blind obedience to process for the sense of security that it offers us may expose us to danger. This strategy update, therefore, is striking at the core of our organisational psyche and perceived competence and will thus feel dangerous and uncomfortable. Instead of reacting to the discomfort by being dismissive of the call to challenge ourselves, we must ask ourselves two questions, ‘what is the cost of our comfort?’ and, ‘are we defending national interests or the status quo?’ The obstacles to military creativity are numerous and presented comprehensively by Milan Vego. They include: the military hierarchical command structure; authoritarianism; bureaucracy; templated approaches to operations; conformism; service parochialism; dogmatic views on war and peacetime activities, and, intolerance of divergent views[10] Catalysts for change For the workforce to act, it must first see the need to change. The catalysts for change may be extrinsic (e.g. imposed by/reacting to government direction, public pressure, technology advancement or adversary actions) or intrinsic (e.g. workforce dissatisfaction with the status quo). For extrinsic motivations, a strategy of risk management and opportunity seeking is employed by the organisation. That is, resources allocated toward the pursuit of proactive measures to manage risk or seize opportunity from the top down. To address intrinsic motivations, Adam Grant offers a model for dealing with dissatisfying situations that is relevant to this discussion. He states that there are four reactions to a dissatisfying situation: exit, voice, persistence, and neglect. He positions them against two axes; control (or agency to act) and commitment (Table 1). At its core, the 2020 AFSTRAT signals that there is a high degree of agency in addressing dissatisfying situations. As such, the key variable is the commitment of the individual to the organisation to do something – thus emphasising two options more for the workforce to consider – ‘exit’ or ‘voice’. That is, those with high commitment to the organisation will stay and voice their dissatisfaction, those with low commitment will eventually exit. ‘Exit’ in my observation may take the form of a posting, deployment, or separation from service. Leadership is a key factor in influencing commitment and control – especially the type of leadership that is adaptive to complex situations and fosters ‘psychologically-safe’ organisations. Supporting the Originals It is worth noting that challenging the status quo is difficult in any organisation; however, there are many ways the RAAF can support critical thinkers and originals willing to voice their concerns and make a change. Encouraging creative dissent Your first responsibility as a leader is to create atmosphere. Major General (Ret.) Duncan Lewis AO DSC CSC The creative dissent necessary to challenge an unhealthy reliance on the status quo must be encouraged. As discussed, challenging the status quo is risky from a social perspective with those that attempt to speak up or change the status quo being met with resistance by those who have the most to lose from change. To meet this challenge, quality leadership that views the complex challenges holistically and is willing to work toward positive strategic outcomes is required. It is a style of leadership that does not seek to force-fit ready-made solutions to every situation. This leadership is hard to come by in a military-driven to ‘solutionise’. Ronald Heifetz calls this type of leadership ‘Adaptive leadership’. This style empowers those around the leader. Empowerment is different to delegating. An emphasis on this leadership style is critical to supporting those people who are inspired to challenge the status quo. As previously discussed, many of the challenges before us will not be solved by applying the tried and true methodologies – this is precisely the context to apply adaptive leadership and manage complexity. Second, direct supervisors have the most influence on the individual’s sense of commitment and control when dealing with a dissatisfying situation. This is an important insight when developing organisational reforms to support this strategy. That is, supporting leaders to instil a sense of loyalty or commitment to the organisation may be the catalyst to individuals speaking up. Ultimately, what is good for the individual is good for the organisation. The people need to know the bigger picture as well as know that their actions matter. This will help the people who care enough to do something about it. The vision for the organisational culture must be one that fosters an environment of psychological safety. According to authors, Hans van der Loo and Joriene Beks, ‘Psychological Safety’ is a term gaining interest worldwide. They describe it as ‘feeling at home’, whereby there is a foundation of connection and trust, boldness and authenticity.[11] The recent RAAF safety month theme of, ‘Creating High Performance Teams’ and the introduction of the psychological safety concept to the workforce is a positive step. Generating such an environment enables an individual to seek opportunity and take a risk. It promotes a perception that ‘I may fail, but I’m not a failure’. It enables people to speak up when circumstances are unsafe. It is what supports innovators to pick themselves up and try again – to keep creating until they have found an effective and original solution. Furthermore, importantly, as summarised by Air Commander Australia, it is the enabler to high performance and effectiveness in complex and dynamic operational environments. Untapped potential Finding ways to break down artificial barriers helps RAAF tap into the potential that already exists within its organisation. At an organisational level, greater flexibility is needed to facilitate secondments, out of category postings, industry placements, and academic collaborations so that our smart and motivated people can bring value to a new problem or combat domain. Another suggestion by Grant is shifting from exit interviews to entry interviews.[12] That is, instead of waiting to ask employees leaving the unit/service their ideas on improvements, ask those with fresh insights and not encumbered by unit or service culture. It is also worth reflecting on how creativity is measured and valued within the recruitment process. Interestingly, researchers at Michigan State University found that the odds for Nobel Prize winners relative to typical scientists were proportional to their engagement with the arts. Specifically, those who used their artistic pursuit to view their scientific work through another lens were most likely to be leaders in their fields. For example, a scientist with painting as a hobby was 7x more likely to win a Nobel prize than the typical scientist. For performing arts as a hobby, the likelihood was 22x greater (Grant, 2016). Valuing candidates who also have artistic pursuits alongside their specialist domain is another way to build a workforce willing to come up with original ideas. At an individual level, we can challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zone. This can be as simple as peering over the partition and finding out what our colleague is up to or going to the mess and talking with someone new. How can we expect to challenge the status quo if we are unwilling even to hear a new perspective or are too confronted by someone’s opinion? Activities that encourage us to take a new perspective are also valuable – like learning another language, exploring another culture, trying out a new cuisine or taking up a creative hobby.[13] A great initiative is Jericho’s Maker Labs – where Airmen are provided the equipment and skills to tinker with modern manufacturing technology. Maintaining a positive narrative A narrative must be maintained that compels every airman/woman to try to effect change. Unless we can convince our workforce that the status quo can be changed, they will not believe that there is control in a dissatisfying situation. More can be done to promote real examples and tangible outcomes as a witness to the great work the originals are doing already. It will take time because this is a generational change and trust must be slowly and carefully earned. What do we measure? The organisation needs to protect the innovators from adverse impacts that may arise from speaking up and attempting to change a counter-productive or unsafe status quo. It will need to carefully build a tolerance for the right kind of failure and dissent within its performance and reporting system. We must not only reward successful ideas but work out how to protect those who try and fail. The nature of creativity means that failure and fruitless ideas outnumber successful ideas. Perhaps we judge personnel performance by the attributes and behaviours that enable creativity and critical thinking that contribute to strategic outcomes. The innovation process Investing in refining the Capability Life Cycle process to be effective for accelerated innovation is necessary. In my experience, we have useful processes for prototyping but less effective mechanisms for converting the prototypes into sustainable capabilities or enablers. The link between Jericho-type initiatives and the Integrated Investment Program can be strengthened and articulated in a better way to those who seek to innovate. We must persist with making the process adequately robust and capable of producing outcomes that remain relevant when eventually delivered. Conclusion The RAAF is being challenged to shift its locus of organisational security from the status quo to the psychological safety borne from leadership. This means we will know when the tried and true is not enough, or even dangerous, we will feel safe speaking up and be empowered to do something about it. This reframes the AFSTRAT from an existential crisis to an opportunity for us to better serve the nation. Once we see opportunity for change and cultivate psychologically safe teams, the addition of creativity will spark innovation. Many initiatives and concepts have been presented that will either promote critique of unhealthy status quo or support creativity to innovate. Achieving the vision set out by AFSTRAT will lay the foundations for the RAAF to better contribute air and space power effects for the next generation. Squadron Leader Chris Kourloufas is an Aeronautical Engineering Officer in the RAAF. He holds a Master of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a Master of Engineering Research. He currently works within Logistics Branch - Air Force in a role dedicated to Maintenance Strategy and Innovation. His creative pursuits include Jazz improvisation and landscaping. [1] F. Johansson, The Medici Effect (Boston, MA: Havard Business Review Press, 2017). [2] A. Grant, Originals (London: WH Allen, 2016). [3] M. Vego, ‘On Military Creativity,’ Joint Force Quarterly 70 (2013), pp. 83-90. [4] Grant, Originals. [5] Johansson, The Medici Effect. [6] NATO, Science and Technology Trends 2020-2040: Exploring the S&T Edge (Brussels: NATO Science and Technology Organisation, 2020). [7] A.K. Cronin, Power To The People (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). [8] M.M. Duguid, and J.A. Goncalo, ‘Squeezed in the middle: The middle status trade creativity for focus,’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 109, no. 4 (2015), pp. 589-603 [9] Grant, Originals. [10] Vego, ‘On Military Creativity.’ pp. 83-90. [11] Hans van der Loo and J. Beks, ‘Psychological Safety: an introduction,’ Psychological Safety, 6 May 2020. [12] Grant, Originals. [13] Johansson, The Medici Effect.

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