In the coming decades there is a reasonable likelihood that the global supply of oil will be insufficient to meet growing worldwide demand. There is a growing consensus that the world is now embarking upon a great oil transition, which is likely to have serious implications for a civilisation fundamentally reliant on, and structured for cheap and abundant oil-based energy. Some researchers suggest that the oil transition could give rise to oil shortages, volatile oil markets, economic dislocation, international geopolitical strife and an increase in the militarisation of energy security.
Australia relies on the global economy and geopolitical stability for its continued national security. This global dependence ensures that Australia will not be immune to the effects of the oil transition, and the country’s energy security may well decline as a result.
In support of national security the Royal Australian Air Force is required to deliver air power effects for Australia’s interests; an energy-intensive activity almost completely reliant on oil-based liquid fuels. Air Force’s ability to achieve its mission will be affected by the oil transition in a variety of ways during the period 2016-2035, but the risks are currently poorly understood.
As the Chief of Air Force Fellow, Wing Commander Mia Clapton has sought to address the current gap in understanding by reviewing the relevant literature and analysing Australian Government and Defence policy. Her study has identified that the oil transition presents a classic risk management problem, and where national security meets energy security, Australia is vulnerable. Similarly, Australian Government policy fails to address the link between economic security, energy security and national security. Importantly, the study concluded that declining energy security will challenge Air Force’s ability to achieve its mission in the coming decades.
WGCDR Mia Clapton is an Aerospace Engineer with 21 years of service with the RAAF. She first became interested in energy security whilst posted as a RAAF F/A-18 Hornet Technical Liaison Officer with the United States Navy in San Diego, California. The Air Attaché in Washington DC sponsored her to attend the 2010 USAF Energy Forum, where the focus was on energy as an operations enabler. Her essay titled ‘Energy Security as a key challenge for Air Power’ earned her a highly commended in the 2010 CAF essay competition and personal encouragement from then Air Marshal Binskin to continue her research on the subject. In 2014, WGCDR Clapton was awarded the Chief of Air Force Fellowship and she spent the next two years undertaking research for a Masters of Philosophy on the subject of energy security and air power. Her thesis is titled ‘Delivering Air Power through the Next Great Energy Transition: Risks to the Air Force Mission from Declining Energy Security’.