Like all aspects of the ADF, the Air Force has the need to contribute and enable Australia’s larger national power strategies. Fundamentally, Air Force is tasked with ‘preparing air power to enable the joint force in peace and war’. In order to contribute to the larger joint force we must be able to work with our counterparts in Army and Navy and be able to complement their skills, people and assets. This allows us to contribute on a domestic scale however we must also achieve this same collaboration with our international partners and defence forces. Long gone are the days when aviators would deploy as the Air Force, for now we deploy as Joint Task Forces or in coalitions with other military forces, guided under campaign plans that are designed to contribute to and enable Australia’s larger national power strategies.
Air Force Contribution - Assets or People?
In comparison to Army, Navy and our international partners, the RAAF is a relatively small Air Force. This is both from a personnel perspective and the assets we utilise. This means that any contribution we make to Joint Force Effects needs to be innovative, smart and impactful. The RAAF cannot generate the ‘mass’ that other international partners can; however, we are able to use our assets in original ways to still have an impact. By investing in platforms such as the newly-minted MQ-28 Ghost Bat and the current E-7 Wedgetail, we are able to determine outcomes without needing the manpower of other forces. We also need to continue to create and build our own sovereign capabilities to improve assets and training.
For example, by operating the MQ-4C Triton, the RAAF provides a high altitude, long endurance asset to operations such as OP RESOLUTE. In this operation, the RAAF works with the RAN by providing increased surveillance along Australia’s coastlines and in turn amplifies the effectiveness of the operation in achieving its mission intents. A Triton may not be able to conduct boarding parties or turn around illegal vessels as a Navy ship can, but it does provide far more situational awareness to the sailors at sea so that they can protect Australia’s national interests. In this way, our information integration allows more effective outcomes despite these two services using different capabilities and processes.
However, the importance of people within the RAAF cannot be downplayed. Without people there are no assets or the ability to use those assets properly. Therefore retention, training, morale, etc are incredibly important to any contribution the RAAF makes to the larger Joint Force effects. Our people need to be trained to be adaptable, innovative and productive leaders—especially given our reliance on such a small workforce. Senior leaders need to be aware of the importance of their people and junior leaders need to empower their teams to work efficiently and effectively.
Air Force Contribution – Humanitarian Work and Military Effects
Air Force has an important role to play in humanitarian taskings, both domestically and internationally. In the last couple of years we have contributed to Joint Force effects domestically with taskings for COVID Assist, Flood Assist, etc. This contribution has greatly increased the support and trust of the Australian public and has led to a sort of ‘pact’ that we will be there to support the public in the future. This support allows us to then effectively carry out our duties in military and warfighting taskings. We also play a role with humanitarian tasks internationally, such as providing aid to South Pacific nations. This contribution gains the trust of those local populations that Australia will protect their interests too, and counter acts the intent of other countries in the region with alternative aspirations.
While humanitarian taskings are certainly important, the main focus of the RAAF should still be our contribution to the larger warfighting capability of the ADF and achieving national power outcomes by building our people and assets to be able to effectively contribute to this strategy. Once again, this can be achieved by solid training, strong leadership, and innovative thinking. Collaboration with our colleagues in Army and Navy is vitally important. We need to train together to make sure all aspects work cohesively in a war time situation. Due to Australia’s geography and the current regional threats, the ability of the RAAF and Navy to work together is of the greatest importance. Australia’s defence strategy will largely rely on a naval strategy with the RAAF offering air support to the larger force. The importance of the Army, as they functioned in a traditional war, is no longer of the same importance. However, it should be noted that a balanced ADF is still required and Army has its role to play in any future conflict, whether this be through deterring enemy forces on Australia’s mainland, or contributing to the larger naval strategy.
As junior leaders within the RAAF it is important to know our contribution to Joint Force effects of the larger national power strategy. However, we are not currently in positions to make meaningful decisions at a strategic level. The focus should be on having an awareness of the strategic plan but knowing how our teams contribute at a tactical and operational level. We need to create environments where our teams are adaptable, flexible and knowledgeable, so that when it is required they can step up and make a meaningful contribution to the larger RAAF. As junior leaders we should also be looking for opportunities to educate our senior leaders on the capabilities of our teams and their work. By promoting their ideas to higher levels for consideration and instilling a trust in our teams, they know what they are doing and can be relied on to make an impact. If senior leaders accept these contributions they receive the benefits of both more diverse and innovative ideas and also instil trust in their teams by ensuring they know their senior leaders rely them, listen to them and that they do in fact make meaningful impacts to the Joint Force.