The Role of History in Educating Air Power Strategists

The Role of History in Educating Air Power Strategists

By Dr Ross Mahoney

Editorial Note: On 19 September 2018, our editor, Dr Ross Mahoney delivered a paper on the subject of ‘The Role of History in Educating Air Power Strategists’ at a seminar organised by the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Air Power Development Centre in Canberra. A precis of this paper was published in the Pathfinder bulletin issued by APDC, which can be found here. The Pathfinder series covers a range of issue from strategy, historical analyses, operations, administration, logistics, education and training, people, command and control, technology to name a few. Irrespective of the subject though, Pathfinders will always be focused on the relevance to air power; they are not intended to be just a narrative but deliver a measure of analysis. Apart from the addition of some minor changes to make this precis applicable to From Balloons to Drones as well as the inclusion of footnotes and further reading suggestions, this article appears as published in Pathfinder. We are grateful to APDC for permission to re-publish the piece, and the views in this article and the associated Pathfinder are not necessarily those of the RAAF.

‘[t]he study of military history lies at the foundation of all sound military conclusions and practice.’

Rear-Admiral A.T. Mahan, ‘The Naval War College,’ The North American Review, (1912)[1]

‘The word history carries two meanings […] It refers both to what actually happened in the past and to the representation of that past in the work of historians.’

John Tosh, The Pursuit of History, Third Edition, (1999)[2]

What is history? What is its relevance to an air power strategist? These are important questions; however, as Richard Muller, a senior member of the faculty at the US Air Force’s School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, reflected in 2016, ‘as a rule air forces have not embraced historical study to the same extent as have their army or navy counterparts.’[3] Nevertheless, in 1912, a year after an Italian aeroplane dropped the first ‘bomb’ over Libya, noted US naval historian and strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan reflected on the link between military history and ‘sound military conclusions.’ However, history does not provide clear lessons. Nevertheless, the study of the past does offer a lens through which to analyse, understand and reflect on the challenges currently faced by modern air forces.

Air Corps Tactical School
The Air Corps Tactical School (created as the Air Service Field Officers School in 1920) went beyond its mandate of training officers to also become an engine for air power theory development in the interwar period. (Source: US Air Force Air University)

This article considers some of the issues related to applied military history beginning with an outline of the purpose of history and the challenges of applying the past to the present. It also considers how air forces have used the study of the past as a tool for education while concluding with some tentative thoughts on how history can be used to educate strategists in the continuing challenge to achieve professional mastery.[4]

To start with, the term ‘education’ is used in this narrative in a broad context and incorporates both formal and informal learning. Similarly, the term ‘strategist’ is used in a collegiate manner and assumes that modern air forces seek personnel who are professional masters, well-versed in the core knowledge that underpins the application of air power.

As the British historian John Tosh reflected, the term history is ambiguous at best. Is history a collection of facts related to what has happened or is it the scholarly discussion and representation of the past? If the latter statement is accepted as being correct, then it can also be assumed that the interpretation of the past is an argument without an end. While a hackneyed observation, history is a dynamic field of study, one where historians continually re-examine evidence and reinterpret the past. Linked to this is the extent of historical information available to historians and, by default, strategists who seek to apply lessons from the past to the present. The archival records and evidence that underpin the interpretation of the past are normally incomplete. For example, the National Archives of Australia only preserves a small amount of the material generated by the Australian Government.

Moving beyond the above understanding of history, the field of military history can be split into three subfields: popular, academic, and applied history.[5] There is a degree of overlap between the latter two. The main criticism of applied military history is that it is a form of weaponising the past to cater for the present.[6] Underpinning this criticism is a view that those writing such history do so without sufficient understanding of the context in seeking to deduce lessons learnt. Unfortunately, this criticism is currently directed at academics working at institutions delivering professional military education. These institutions use history to illuminate and provide context to the ambiguous challenges that officers attending them are likely to confront in the future.

Historically, the criticism of weaponising the past does carry some weight, and therefore air power strategists could be criticised for the poor use of history to support their arguments. Indeed, as Sir Michael Howard, a distinguished military historian, noted in his 1961 lecture on ‘The Use and Abuse of Military History’:

[W]hen great [interwar] pioneers of air war…advocated striking at the homeland and at the morale of the enemy people…they were basing their conclusions on their interpretation of past wars’. (emphasis added)[7]

Warden

More recently, Colonel (retired) John Warden III’s book, The Air Campaign, has been criticised for his use of a selective reading of history to fit the theory being propounded in it.[8] Admittedly, Warden is not a historian. However, such selective use of history becomes problematic to the broader task of delivering professional education when such texts appear in, for example, Staff College reading lists where they can reinforce a narrow, and at times wrong, understanding of some of the officers they are meant to educate. Despite this criticism, it is clear that many air power thinkers have recognised the value of a broad reading of history. For example, in a 1921 article on ‘Strategy and Air Strategy,’ Group Captain John Chamier of the Royal Air Force reflected on the challenge of deducing appropriate principles for the use of air power given the brief history of air warfare till then. Nevertheless, Chamier recognised that ‘strategic principles are derived from the study of history’, and he recognised that examples from ‘naval and military strategy’ could provide the necessary framework for a discussion of ‘air strategy.’[9]

While history and the application of its lessons by air forces is fraught with challenges, its importance as a didactic tool for the military cannot be underestimated. Indeed, the study of history has been, and remains, an element of the curricula at educational establishments of most air forces. However, considered in a broad manner, the study of history has been unbalanced. For example, in the late-1940s and 1950s, history and related subjects featured little on the curriculum at the RAAF College. As Alan Stephens has noted, the RAAF of this period identified itself as a ‘narrow technocracy’ with knowledge of the Air Force’s core business to be deduced from its ‘technical components’ rather than a ‘study of its history and ideas.’[10]

To conclude, there are several areas where the contemporary study of history plays a key role in the education of air power theorists and strategists. Perhaps most important is that a deep and contextual study of history provides an important understanding for military personnel seeking to gain professional mastery of the profession of arms. Indeed, if it is accepted that the aim of learning is to develop the cognitive ability to understand and deal with ambiguity, rather than to provide clear-cut answers to current problems, then the study of history has a role to play.

The skills associated with historical analysis refines human cognitive areas such as the ability to make considered judgements. An important contributor to the effectiveness of this learning process has been the increasing civilianisation of the academic delivery at institutions catering to professional military education. At a practical level, the use of Staff Rides as a learning tool could also ensure that history could be used as a means to explore ideas outside of the confines of the traditional education environment. However, this process also has its own challenges.[11] In the final analysis, Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely’s remark that the study of history needs to form an essential part of a ‘balanced diet’ of education for the military professional in order for them to develop the knowledge to be effective, rings completely true.[12]

Key Points

  1. Even though history may not provide clear lessons, the study of the past offers a lens through which to analyse, understand and reflect on the challenges currently faced by modern air forces;
  2. History could be considered a rather dynamic field of study, one where historians continually re-examine evidence and re-interpret the past;
  3. It is recognised that ‘strategic principles are derived from the study of history.’

Further Reading

  • Gray, Peter, ‘Why Study Military History?,’ Defence Studies, 5:1 (2005), pp. 151-64.
  • Muller, Richard R., ‘The Airpower Historian and the Education of Strategists’ in Bailey Jr., Richard J., Forsyth Jr., James W., and Yeisley, Mark O., (eds.), Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2016).
  • Murray, Williamson, and Sinnreich, Richard Hart (eds.), The Past as Prologue: The Importance of History to the Military Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Dr Ross Mahoney is the editor and owner of From Balloons to Drones as well as being an independent historian and defence specialist based in Australia. He is a graduate of the University of Birmingham (MPhil and PhD) and the University of Wolverhampton (PGCE and BA). His research interests include the history of war in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, air power and the history of air warfare, and the social and cultural history of armed forces. To date, he has published several chapters and articles, edited two books, and delivered papers on three continents. He is an Assistant Director of the Second World War Research Group. He can be found on Twitter at @airpowerhistory.

Header Image: An Architect’s perspective drawing of the proposed RAF (Cadet) College at Cranwell. (Source: © IWM ((MOW) C 1081))

[1] Rear-Admiral A.T. Mahan, ‘The Naval War College,’ The North American Review, 196:680 (1912), p. 78.

[2] John Tosh, The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods and New Directions in the Study of Modern History, Third Edition (Harlow: Pearson Education, 1999), p. viii.

[3] Richard R. Muller, ‘The Airpower Historian and the Education of Strategists’ in Richard J. Bailey Jr., James W. Forsyth Jr., and Mark O. Yeisley (eds.), Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2016), p. 113.

[4] On professional mastery in air forces, see: Sanu Kainikara, ‘Professional Mastery and Air Power Education,’ Working Paper, 33 (Canberra: RAAF Air Power Development Centre, 2011).

[5] John A. Lynn III, ‘Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History,’ Academic Questions, 21:1 (2008), p. 20.

[6] Kim Wagner, ‘Seeing Like a Soldier: The Amritsar Massacre and the Politics of Military History,’ in Martin Thomas and Gareth Curless (eds), Decolonization and Conflict: Colonial Comparisons and Conflicts (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), pp. 25-7.

[7] Michael Howard, ‘The Use and Abuse of Military History (lecture),’ Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, 107:625 (1962), p. 10.

[8] John Andreas Olsen, John Warden and the Renaissance of American Air Power (Washington DC: Potomac Books, 2007), pp. 78-9. In a similar vein to Warden, Colonel John Boyd’s work ‘cherry-picked’ history ‘to provide illustrations and empirical validation for patterns he observed in combat.’ However, it should be recognised that Boyd was an airman who was a general strategist rather than an air power thinker per se, though his ideas do have applicability to the air domain. See: Frans Osinga, ‘The Enemy as a Complex Adaptive System: John Boyd and Airpower in the Postmodern Era’ in John Andreas Olsen (ed.), Airpower Reborn: The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2015), pp. 53-4.

[9] Group Captain J.A. Chamier, ‘Strategy and Air Strategy,’ Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, 66 (1921), p. 641.

[10] Alan Stephens, The Australian Centenary History of Defence: Volume II – The Royal Australian Air Force (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 188.

[11] On the challenges associated with staff rides, see: Brigadier R.A.M.S. Melvin British Army, ‘Contemporary Battlefield Tours and Staff Rides: A Military Practitioner’s View,’ Defence Studies, 5:1 (2005), pp. 59-80,Nick Lloyd, ‘Battlefield Tours and Staff Rides: A Useful Learning Experience?,’ Teaching in Higher Education, 14:2 (2009), pp. 175-84.

[12] John P. Kiszely, ‘The Relevance of History to the Military Profession: A British View’ in Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich (eds.), The Past as Prologue: The Importance of History to the Military Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 32.

Call for Contributors – From Balloons to Drones

Call for Contributors – From Balloons to Drones

Established in 2016, From Balloons to Drones is a scholarly online platform that provides analysis and debate about air power history, theory, and contemporary operations in their broadest sense including space and cyber power. Air power is to be understood broadly, encompassing not only the history of air warfare, including social and cultural aspects but also related fields such as archaeology, international relations, strategic studies, law and ethics.

Since its emergence, air power has increasingly become the preferred form of military power for many governments. However, the application and development of air power is controversial and often misunderstood. To remedy this, From Balloons to Drones seeks to provide analysis and debate about air power through the publication of articles, research notes, commentary, book reviews, and historic book reviews.

From Balloons to Drones welcomes and encourages potential submissions from postgraduates, academics, and practitioners involved in researching the subject of air power.

Submissions can take the following forms:

  • ArticlesFrom Balloons to Drones publishes informative articles on air power that range from historical pieces to the analysis of contemporary challenges. These well-researched articles should attempt to bridge a gap between the specialist and the non-specialist They should be around c.2,000 words, though From Balloons to Drones will accept larger pieces and we reserve the right to publish them in parts.
  • Air War BooksFrom Balloons to Drones publishes a series of review articles that examine the top ten books that have influenced writers on air power.
  • CommentariesFrom Balloons to Drones publishes opinion pieces on up-to-date news on either contemporary or historical subjects. These should be no longer than c.1,000 words.
  • Research NotesFrom Balloons to Drones publishes research notes related to contributor’s current research projects. These take the form of more informal pieces and can be a discussion of a source or a note on a recent research theme. These should be c.500 to 1,000 words.
  • Book ReviewsFrom Balloons to Drones publishes occasional book reviews that aim to be an accessible collection of appraisals of recent publications about air power.
  • Historic Book Reviews From Balloons to Drones publishes occasional historic book reviews that aim to be an accessible collection of open access appraisals of critical historic publications about air power history, theory, and practice.

Submissions should be submitted in Word format and emailed to the address below with ‘SUBMISSION’ in the subject line. Also, please include a 50-100-word biography with your submission. References can be used, and please be careful to explain any jargon. However, if you are not sure if your idea fits our requirements, then please email us with ‘POTENTIAL SUBMISSION’ in the subject line to discuss.

If you are interested in contributing, please email our editor, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or visit our webpage here:- https://balloonstodrones.com/

#Editorial – Air Power Reading List

#Editorial – Air Power Reading List

By Dr Ross Mahoney

Last week, From Balloons to Drones launched its own air power reading list. Many of the world’s air forces release an annual reading list that contains crucial volumes that those services believe its members should read as part of their professional development. Indeed, as the Royal Air Force’s Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier noted in the RAF’s recently launched 2018 reading list; ‘[R]eading, study and debate form a fundamental component of developing our collective intellectual capital.’[1]

However, the list we have published reflects the original aims of From Balloons to Drones. From Balloons to Drones was established as an online platform that seeks to provide analysis and debate about air power history, theory, and contemporary operations in their broadest sense including space and cyber power. While From Balloons to Drones has a place within the online ecosphere of the profession of arms network, this is not the websites primary purpose. From Balloons to Drones has always aspired to bridge the gap between several interested audiences ranging from civilian academics, interested lay readers as well the military. Given this broader aim, the reading list we published is representative of that goal.

Crucially, this curated bibliography is by no means comprehensive, and it is essential to make clear that this has been done on purpose. This is for two reasons. First, it is expected that the reading list will be organic and grow over time. This links to the second reason, which is the source of the titles on the list. The list has been curated from our ‘Air War Books’ series and published book reviews. As such, the list is representative of the choices made by those air power historians who have contributed to our ‘Air War Books’ series to date. Indeed, as several people noted on our Twitter feed, there is a lack of books on naval or maritime air power, and this obviously reflects the interests of the contributors who have so far contributed to the aforementioned series. Therefore, as more contributions are added to the ‘Air War Books’ series, then more titles will be added to the list where applicable. In a similar vein, as we publish more book reviews on essential new and historic air power titles, we will add these to the list.

At some point, we may cull the list, but for now, we hope that you enjoy the list and get something useful out of it.

Header Image: Forward air controllers in PC-9 aircraft fly in support of Exercise PITCH BLACK 2018. These aircraft are operated by the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 4 Squadron. (Source: Australian Department of Defence)

[1] Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hiller, ‘Foreword’ in CAS’ Reading List 2018 (Shrivenham: RAF Centre for Air Power Studies, 2018).

#AirWarBooks – Dr Randall Wakelam

#AirWarBooks – Dr Randall Wakelam

Editorial Note: In the fourth instalment of ‘Air War Books,’ Dr Randall Wakelam discusses the ten books that have influenced and shaped his writing as an air power historian. If you are interested in contributing to this series or From Balloons to Drones more generally, find out how here.

Since joining the Air Force more than 45 years ago, I have found that professional education for those working with air power has not been a forte of Canada’s Air Force. Much of what I have learned, I have done so out of curiosity and by selecting graduate courses and by doing graduate research that allowed me to satisfy my curiosity and develop a better understanding of air power. While I am critical of this circumstance in Canada I do not think it is unique; there are too many editorials, op-eds and notes from chiefs of service that attempt to get aviators to read if not write.

Having taught air power at the Canadian Forces College and now at an undergraduate and graduate level to officer cadets and civilian students, I continue to learn. In this teaching, I think I am comfortable with the notion that air power concepts introduced a century ago have now reached maturity regarding what air power effects can be applied and how. What is constantly in flux is the larger Geopolitical context of why and when one wants to apply air power effects.

The one other factor that I would want to bring into the formulation of this list is my desire to get inside the thinking processes of those who have developed air power concepts and then applied them. Thus, several the titles that you will see below are either biographies or studies of the human condition. In the case of biographies, I fully recognise that looking at the life stories of some of these actors comes with risks. Case studies of human and personnel questions are perhaps less risky but not without risk.

And now to the list, which is most certainly too short to do justice to the many other works that I have found important to me.

Philip Meilinger (ed.), The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1997). This volume is without question the one work that I keep going back to. Admittedly written from a United States Air Force (USAF) perspective I have found the work balanced and useful in seeing the ‘long duree’ of air power thought and its application. I first read the book just after it came out but even now, twenty years later, do not find it particularly dated. Of great value is I.B. Holley’s summary and commentary. His criticism that the work ignores naval aviation serves as a caution to readers that while highly valuable the volume does have its limitations.

John Andreas Olsen (ed.), A History of Air Warfare (Washington D.C.: Potomac, 2010). This work fills the void of the last two decades since Paths of Heaven was published and provides readers with a different treatment of many of the same ideas and events presented in the former. For that reason, I think it provides a solid bookend to balance the USAF compendium. Also, the reader gets a good dose, perhaps too good of the air campaigns of the post-Cold War decades and three useful studies of current and future themes, most importantly small wars and space. The penultimate chapter, by Martin van Creveld, balances Holley’s commentary and leaves the reader with the ultimate question: has the age of air power come and gone?

Allan D. English, Understanding Military Culture: A Canadian Perspective (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004). When I reviewed English’s book about a decade ago, I wrote that it was, for me at least, a volume that captured essential ideas about military culture, ideas that I might have benefited from even from my first days in uniform. In a relatively short but well-focused study, English laid out the elements of culture, looked at them through the lens of the USAF and then from the perspective of the Canadian air arm. At that time there was no the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), as there had been up to the 1960s and as there is again today. The absences of that organisational title and the emotional trappings of an independent air service were all the more reason to read English’s book at the time. The comings and goings of organisations, from squadron to air forces that continue in all nations made and makes this work incredibly insightful.

Henry Probert, Bomber Harris: His Life & Times (Aylesbury: Greenhill Books, 2001). For a long time, I wanted to attempt to understand the thinking of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris. Was he the wanton killer of German civilians that he was accused of being? How did he apparently hold the loyalty of his aviators? Probert’s study of the man gave me the answers that others did not. Bullheaded to the point of obstinacy – certainly more than not – but he did set out to apply the concepts and technology available to him to accomplish the task set for Bomber Command. Moreover, in this, we see not bombast alone but also a sharp intellect and a degree of flexibility and accommodation (that I would not have expected) and above all a desire to save the lives of his crews, or at least make their sacrifices count. Probert showed me Harris’ strengths and weaknesses, giving me a good picture of what any operational level leader might look like, warts and all.

Denis Richards, Portal of Hungerford (Tintern, MON: William Heinemann, 1977). If Harris is a good case study in operational level leadership, then Denis Richards biography of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Portal makes a good companion. Few of us will ever get to work at or even observe the work of senior air force leaders or to have exposure to the sorts of institutional level challenges they face, both within their service and across governments and coalitions. This book gives us that access, and it allows us to put the better-known struggles of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in its formative years into a more personal context where, as in the case of Harris, personal strengths and weaknesses – the human factor – contribute to success or precipitates failure.

Dewitt S. Copp, A Few Great Captains: The Men and Events That Shaped the Development of U.S. Air Power (McLean, VA: EPM Publications, 1989). This work has been my only deep dive into the USAF, and as I began to think more about culture, doctrines and effects, it seemed to be important to study not just one man or a few, but rather the birth and evolution of an air power community. I believe I found that in this work. It looks at the people and their professional growth, ideas, experiences, small ‘P’ politics and larger organisational conflicts.

John J. Zentner, The Art of Wing Leadership and Aircrew Morale in Combat, CADRE Paper no. 11 (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 2001). This set of case studies looks at leadership in a flying organisation, arguably one of the hardest notions to explain to army and naval officers who generally lead within plain sight of their followers. Moreover, to be honest, how one leads in the air is often hard to describe, or at least it was before the recent decades of air operations, to aviators. Effective leadership should promote high morale, and Zentner posited that that strong morale is linked to aircrew control over the tactics they are to use in the air. During a period of relative global calm, he set out to test his concept in three case studies. He looked at two fighter leaders, one German and one American in the Second World War, and for a third case flows the leadership of a B-52 Wing Commander during the Vietnam War.

Allan D. English, The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Aircrew, 1939-1945 (Montreal: McGill Queen’s University Press, 1996). This work is focused on the personnel issues of the RAF and the RCAF, and thus we find an investigation into an aspect of air warfare every bit as important as technologies. English sets out to explore and comment on the impact of what today we recognise as post-traumatic stress disorder on Bomber Command aircrew. To do this he looks at the Royal Flying Corps experiences of recruiting and training during the First World War and how these, and societal cultural norms were adopted by the RAF and to a lesser extent the RCAF in the Second World War. He shows the significant difference in the policy adopted by the RCAF and how rehabilitation of stress casualties rather than their banishment could safeguard critical human resources.

Robin Higham and Steven J. Harris (eds.), Why Air Forces Fail: The Anatomy of Defeat (Lexington, KT: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006). Not every air campaign is a success and not every air service ensures the security of its home nation. In studying failures Higham and Harris edited volume expose us to valuable experiences of things gone wrong. More important than the various well researched and presented case studies is the introduction where the editors lay down a simple truth: ‘other things being equal’ the better air power ‘should’ prevail. They then go on to look at the range of ‘other things’ and here is the true value of the collection: the reader soon realises, or should, that there are almost countless factors in play that can cripple an air force, often long before a conflict begins. To codify these factors, Higham adapts Mahan’s characteristics of a maritime nation to identify where and how air power nations can and have failed.

Robert Grattan, The Origins of Air War: The Development of Military Air Strategy in World War I  (London: IB Tauris, 2009). Grattan, an RAF navigator, turned business professor in his later years, presents a study of air arms in the First World War. He argues that the leaders, flyers and even politicians and industrialists had nothing to go on and so national air arms were sort of a ‘design build’ enterprise with rapid advancement through trial and error. He looks at aircraft, weapons, personnel and tactics studying the advancements of each in relation to the others. The use of the word ‘strategy’ in his title is a bit misleading; ‘air power concepts’ would more accurately describe his focus in my view.

Dr Randall Wakelam teaches military and air power history at the Royal Military College of Canada. After graduating from RMC in 1975 he flew helicopters for the Army, becoming CO of 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in 1991. Along the way, he also had staff appointments in aircraft procurement and language training policy. Since 1993 he has been an educator, first in uniform at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto and now at RMC. His research and publishing focus on air power and military education.

Header Image: A group of pilots of No. 1 Squadron RCAF, gather around one of their Hawker Hurricane Mark Is at Prestwick, Scotland, c. October 1940. The squadron’s commander, Squadron Leader E.A. McNab, stands fifth from the right, wearing a forage cap. (Source: © IWM (CH 1733))

If you would like to contribute to From Balloons to Drones, then visit our submissions page here to find out how.

#Commentary – Going Back to the Future with Insurgent Air Power

#Commentary – Going Back to the Future with Insurgent Air Power

By Dr Jacob Stoil

From the British conception of air policing to the myriad of coalition air assets deployed as part Operation Inherent Resolve, counterinsurgents have enjoyed their ability to be the sole force in skies and the plethora of benefits that brings. Throughout late 20th and early 21st century, there have been rare instances where insurgents have tried to either contest this or at the very least exploit the air domain for their operations. These include the development and deployment of the ‘Air Tigers’ of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil and Eelam (LTTE) and the more recent use of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) by a host of actors including ISIS and Hezbollah. LTTE’s attempts were largely ineffective, and ISIS’s small UAVs have been only deployed for tactical effects. Assumedly developing a counter to this ISIS threat will be part of the broader effort to deal with the UAV threat writ large. In Gaza, Hamas has developed something different and is going back in time technologically to exploit the hybrid space and launch an air campaign.

In late May 2018 Israeli security forces identified an explosive-laden UAV launched by one of the militant groups from the Gaza strip. In the same month, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) destroyed a Hamas base containing unmanned underwater vehicles. Both these capabilities while impressive represent an evolution of what combatants have already observed the world over. Militant groups increasingly have the capabilities to employ low-cost unmanned systems in a variety of domains. The interesting evolution out of Gaza strip is not the use of advanced technology by militant groups but a return to simple and cheap solutions.

Over the past month, militants in Gaza have launched numerous strikes using incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons. These devices come in several forms; some are kites released on to the wind current carrying flaming material and accelerant dangling from a rope. Others are helium balloons (or helium-filled condoms) with trailing flaming materials and accelerant. Although there are variations most of these carry metallic mesh pouches contacting burning oil-soaked rags or coal. These take advantage of the dry summer conditions in Southern Israel to spark fires out of proportion to the amount of accelerant. In addition to these, there are varieties with small impact based explosive devices attached and more recently explosive devices designed to litter the ground.

This is the past returning. During the Second World War, the Japanese military was unable to bomb the mainland US and turned to balloons with incendiary devices as an attempt at a solution. By 20 June 2018, 75 days of balloon and kite attacks had seen over 700 attacks which burned over 6,100 acres of primarily agricultural land causing millions of dollars of damage. For Israel damage to its agricultural sector presents a serious threat given the relatively small amount of arable and pasturable land.

Iron_Dome_Battery_Deployed_Near_Ashkelon
An Iron Dome battery at Ashkelon, c. 2011 (Source: Wikimedia)

The balloon and kite launched devices present significant challenges to the Israeli military (IDF). Due to their low signature, they are harder to detect than UCAVs. Unlike rockets and mortars, they do not follow a set trajectory making counter battery fire more difficult. They are cheap and therefore employing short-range air defence such as Iron Dome makes little sense. The helium-filled condoms which trail burning liquids or rags may only cost as much as the helium (condoms are distributed in Gaza by the Palestinian Authority and international NGOs) while Iron Dome costs near $100,000 per launch. Other forms of Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar systems rely on a more prominent radar profile and are designed for point defence not protecting a whole broader.

The biggest challenge they pose may result from their place in the narrative domain. Often launched by teams including children, balloons and kites do not seem as threatening as other, more significant, more conventional types of attacks. Targeting those who launch them with lethal force would likely play poorly in the media and the international community overall. Unlike rockets and mortars, kites, and balloons – no matter the threat they may pose – are not often thought of within the panoply of tools of war. In this way, they are emblematic of an entire strategy – namely causing as much strategic threat as possible while remaining below the threshold of escalation. In his 1991 book The Transformation of War, Martin van Creveld identified the challenge this strategy poses to conventional state militaries stating: ‘Since fighting the weak is sordid by definition, over time the effect of such a struggle is to put the strong into an intolerable position.’[1] The kite and balloon attacks represent a new form of air power for insurgent groups which takes advantage of exactly this dynamic. As of now these attacks also provide a narrative victory to the militant groups allowing them to showcase in video and photo their ability to reach out and attack Israel. If the success of the balloon and kite attacks continues, we can safely assume they will spread. The more they are featured in regional media and militant media the more likely this is to happen.

So what options exist to counter this counter this new aerial threat? Thus far the IDF has looked to technological solutions deploying cheap commercial UAVs to bring down the kites and the balloons through physical contact. The Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported that this has had mixed results. The IDF has recently deployed a new system called Sky Spotter. The IDF employs this electro-optical system, to identify and provide an alert of incoming attacks mitigating the damage caused. Sky Spotter also serves to guide defenders to the incoming targets. There are plans to equip Sky Spotter with a laser system or to the ability to autonomously vector mini-UAVs. In the meantime, with an increase in the threat, some Israeli officials have suggested targeting those launching the attacks, and the IAF has begun firing warning strikes near those launching the attacks. As previously noted this tactic is rife with problems.

Another possible solution might be retaliating against targets and in doing so establishing deterrence. Although this might work in the unique operating environment of Gaza it is doubtful it would be as possible if another insurgency adopts this new use of air power globally. Just as lookouts may be more useful for identifying incoming attacks from balloons and kites than more high-tech radar, so too might defeating the threat requiring an examination of the past for inspiration. In the past, the best air defence consisted of layers of surface to air missiles (SAMs) and gun systems. These balloon and kite attacks exploit the intellectual and perhaps, even technical space, below the threshold for the employment of SAMs. Kites and balloons are vulnerable to gunfire and integrating rapid firing weapons aimed and operated by humans might provide a solution to this threat. Even this is not without problems as it potentially risks causing inadvertent casualties due to inaccuracy. Regardless, until a solution is found, it is likely insurgents will continue to exploit the air domain not only by developing drones but by evolving from drones to balloons.

Dr Jacob Stoil is an Assistant Professor of Military History at the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies where he serves as the author for the course ‘Anticipating the Future’. He is the Deputy Director of the Second World War Research Group for North America. Stoil holds a PhD from the University of Oxford, and an MA and BA from the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. He has research experience carrying out fieldwork in both Israel and the Horn of Africa. His most recent publications include Command and Irregular Indigenous Combat Forces in the Middle East and Africa’ in the Marine Corps University Journal, and ‘Martial Race and Indigenous Forces’ in Rob Johnson (ed.), The British Indian Army: Virtue and Necessity (2014). Additionally, he has authored analysis of contemporary operations and policy for the Journal of Military Operations, War on the Rocks, and From Balloons to Drones. Most recently he published an article on the spread of vehicle ramming attacks through West Point’s Modern War Institute and has a forthcoming in Le Vingtième Siècle article on indigenous forces in Palestine Mandate.

Header Image: A missile from an Israeli Iron Dome, launched during the Operation Pillar of Defense to intercept a missile coming from the Gaza strip, c. 2012. (Source: Wikimedia)

Disclaimer: The views presented here do not represent those of any contributors employer, funder, or government body.

If you would like to contribute to From Balloons to Drones, then visit our submissions page here to find out how.

[1] Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War (New York: The Free Press, 1991), p. 176.

#Editorial – From Balloons to Drones: Two Years On

#Editorial – From Balloons to Drones: Two Years On

By Dr Ross Mahoney

The other week I mentioned on Twitter that it had been two years since I had touted the idea of creating a group website dedicated to air power history, theory, and practice. While we might quibble about From Balloons to Drones date of birth, it was on 15 June 2016 that the first post announcing the creation of the site and calling for contributions was published. As such, it seems apropos to reflect on the past two years.

From Balloons to Drones started out with me as the only editor and we had a couple of dedicated contributors. I am pleased to say that three of those early dedicated contributors, Dr Brian Laslie, Dr Mike Hankins, and Alexander Fitzgerald-Black, have now come onboard as Assistant Editors. All our effort is, of course, done in addition to our other work away from the site. For example, recently, I moved to Australia from the UK and co-edited a special edition of the British Journal for Military History while Brian published his much-awaited book on General Laurence Kuter. Similarly, Alex published his first book on the air war over Sicily in 1943 while Mike completed his PhD on culture and technology in the United States Air Force (USAF) and has now moved to take up a position at the USAF Air Command and Staff College. Nonetheless, despite all these significant personnel and professional achievements, and with my Assistant Editors support, we continue to plan for the future and examine how we might grow the air power core community of interest.

As well as adding Brian, Mike, and Alex to the editorial team, From Balloons to Drones continues to grow regarding the number of contributors to the site; however, we are always looking to add new writers to the team. As such, if you are a postgraduate, academic, policymaker, member of the armed forces or a relevant professional involved in researching the subject of air power then take a moment and look at our submissions page to find out how you can get involved with the conversation.

RAF-T 3519
A pilot and his dog called ‘House’ (holding his master’s helmet in his mouth) walks away from a line of Gloster Javelin FAW.9s of No. 33 Squadron at RAF Middleton St George, c. 1962. (Source: © IWM (RAF-T 3519))

Statistics

What about statistics? Well, this is our ninety-fifth post, which, of course, means we are just five away from the magic century. Those 95 posts have consisted of articles, research notes, book reviews, commentaries, and the occasional editorial. We also started a new series of historic books reviews with the first one published here. All told, these posts, excluding this one, have totalled some 157,000 words, or roughly the equivalent of two monographs! We have published a wide variety of articles that have covered both historical and contemporary issues. The top five posts are:

  1. Major Tyson Wetzel, ‘Changing the USAF’s Aerial ‘Kill’ Criteria’;
  2. Justin Pyke, ‘Blinded by the Rising Sun? American Intelligence Assessments of Japanese Air Power, 1920-41: Part 1 – The 1920s’;
  3. Dr Michael Hankins, ‘Inventing the Enemy: Colonel Toon and the Memory of Fighter Combat in Vietnam’;
  4. Wing Commander André Adamson and Colonel Matthew Snyder, ‘The Challenges of Fifth-Generation Transformation’;
  5. Dr Jacob Stoil and Lieutenant Colonel Kyle C. Burley, ‘Arrows from the Ground – Or how an incident on 17 March 2017 may change the relationship between ground and air forces.’

We also worked on a great joint series of articles with our partners at The Central Blue. These articles supported a seminar that the Williams Foundation held in Canberra, Australia that looked at the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st century. This was a great partnership and something we are happy to explore again in the future.

The Future

Speaking of the future, there is, of course, the question of what comes next. Well, hopefully, more of the same. We are keen to build on the high-standards we believe that we have set for ourselves. However, we can only do that with your help. So, get in touch and contribute!

As noted, we have started a new series of historic book reviews, and this is an area that we are keen to develop. The series aims to be an accessible collection of appraisals of critical historic publications about air power history, theory, and practice. Many books hold a specific place in the study of air power because of the ideas they introduced or the insights they provided about the institutions responsible for delivering air power capabilities. The reviews will cover several different types of texts from those works that developed air power ideas to crucial memoirs.

Our essential development for the near future is that we are launching a series of podcasts with authors of new air power related titles. This is a project that Mike is working on for us, and we are excited about the prospect of offering something stimulating and hearing from those working in the field of air power studies. We will be realising more information about these podcasts once we have more details.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, myself, Brian, Mike, and Alex have made a concerted effort to develop closer ties not just between ourselves but between those interested in the subject of air power. We think we have done that, but we are always happy to hear any ideas that our readers might have for future developments. Finally, it is to you, our readers, and our contributors that we owe our greatest thanks. Without you, we would not exist. If you do not come and read the material that we publish, then there is little point in this endeavour. That you do come and read our ramblings is appreciated, and we hope you continue to do so for many years to come.

Dr Ross Mahoney is the Editor of From Balloons to Drones. He is an independent historian and defence specialist based in Australia. Between 2013 and 2017, he was the resident Historian at the Royal Air Force Museum, and he is a graduate of the University of Birmingham (MPhil and PhD) and the University of Wolverhampton (PGCE and BA). His research interests include the history of war in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, air power and the history of air warfare, and the social and cultural history of armed forces. To date, he has published several chapters and articles, edited two books, and delivered papers on three continents. He is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an Assistant Director of the Second World War Research Group. He blogs at Thoughts on Military History, and can be found on Twitter at @airpowerhistory.

Header Image: Crews of Fleet Air Arm Barracudas and Corsairs leaving the operations room of HMS Formidable after handing in reports of a strike, c. August 1944. (Source: © IWM (A 25454))

#BookReview – Limiting Risk in America’s Wars: Airpower, Asymmetrics, and a New Strategic Paradigm

#BookReview – Limiting Risk in America’s Wars: Airpower, Asymmetrics, and a New Strategic Paradigm

By Wing Commander Alec Tattersall

Phillip S. Meilinger, Limiting Risk in America’s Wars: Airpower, Asymmetrics, and a New Strategic Paradigm. Annapolis: MD, Naval Institute Press, 2017. Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography, Hbk. xx + 277 pp.

51RBmypL-cL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The US possesses the pre-eminent military force in the world today. The record of the US in conflict since the Second World War does not, however, reflect this capability pre-eminence. In a recent online article, Harlan Ullman noted that:

President John F. Kennedy tartly observed that there is no school for presidents [but] there needs to be a way to bring knowledge and understanding to bear on presidents’ decisions.[1]

Ullman’s concern is that President’s, and those that advise them, are ill prepared for determining political strategy in the context of using military force.

It would not be inappropriate to suggest that Phillip S. Meilinger’s new book is one way of addressing this knowledge deficit. In simple terms, this is a book about US strategy, or rather re-thinking US strategy in the context of protecting national interests subject to the usual pressures of representative democracy. Pressures that require amongst other things maintenance of public support, which is increasingly sensitive to the costs of war in both people and money. As such Meilinger advocates for a reorientation of US military policy to focus on its asymmetric strengths in areas such as air and naval power, special forces (SOF), increasingly pervasive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and intelligence analysis, against enemy vulnerabilities, and at the same time limit the States exposure to the risk of ‘casualties and cost’. While a simple concept, it is a shift away from current US strategic policy that follows Clausewitzian notions of using conventional ground forces against enemy strengths.

Meilinger starts by reminding us of the main problem to be addressed – designing military strategy to achieve political goals with the highest chance of decisive military victory but at the least cost. Railing against the Clausewitzian model of seeking decisive victory by attacking an enemy’s strength head-on, and its attendant higher cost and risk of failure, Meilinger reviews the work of several renowned strategists including Basil Liddell Hart, J.F.C. Fuller, Antoine Jomini and Sun Tzu to identify an alternative strategic direction. The common thread he draws from such strategists is of using an asymmetric advantage to strike at an enemy’s weakness while protecting your own. He draws upon the example of indirect second-front operations that he defines as:

[g]rand strategic flanking manoeuvres involving a major military force that strikes the enemy unexpectedly somewhere other than the main theatre of action (the source of the enemy’s strength) and is directed to achieving clear political objectives. (p.31)

Within the concept of second-fronts, Meilinger sees a basis to provide the US with an asymmetric advantage over enemies, with the promise of limiting the America’s exposure to casualties and cost.

Meilinger then examines both successful and unsuccessful historical incidences of second-fronts from the Peloponnesian war through to the Second World War to determine whether they are conceptually relevant today. This examination identifies that the reasons for opening a second-front exist today. These reasons are to avoid enemy strongpoints, increased morale, gaining an economic advantage, splitting an alliance, denying or gaining access to resources, the base for further operations, taking advantage of a unique strength. Importantly, the contemporary need for states to limit risk and preserve resources makes the most fundamental reason for adopting second-fronts. Also, the use and creation of asymmetry against an enemy by avoiding their strengths and attacking their vulnerabilities to limit risk and cost are of significant relevance to the American public. Similarly, those factors prominent in success or failure of second-fronts such as valid strategy, competent planning, competent leadership, accurate and timely intelligence, friendly or neutralised local population, secure lines of communication, maritime and air superiority, are also still current.

170415-F-QP712-0286C
F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighters land at RAF Lakenheath, 15 April 2017. The arrival of these aircraft marked the first F-35A fighter training deployment to the US European Command area of responsibility or any overseas location. The aircraft is assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (Source: US Department of Defense Images)

While many of these factors are commonly addressed, Meilinger raises a couple of issues that are perhaps core to the application of an appropriate alternative strategy to the achievement of desired political objectives. Success requires both sound policy and strategy, the setting of which requires the military leadership to provide appropriate advice and guidance to the government. Political objectives must be achievable through an aligned strategy that military planners design to maximise the chance of success while simultaneously minimising risk and costs. As such strategy and the forces to implement it should not be adversely affected by service culture or other factors incongruent with the development of optimal outcomes. Should the government not accept appropriate advice, but instead adopts policy or strategy that inappropriately increases the risk to lives and/or of failure then the military leadership should have the moral courage to seek to positively influence political decision-making or be prepared to resign.

Meilinger highlights the asymmetric advantage provided to the US by its air power capabilities that most, if not all, nations would struggle to contain. Through its reach, speed, ubiquity, flexibility and lethal precision it provides the US direct access to all the strengths and vulnerabilities (centres of gravity) of an enemy, allowing it the ability to undertake direct or indirect attack against them, with drastically reduced risk to its forces and civilians, and a significantly reduced footprint. Concerns over its reputation (psychological, graphic violence, and morality of distance) and risk shifting to civilians, arguably are offset using precision weapons, targeting tools and detailed planning resulting in reduced risk to civilians. In other words, Meilinger claims it is ‘the US asymmetric advantage that limits [US] risk.’ (p. 190)

Since the Second World War, wars have generally been fought with limited means to achieve limited objectives, whether due to avoiding nuclear peers, concerns with maintaining public support, legal restrictions, media, geography, culture or concerns over managing scarce resources. Meilinger’s review of post-Second World War wars undertaken by the US from Korea to Iraq highlights a somewhat chequered record of success premised on US strategy of employing massive conventional ground forces. While air power was used during these wars, it was either used poorly, or when used successfully, the maintenance of an overall Clausewitzian conventional ground force strategy ultimately led to strategic failure.

Meilinger notes that perhaps another model should have been used; one presaged by historical second-front operations that used unique strategies and tactics to solve equally unique problems, with the goal of achieving measurable political results at minimal risk. As such Meilinger suggests that the US should ‘use [its] asymmetric strengths against enemy weaknesses while screening their own vulnerabilities’. In addition to air power, existing asymmetric strengths include SOF and ubiquitous ISR. Combining these three capabilities with ‘determined’ indigenous forces provide a force structure that provides an asymmetric advantage against conventional and unconventional enemy forces, and which when compared to conventional ground force options offers an opportunity for measurable results while saving lives and money.

There is, however, a paradox in Limiting Risk in America’s Wars that is hard to reconcile. The engaging, forthright simplicity of the book is achieved by avoiding overly complex analysis and justification of strategic concepts and their technical detail. Consequently, what makes the book easy to read and understand, also makes it appear shallow in specific areas. While the knowledge of the author is unquestionable, and the notes provide an extra depth of information, there are times when the reader is left to accept the statements of the author as fact, rather than follow an articulated analysis resulting in verifiable deductions or inductions.

180112-A-ZZ999-001
US Army 1st Sergeant Henning Jensen of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, leads a foot patrol with the National Police Transition Team in eastern Baghdad in 2008 while assigned to a military transition team. Transition teams have been replaced by the 1st SFAB to help combatant commanders accomplish theatre security objectives by training, advising, assisting, accompanying and enabling allied and partnered indigenous security forces. (Source: US Department of Defense Images)

For instance, a critical position taken by the author is that the US should adopt the asymmetric advantage provided by the ‘combination of air power, SOF, indigenous forces, and ISR.’ (p. 194) There is a succinct analysis of the air power capability resulting in a deduction that air power provides an asymmetric advantage, but there is no such deductive analysis of the asymmetric advantage of SOF and ISR and only a limited prescription for indigenous troops. While there seems to be a dearth of material on the anti-Clausewitzian aspects of these elements, examples exist. The work of retired General Robert Scales, for instance, on mobile land forces in replication of air power capability would seem to offer the prospect of more detailed analysis of corresponding ground force elements, to aid in fleshing out the elements of Meilinger’s overall strategy. The lack of detailed insight into each of the non-air power elements, by consequence results in the absence of explanation or analysis into how the four nominated forces fit together to deliver an overall asymmetric advantage in contemporary conflict. Admittedly, a core thread of the book is about raising the importance of air power in the overall force composition and strategy mix, but the failure to address the other elements and their combination can lead to questions, which undermines the overall premise of the book and could have been quickly addressed.

One such example is the a priori claim that the use of conventional forces increases the risk of casualties (civilians and own forces) – whether from the dangers of ground combat or the application of air power in support of troops in conflict. If you replace conventional forces with indigenous troops, the same risks still seem to exist. In fact, the risk may increase if the indigenous troops are not as professional or well-equipped as the conventional forces they are replacing. The logical conclusion that can be drawn thus appears to be that the only benefit that exists is a movement of risk from US forces (as no conventional troops are committed) to the indigenous forces and civilians.

Meilinger tellingly notes that if:

US leaders determine that our vital interests be indeed at stake and US involvement is essential the case studies reveal timeless truths regarding the most effective and efficient methods of achieving success at low risk. (p. 205)

Conceptually, after reading this book, it is hard to disagree with this statement. There is something powerful in the simple argument that strategy, and force composition, should be built around the use of asymmetrical advantages against enemy vulnerabilities to reduce risk and cost. However, by attempting to advance this concept one step further and identify, without full supporting analysis, a specific contemporary US strategy with a focus on air power and the other elements of SOF, ISR and indigenous ground forces, it strikes me that Meilinger not only comes to a logically weakened position. As such, Meilinger, unfortunately, misses the opportunity to articulate a more robust and appropriate strategy for the conduct of warfare generally.

Wing Commander Alec Tattersall has been a permanent member of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) since 1996. He is a graduate of the University of Tasmania (Bcom & LLB), the University of Melbourne (Grad. Dip. Military Law), the Australian National University (GDLP and LLM), and is currently undertaking postgraduate research into the philosophical aspects of autonomous weapon systems at the University of New South Wales. His recent postings include; Headquarters Joint Operations Command, Air Force Headquarters, the Directorate of Operations and Security Law, and the Air Power Development Centre. Threaded through these postings are a number of operational deployments to the Middle East and domestically for counter-terrorism.  He is the currently seconded to Special Counsel in the Australian Signals Directorate and is the Defence Legal representative to the 2017/18 meetings of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect those of the RAAF, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government.

Header Image: An MQ-9 Reaper equipped with an extended range modification sits on the ramp on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan before a sortie on 6 December 2015. (Source: US Department of Defense Images)

If you would like to contribute to From Balloons to Drones, then visit our submissions page here to find out how.

[1] Harlan Ullam, ‘Why America Loses Every War,’ Defense One, 17 November 2017.

#Editorial – Call for Contributors: #HistoricBookReviews

#Editorial – Call for Contributors: #HistoricBookReviews

Last week, From Balloons to Drones published the first in a new series of Historic Book Reviews. This new series seeks to publish occasional historic book reviews that aim to be an accessible collection of open access appraisals of critical historic publications about air power history, theory, and practice. Many books, such as, but not limited to, those by authors such as Giulio Douhet, William Mitchell, Sir John Slessor and John Warden, hold a specific place in the study of air power because of the ideas they introduced or the insights they provided about the institutions responsible for delivering air power capabilities. The reviews will cover several different types of texts from those works that developed air power ideas to crucial memoirs. The reviews also seek to engage with a broader audience interested in the subject matter.

Given these aims, From Balloons to Drones is seeking contributions from postgraduates, academics, policymakers, service personnel and relevant professionals to this new exciting series.

A copy of the review guidelines can be downloaded here, and we are happy to discuss possible texts that you may wish to review. You can contact us via our ‘Contact’ page here.

If you would like to contribute to From Balloons to Drones, then visit our submissions page here to find out how.

Header Image: Ground crew manhandle a Gloster Meteor F.3 of No. 616 Squadron Detachment at B58/Melsbroek, Belgium, on 6 February 1945. (Source: UK MoD Images)

Small Air Forces and #HighIntensityWar: Multinational Cooperation as an Opportunity to Build and Strengthen their Capabilities

Small Air Forces and #HighIntensityWar: Multinational Cooperation as an Opportunity to Build and Strengthen their Capabilities

By Maria E. Burczynska

The introduction to the recent #highintensitywar series run by From Balloons to Drones and The Central Blue suggested that the character of military conflict is changing due to the increased possibility of high-intensity war, which, in turn, will present significant challenges to Western militaries. While the series introduction suggested that post-Cold War conflicts presented few challenges for air forces seeking to maintain control of the air the increasing likelihood of a high-intensity war may well change that scenario. In such a case, not only will the ability to achieve air dominance be challenging but also, if that is not achieved then the ability to perform the full spectrum of air power roles and using all capabilities available may be restricted too. Such a situation may prove especially difficult for small air forces which often lack specific capabilities in the first place.

This article focuses predominantly on small European air forces with Poland and Sweden as case studies. It discusses the situation in which these two air forces find themselves after the end of the Cold War and the changes they have undergone. In doing so, this article also briefly introduces some of the general trends and challenges that took place during the post-Cold War years in Europe such as decreasing defence budgets and the downsizing of armed forces. The article identifies principal areas where small European air forces suffer from capability shortcomings and then moves on to discuss the role of multinational cooperation as a means to make up for these gaps.

What is a Small Air Force?

When speaking of a small air force, one could think of it looking at its actual size, its number of the aircraft and its number of personnel. However, this article defines a small air force according to its capabilities. This follows the definition provided by Sanu Kainikara who recognised four categories of air forces; the US Air Force, large air forces, small air forces and niche air forces. These differ from each other regarding the scope of their capabilities, their ability to pursue operations independently as well as the presence of an indigenous industry supporting the air force’s needs at the national level.[1] According to this classification, small air forces can perform the four fundamental roles of air power; control of the air, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), attack and air mobility. On the other hand, small air forces do not have the resources necessary to undertake such roles to a considerable extent and over a prolonged period. Therefore, small air forces would not be able to conduct independent large air operations. However, they are often the desired ally that can efficiently work within a coalition.

Both the Polish and Swedish Air Forces (AF) comfortably fit into the category of a small air force. They have necessary resources to perform the full spectrum of capabilities within the already mentioned air power roles. However, their resources are insufficient, sometimes falling to single numbers of an aircraft of specific types. That makes them unable to perform independent large-scale military operations. Finally, both countries have some industrial capacity to support national air power capabilities, such as PZL Mielec and PZL Świdnik, now part of respectively Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and Leonardo-Finmeccanica’s Helicopter Division in Poland, or Saab in Sweden.

European Air Power after 1991

In the post-Cold War years European air forces and militaries, in general, underwent certain transformations. Primarily, military expenditure by European states has dropped noticeably. In Poland, defence expenditure has decreased from 2.6% of the GDP in 1990 to 2.0% in 2016 while in Sweden it has dropped from 2.6% to 1.0% in the same period.[2] In line with decreasing defence budgets was the gradual downsizing of air forces and the armed forces in general. For example, in Poland, the number of active personnel has dropped from 86,200 men in 1990 to 16,600 in 2015.[3] At the same time, the number of officers serving in the Swedish AF fell from 8,000 to 3,300.[4] Moreover, it was not only manpower that dropped in numbers but also available equipment. The Polish AF reduced from 800 aircraft in 1990 to 300 in 1998 with the target of 100 to be reached in 2002.[5] A similar process also took place in the Swedish AF, but, in this case, it was initiated as early as the 1960s when the number of combat aircraft started to drop from 800 and reached 400 in the 1990s.[6]

The above situation led to specific organisational and structural changes within both the Polish and Swedish AFs. In case of the Polish AF, these transformations started at the very top when the Air Force (Wojska Lotnicze) and the Country Air Defence Force (Wojska Obrony Powietrznej Kraju) merged to form the Air Force and the Counter-Air Defence Forces (Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Powietrznej). In 2004, the latter formation was finally re-named as the Polish Air Force (Siły Powietrzne). Also, the building blocks of the Polish AF was changed by replacing two of its existing squadrons with regiments.[7] Similar re-organisation took place within the Swedish AF when out of its 12 Wings, and the main air bases, only four remained operational while the other eight were closed.[8]

The transformation of the two air forces also involved modernisation of their already reduced fleets. In Sweden, that process focused on three areas. First, the Swedish AF replaced its AJ/JA-37 Viggen aircraft with JAS-39 Gripen. Second, it introduced more advanced types of munitions and then finally it has sought to upgrade its command, control, communications, and intelligence system.[9] For Poland, the air force modernisation was challenging because the overwhelming majority of the country’s aircraft was built either in the Soviet Union or under licence from them. In the post-Cold War years, these aircraft delivered little modern combat capability. As such, in the process of modernisation, the Polish AF replaced its MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters with 22 MiG-29s bought from Germany in 2003 and 48 F-16s delivered in years 2006–2008 from the US. They also acquired 17 CASA C-295M transportation aircraft.[10] Finally, on the 1 January 2016, Poland opened the twelfth unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) base that was the first of its kind in the country.

105 Polish Air Force MiG-29A Fulcrum ILA Berlin 2016
A Polish Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29A Fulcrum at the ILA Berlin Air Show 2016. (Source: Wikimedia)

Limitations of European Air Power

Despite all the organisational and structural transformations, and fleet modernisation that has taken place over the last 30 years, the Polish and Swedish AFs remain small air forces and, as such, somewhat limited in their capabilities. Principally, their fleets are relatively small; the Polish AF possesses 283 aircraft in total while the Swedish AF numbers 231 airframes including the inventory of the Armed Forces Helicopter Wing.[11] However, the Polish and Swedish AFs are also limited in areas that are representative of the significant shortcomings of European air power in general, namely air transport (AT), ISR and air-to-air refuelling (AAR). Significant gaps in these three areas were identified as early as the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. However, these capability gaps have become even more evident after the involvement of European air forces in operations over Libya in 2011. Operations over Libya revealed not only the low capacity of European air forces in the areas of AT, ISR, and AAR resources but also their heavy reliance on the US for those capabilities.[12]

Both Poland and Sweden continue to experience significant shortcomings in these three areas. For example, the Polish AF has only 45 transport aircraft while for Sweden that number drops to barely eight.[13] The differences are even more significant when it comes to ISR and AAR. In case of AAR, the Swedish AF has one tanker aircraft.[14] Poland, on the other hand, does not possess any aircraft of that type. However, in 2014, together with Norway and the Netherlands, Poland decided to acquire a fleet of Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transports.[15] The situation is similar in the realm of ISR. Sweden has five ISR aircraft while the Polish have none.[16]

Examples of Multinational Cooperation Initiatives

Multinational cooperation is one way to make up for such shortcomings in small air forces where resources are limited. It is also the cost-effective option. This cooperation takes different forms, from pooling and sharing resources to training programmes but they are always collective initiatives. As such, these initiatives require participating states to be willing to share the costs of running the project in areas such as the acquisition and maintenance of platforms. As a result, multinational cooperation can significantly reduce the financial burden that would be placed on a small air force if it were to develop such capabilities from scratch. Such pooling and sharing of capabilities also present a viable interim solution in the case where a country is already working towards developing a particular capability that has not yet become fully operational. An example of such an initiative is Poland’s involvement in the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) programme whereby 15 NATO members are acquiring a system consisting of five RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs and advanced radar systems, which altogether will allow for providing persistent surveillance from high-altitudes.[17] This initiative presented a viable interim solution for Poland which does not possess any air surveillance capability. While Poland is currently developing a UAV fleet which could provide that capability, until it becomes fully operational, AGS can fill that gap. Poland had been a member of the AGS programme until 1 April 2009 when the country withdrew due to financial reasons. Poland later re-joined the programme in April 2014.[18] Another way to make up for the lack of national ISR capability is participation in the NATO Airborne Early Warning (NAEW) system. The initiative started in 1982 and, as such, is one of the oldest and the most successful cooperative initiatives in NATO and Europe. Poland joined NAEW in 2006.[19]

An exciting initiative addressing both the lack of AT and AAR capability, but pursued outside of NATO and EU frameworks, is the Air Transport, Air-to-Air Refuelling, and other Exchange of Services (ATARES) programme developed by the Movement Coordination Centre Europe (MCCE). This project promotes the exchange of services – AAR for AT calculated using Equivalent Flying Hour (EFH).[20] For example, Poland does not have an AAR capability. Therefore, Poland uses ATARES to give aircrews an opportunity to train on those particular platforms and, in return, offers AT capabilities.[21] Interestingly that capability does not have to be provided to that particular country from which AAR was used in the first place. The agreed number of EFH need only to be returned to the initiative and therefore may be used by any one of its members. Sweden offers its AAR services within ATARES even though there is only one tanker in the Swedish AF. For example, in 2017, MCCE provided refuelling support during the Arctic Challenge Exercise, and that support involved the Swedish aircraft.[22]

Other examples of multinational initiatives addressing limitations in national AT capabilities are the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS), and the Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) started in 2005 and 2008 respectively. These are pooling and sharing projects whereby participating states maintain a certain number of aircraft and use these according to their needs. For example, SALIS was created to transport heavy cargo and Poland used the programme to transport helicopters and armoured vehicles to Afghanistan.[23] SAC was designed to support the participating states in their defence or logistical needs at the national and international level. It operates through the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW) located in Papa Air Base in Hungary. The Polish AF used SAC’s C-17s to transport the bodies of the victims of the Presidential Tupolev crash in Smolensk in April 2010.[24] Sweden, on the other hand, used SAC for a very different purpose – to deliver cargo from Karlsborg Air Base to Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan in September 2009.[25] This was HAW’s first mission done in support of ISAF. Swedish and Polish officers were also among the crew members during the first HAW mission performed in support of ISAF but without any Americans on board.[26]

Of course, none of the members in initiatives such as these has unlimited access to all the available resources. The share they get is usually proportional to their involvement. For example, the annual total of flying hours available under SAC is 3,165, which is divided among the 12-member nations. Both Poland and Sweden have entirely different shares equalling, respectively, 4.7% and 17.6%.[27] That gives 148.8 flying hours to be used by the Polish AF and 550.7 by the Swedish.

Red versus Blue
A Swedish JAS-39 Gripen returns to the play areas of the Arctic Challenge exercise over Norway, after taking on fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker on 24 September 2013. (Source: Wikimedia)

Conclusion

This article has discussed some of the challenges confronting small air forces and whether multinational initiatives can increase their capabilities with specific reference to the Polish and Swedish AFs. The answer is yes. First, the examples discussed show that these projects are successful tools in building and strengthening capabilities such as AT, ISR and AAR. For small air forces, multinational cooperation gives an opportunity to develop these three areas to the extent that could not be afforded otherwise, or that would incur much higher costs.

Second, it is not only the pooled and shared fleets that the participating air forces can benefit from, but also training. The aircrews delegated to take part in any multinational initiatives return home with the experience they would often not have had a chance to develop otherwise. Here, it is also worth mentioning, that, along with pooling and sharing arrangements there are also programmes designed specifically for training purposes. These programmes present an excellent opportunity for air forces, especially the small ones, to exercise together towards capabilities that, in their home country are not available at all, or that are available but on an insufficient scale. Examples of such initiatives are the European Air Transport Training (EATT), and the European Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Course (EAATTC) started in 2012 and 2014 under the umbrella of the European Air Transport Fleet programme. The Polish AF has participated in both training initiatives in 2016 and 2017 while in 2015 it held observer status in EATT. Sweden also took part in EATT in 2013 and 2015 and was an observer nation in 2014. Another prominent example of a training arrangement involving the Swedish AF is the Cross-Border Training programme established in 2009. This project brings together Sweden, Norway and Finland and enables their air forces to use each other’s airspace to train together on a weekly basis.

Third, involvement at the multinational level in different forms of cooperation – pooling and sharing arrangements, expeditionary missions, air policing, and exercises, gives credibility to small air forces. The more often they work together with other nations, the more they will be perceived as a valuable and reliable potential partner. At the same time, such involvement requires certain work to be done, for example, making sure that one’s air force and its procedures, equipment, personnel’s knowledge, and abilities, are interoperable with potential partners in a coalition. This may incur additional costs, which may be challenging for small air forces.

Finally, while they appear very appealing, it must be remembered that multinational initiatives are not the panacea for capability gaps. For example, in many cases, a country only receives in return what is proportional to one’s contribution. Therefore, the multinational projects allow for the new capabilities to be built but on a limited scale and according to one’s financial input. As a result, collective capability development should not replace national ones. All European air forces, including the small ones, still need to develop their national capabilities. Multinational, collective arrangements may complement them, but they should never replace them altogether.

Maria Ewa Burczynska is a PhD candidate in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham where she is affiliated with the Centre for Conflict, Security and Terrorism. Her primary area of interest is European air forces and their participation in multinational operations and initiatives. She is also interested in the subject of disaster management as another dimension of national security.

If you would like to contribute to From Balloons to Drones, then visit our submissions page here to find out how.

Header Image: A Saab AJS-37 Viggen of the Swedish Air Force Heritage Flight on display at the RAF Waddington air show in 2013. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] See, Sanu Kainikara, At the Critical Juncture. The Predicament of Small Air Force (Canberra: RAAF Air Power Development Centre, 2011).

[2] SIPRI Military Expenditure Database 2017.

[3] ‘Europe’ in The Military Balance, 115:1 (2015), pp. 57-158; ‘The Alliances and Europe’ in The Military Balance, 90:1 (1990), pp. 44-96.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Barre R. Seguin, Why did Poland choose the F-16?, The Marshall Center Occasional Paper Series (Garmisch-Partenkirchen: The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, 2007), p. 6.

[6] Richard A. Bitzinger, Facing the Future. The Swedish Air Force, 1990-2005 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1991), pp. 13-5.

[7] Rafał Ciastoń et al, Siły Zbrojne RP – stan, perspektywy i wyzwania modernizacyjne (Warszawa: Fundacja im. Kazimierza Pułaskiego, 2014), p. 54.

[8] Bitzinger, Facing the Future., pp. 11-4; Försvarsmakten, Flygvapnet.

[9] Bitzinger, Facing the Future., pp. 37-45.

[10] Zbigniew Średnicki, ‘Modernizacja techniczna sił powietrznych,’ Przegląd Sił Zbrojnych, 3 (2015), pp. 8-15.

[11] ‘Europe’ in The Military Balance, 118:1 (2018), pp. 65-168.

[12] Elizabeth Quintana, Henrik Heidenkamp and Michael Codner, Europe’s Air Transport and Air-to-Air Refuelling Capability: Examining the Collaborative Imperative, RUSI Occasional Paper (August 2014), p. 6.

[13] ‘Europe’ in The Military Balance, 118:1 (2018), pp. 65-168.

[14] Ibid.

[15]European multirole tanker transport fleet takes shape,’ European Defence Agency, 19 December 2014.

[16] ‘Europe’ in The Military Balance, 118:1 (2018), pp. 65-168.

[17]Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS),’ North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, updated 6 June 2017.

[18] Grzegorz Hołdanowicz, ‘Nieprimaaprilisowe pożegnanie z AGS,’ Raport – Wojsko Technika Obronność, May 2009.

[19] Tadeusz Wróbel, ‘Tysiąc lotów AWACS-a nad Polską,’ Polska Zbrojna, 13 October 2016.

[20] Quintana et al, Europe’s Air Transport and Air-to-Air Refuelling Capability, p. 11.

[21] Colonel in the Polish Air Force and a scholar at the National Defence University in Warsaw, interview conducted by the Author on 30 June 2016.

[22]MCCE support to Arctic Challenge 2017,’ Movement Coordination Centre Europe, 29 May 2017.

[23] Juliusz Sabak, ‘Rosyjskie An-124 nadal wożą sprzęt NATO,’ Defence 24, 13 January 2017.

[24] Colonel in the Polish Air Force and a scholar at the National Defence University in Warsaw, interview conducted by the Author on 22 June 2016.

[25]SAC Milestones 2006 –,’ Strategic Airlift Capability.

[26] Ibid.

[27]The Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC),’ Strategic Airlift Capability.

Education for 21st Century Aviators

Education for 21st Century Aviators

By Colonel (ret’d) Dr Randall Wakelam[1]

Editorial Note: Between February and April 2018, The Central Blue and From Balloons to Drones, will be publishing a series of articles that examine the requirements of high-intensity warfare in the 21st Century. These articles provide the intellectual underpinnings to a seminar on high-intensity warfare being held on 22 March by the Williams Foundation in Canberra, Australia. In this article, Dr Randall Wakelam examines the importance of education for aviators in the 21st Century. While drawing on the experience of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Wakelam argues that while the value of education is often hard to quantify, it is nonetheless an essential aspect in the development of airman who needs to master the profession of arms and the challenges associated with that idea. His argument transcends national boundaries and applies to any large, medium, or small air force seeking to prepare for the challenges posed by the future operating environment.

I have a prejudice: My prejudice is that airmen do not like thinking: Airmen are obsessed with bombs, fuses, cockpits and screens and are actually rather uncomfortable exploring the underpinning logic and doctrine: So producing a thinking air force is a strategic requirement.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge, RAF Air Power Review, 2004

In Burridge’s statement from the early years of this century, one can readily see that education for air power professionals has been and will continue to be important for the successful management of air forces both regarding national and international processes like procurement and collation operations and the day to day conduct of air operations. However, the caution that he offers about discomfort for education is equally important, and his concern is not new. Indeed one of the central themes of Carl Builder’s study of the USAF – The Icarus Syndrome – was that leaders had too often shifted their focus from the tough questions of running the institution to a more limited attention to technologies and air vehicles.[2] Moreover, we see a similar tendency to eschew non-technical aspects of air power in the early days of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) College where of a 5,500-hour, four-year syllabus, fully 1,955 hours were spent on the sciences, while only 230 were dedicated to history, war studies, and imperial defence issues. There was no non-technical course on air power theory. In the view of former RAAF historian Alan Stephens, ‘the Air Force [was] very plainly identifying itself as a technocracy.’[3]

Building on these examples and concerns I want to argue that education is good for the RCAF, both for individuals and for the institution. A recent RCAF Journal article ‘Professional Airpower Mastery and the RCAF’ also makes the point, stating that Canada’s air force is very good tactically, but that beyond this it lacks the ability to be as effective as it might at higher levels of warfighting or in the broad domain of national and international security.[4] At those levels, we, again both individually and institutionally, tend to muddle through problems – sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. To put that article in context for an Australian audience, it should be noted that one of the many sources used by those authors was Sanu Kainikara’s 2011 work At the Critical Juncture: The Predicament of Small Air Forces.[5]

Returning to a Canadian context, a late 1960s study, The Report of the Officer Development Board (ODB), posited that all officers move away from hands-on tactical and technical expertise fairly early in their careers, replacing those technical and tactical ‘occupational skills’ with broader pan-service and then pan-Canadian Forces/whole of government ‘military expertise’ competencies.[6] This progression is as true of the RCAF as it is of the Royal Canadian Navy or the Canadian Army. More to the point of this article, the ODB also stated that officers needed to start their service with a strong intellectual ability and then have to grow that as the challenges they confront become less predictable. The ODB made this point in the context of a world which was dominated by tense geopolitical circumstances, burgeoning technological advances and security challenges that ranged from superpower standoff to asymmetric conflict to the full range of peace support operations.[7]

Things are not much different today. We are called upon to deal with the often abstract and chaotic problems of the 21st century using what the ODB labelled called ‘executive and military executive abilities’. Major-General David Fraser, then just returned from commanding Regional Command South in Kandahar, made a similar observation in a 2006 lecture at the Canadian Forces College, pointing out that at the tactical level leaders need to have the intellectual agility, and associated confidence to be able to deviate from a plan when circumstances dictate.[8] However, he went on to argue that while at the tactical level circumstances can be complicated, at the operational and strategic levels of war decision makers often face complexity, overlaid with ambiguity and chaos – what is often called the wicked problem.

Wakelam

We learn technical and tactical skills through training for the most part, but the broader competencies are more generally the product of education. Training allows for standardised responses to predictable circumstances whereas education permits reasoned responses to unpredictable circumstances.[9] Training can be relatively well measured as we can see in the course training standards and training and education plans that form the basis of hundreds of qualifications. From Robert Smith-Barry’s reforms to pilot training that he implemented a century ago today we implicitly understand the value of standardised training for aircrew and more broadly for all air force hands-on competencies. Knowing that your winger knows what she or he is doing; knowing that the techs have done their snag rectification by the book and that battle managers understand clearly what they can do to assist in the fight allows each of us to perform confidently. Moreover, all these skills and knowledge are based on a validated training system which ensures technical and tactical competence.

Education, and its value is, on the other hand, a bit less quantifiable: does a Bachelor’s in aeronautical engineering equate to an effective aircraft designer or a skilled technical authority? Does a Master’s in International Relations make for an effective commanding officer (CO) when deployed on coalition operations or an astute policy analyst proposing changes to air force roles and structures? In these examples, the answers are probably yes, but there is no easily applied ‘training standard’ to tell us so. The ODB said that the undergraduate degree provided a necessary ‘training of the mind’ and a graduate degree in areas related to the profession of arms was a useful and necessary enrichment both in knowledge and intellectual capacity.[10]

Those thoughts from 50 years ago are all well and good, but those who do not have a degree, or an advanced degree often seem to do ‘just fine’.  However, what does just fine mean? It may mean that success has not come from an optimal application of thinking power – allowing a logical, viable solution. Rather, it may mean that a solution is derived from a limited perspective based on the individual’s limited or skewed sense of the issues. Education is not a guaranteed antidote to the latter problems, but it frequently offers the learner new ways of considering evidence and weighing alternatives. Indeed, this was the implicit message in the RCAF’s curriculum of the RCAF War Staff Course. Air Commodore George Wait, the Staff College’s first commandant, had an opportunity to offer his thoughts on the content and conduct of the syllabus and by extension the notion of a professional development philosophy that combined training and education. He wrote:

[t]he backbone of the course consists of a series of lectures on staff duties given by the Directing Staff, which leads students through service writing, precis writing, appreciations and orders and instructions.  The students then put their knowledge to work by doing a series of practical problems on the employment of air power.[11]

However, to give this routine staff training some added richness the programme of studies also included lectures given by well-qualified visiting speakers, both officers and civilian officials, on a variety of topics, including other services, allied and enemy forces, matters of the strategic direction of the war, and war production. ‘Only by such a means,’ Wait had said in earlier correspondence with Air Force Headquarters, ‘can the students be given the broader and more authoritative outlook that they will require in staff positions.’[12]

The same notion of broad education was stated more explicitly in the late 1950s in the RCAF Staff College’s syllabus:

The RCAF Staff College makes no attempt to graduate experts in a particular field, nor does it expound any easy universally applicable doctrines. Rather by providing its graduates with an education of the broadest scope and by developing habits of clear thinking, it attempts to provide them with the breadth of interest, openness of mind, reasoning ability, and a broad view of their Service and profession, which will enable them to master the specific tasks of any appointment and to make sound decisions in any situation. (emphasis added)[13]

Much of my original paper had been drafted before the 7 June 2017 release of Canada’s new defence policy ‘Strong, Secure, Engaged’. Reading through it and ‘blue sky’ imagining the work needed to implement the policy one cannot but think that it will require big and imaginative minds to deal with how we make good on the vision and indeed there are repeated references to flexibility of mind and the utility of education. Tactical excellence alone, one can surmise, will not guarantee success.

Practically, how do we do develop a learning strategy that ensures policy ends? The recently restructured and re-energised RCAF officer professional development system offers a flight plan towards realising this goal. First, we have confirmed the need for all officers to achieve, or in certain special cases to be on the path to achieving, an undergraduate degree before commissioning. As of 2016, in Canada, we now have a course – the Air Power Operations Course (APOC), that looks remarkably similar to the War Staff Course, albeit only 60 percent as long. Finally, there is a vision, yet to be defined and approved, for expanded senior officer education, this to be achieved through focused workshops of several days or a few weeks duration depending on the topic.

The APOC has six ‘performance objectives’, the first being a learning outcome to develop the air-mindedness of students, who are drawn from all RCAF occupations, so that they can work collaboratively with officers across all flying and technical communities within the RCAF and can explain and represent the air power concepts and practices to officers in joint headquarters and other services. The second objective is to develop staff officer competencies in clear and logical thinking and communications. The remaining objectives – planning of operations in deployed and coalition situations – build on the first two and expose students to the complexity of modern air operations, and this in a service where tactical and maritime helicopters (and everything else that flies) are air force resources.

What the more senior follow-on courses might look like is still very much undefined, but the wisdom of the 1959 syllabus would suggest that a tactically oriented curriculum will not do. What senior air force leaders need is something more. This same idea was much in evidence in a recent Australian Defence Force study. The following are extracts from ‘The Chiefs: A Study of Strategic Leadership.’[14]

The report reaches three major conclusions, relating respectively to individual development, organisational development and leadership style. These conclusions are that:

  • for the ambitious officer, “what got you here won’t get you there”;
  • for the military institution, “what got us here won’t get us there”; and
  • the principle that “leadership is a team sport” is just as valid at the senior level as it is lower in the organisation.[15]

It is recommended that:

  • the core JPME [Joint Professional Military Education] effort (or at least that from mid-career onwards) be oriented around the four strategic leadership roles of Strategic Leader, Strategic Builder, Strategic Director and Steward of the Profession.
  • such JPME be focused on preparing officers for future roles in both leadership and support for senior leaders.
  • officers from mid-career onwards periodically be exposed to and engage with contemporary and evolving issues at the strategic level, with exercises that require them to examine the responsibilities and skills needed for the Director-Leader-Manager-Steward forms within their own current and immediate-future career roles. (For example, as part of preparation for ship/unit command, O4 and O5 could examine the application of these four roles to that level of command and the level of command immediately above it.)
  • such engagement use active rather than passive modes of learner behaviour.
  • each Service continue with the current encouraging trend of introducing career models that enable selected officers to develop in-depth specialisations within relevant fields – not just within “personnel management” and “project management/technology” but also within economics, politics and military sociology.[16]

We can see that technical and tactical competencies are no guarantee to success at higher levels of command and leadership and that organisations that are similarly successful like likely need to approach institutional and national/international challenges with ways and means (intellectually and practically) that differ from what works in tactical situations.

20141208adf8588365_003
Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin AC, speaking at the 2014 Australian Command and Staff Course – Joint Graduation ceremony held at Llewellyn Hall, Australian National University, Canberra, c. 2014. (Source: Australian Department of Defence)

Some, if not all the Australian Defence Force’s recommendations for learning could be implemented within the RCAF’s professional education programme, but there is much to be gained from learning environments outside the air force. The recent introduction of sponsored assignments to complete a Masters in War Studies at the Royal Military College (with a focus on air power topics) is one such avenue. Similarly, a new internship programme, with placements in think tanks, industry and government will expose air force officers to different ways of thinking, planning and operating.

Where does this leave us as we advance through the new century? As suggested at the outset a narrow focus on technical and tactical proficiency, while necessary, cannot be the nexus of professional education. Many observers and practitioners have noted this. A broad blend of intellectual dexterity coupled with both hands-on skills and broad knowledge would seem to have been and remains today the essence of professional effectiveness and thus the desired outcome of an aviator’s education.

Dr Randall Wakelam teaches military and air power history at the Royal Military College of Canada.  After graduating from RMC in 1975 he flew helicopters for the Army, becoming CO of 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in 1991. Along the way, he also had staff appointments in aircraft procurement and language training policy. Since 1993 he has been an educator, first in uniform at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto and now at RMC. His research and publishing focus on air power and military education.

Header Image: A memorial to the establishment of the RCAF Staff College, which is now the Canadian Forces College. This establishment started life as the RCAF War Staff Course. (Source: Wikimedia)

[1] A shorter version of this paper was first drafted for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in the Fall of 2017, but both it and this version are the products of about 30 years of thinking about how military professionals can best educate themselves. Where the examples used are largely specific to historical and contemporary Canadian experience there is, I believe, much that is common to most, if not all, modern air forces.

[2] Carl Builder, The Icarus Syndrome: Air Power Theory and the Evolution of the Air Force (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press, 1998).

[3] Alan Stephens, Power Plus Attitude: Ideas, Strategy and Doctrine in the Royal Australian Air Force 1921-1991 (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1992), pp. 109–11.

[4] Brad Gladman et al, ‘Professional Airpower Mastery and the RCAF,’ RCAF Journal, 5:1 (2016), pp. 8-23.

[5] Sanu Kainikara, At the Critical Juncture: The Predicament of Small Air Forces (Canberra: Air Power Development Centre, 2011).

[6] Randall Wakelam and Howard Coombs (eds.) The Report of the Officer Development Board: Major-General Roger Rowley and the Education of the Canadian Forces (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2010), p. 46. The same issue applies to senior warrant officers as they reach formation (wing, air group, etc.) and national level senior appointments where they must be able to understand the sorts of challenges their commanders face.

[7] Ibid, pp. 26-31.

[8] Major-General David Fraser, Lecture to the Advanced Military Studies Course, Canadian Forces College Toronto, October 2006.

[9] Ronald Haycock, ‘Historical and Contemporary Aspects of Canadian Military Education’ in Greg Kennedy and Keith Neilson (eds.) Military Education:  Past, Present, and Future (Westport, CT.: Praeger, 2002), p. 171.

[10] Wakelam and Coombs, Officer Development Board, p. 40.

[11] William R. Shields and Dace Sefers, Canadian Forces Command and Staff College: A History 1797-1946 (Toronto: Canadian Forces College History Project, Canadian Forces College, 1987), pp. 4-15.

[12] Ibid, pp. 4-16.

[13] R.C.A.F. Staff College Calendar Course 23 (1958-9), “Conclusion.”

[14] Nicholas Jans, Stephen Mugford, James Cullens and Judy Fraser-Jans, ‘The Chiefs:  A Study of Strategic Leadership’ (Canberra:  Australian Defence College, 2013).

[15] Ibid, p. 111.

[16] Ibid, p. 113.