2015-05-20 By Robbin Laird
Recently, I had the chance to talk with the current Deputy Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Gavin (Leo) Davies, who will take over as Chief of the Air Force this summer.
His tenure comes at a crucial time in the evolution of the RAAF and of the Australian Defence Force as a whole.
And the Australian approach is part of the evolving context within which key coalition partners of the United States are undertaking fundamental changes to shape their forces for 21st century operations.
Whether it be the UK innovating under the impact of the acquisition of their new carrier, or the Dutch and Norwegians leveraging the F-35 to shape ways ahead (the Dutch speak of Air Force 3.0) or the Gulf Air Forces shaping a very competent air arm engaged in Middle Eastern Operations, allies are reshaping ways to operate on their own or with their coalition partners.
No ally is clearer about shaping a template for change or shaping a way ahead than the Australians, and within Australia the RAAF.
The current Chief of the RAAF, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, launched what he calls Plan Jericho as the template for change.
A former Air Vice-Marshal in the Royal Australian Air Force, John Blackburn, has been deeply involved in supporting the Plan Jericho launch, and provided an overview on the approach in a recent presentation to the European Air Group at High Wycombe and at a joint Aussie-Danish Airpower Symposium in Copenhagen on April 17, 2015.
As Blackburn explained at the Copenhagen Airpower Symposium on April 17, 2015, the idea behind the effort is pretty straightforward, namely, to leverage the coming of the F-35 as a trigger for transformation for the modernizing RAAF fleet.
Rather than just waiting for the coming of a fifth generation aircraft, the Aussies are looking to reshape the force to become a more integrated, lethal force enabled by vastly improved, shared, situational awareness and targeted decision making able to operate effectively in the challenging environments in which they operate. It is about a step change in the ability to operate as an integrated team across the Australian Defence Force and in Coalition operations.
In part, the challenge is to get past the replacement platform mentality.
The core air platforms have been or are being replaced but the task is not simply to learn the new platform and prepare for the next one in a narrowly defined functional area – fighter is a fighter, tanker is a tanker, a lifter is a lifter, an air battle manager is an air battle manger and so on down the 20th century species list – but to shape cross platform capabilities and to reshape how battle management, operations and warfare is conducted.
This is challenging for a small air force, which is already taxed in learning how to operate new platforms, and get them into operations.
The notion of preparing for the introduction of the F-35 and cross platform innovation will be evolved by testing new approaches to using other new platforms and leveraging them as well in new ways PRIOR to the F-35 becoming the dominant fighter in the RAAF.
For Air Marshal Brown, the task for Plan Jericho is about combat innovation and not just about a new airplane, but what that plane and the innovation in the RAAF associated with the plane might mean for the Australian Navy and Army as well.
The question he posed to launch Plan Jericho is simply: What is a 5th Gen / 5th Gen enabled Force?
According to Blackburn:
For the Chief this is clearly a Force with: vastly improved shared situational awareness, the ability to operate as an integrated team and the term is a lever for joint integration in 21st century combat conditions and adapted to a 21st century strategic environment.”
The formal definition of Plan Jericho has been laid out in an official publication earlier this year and the way to understand it is as follows:
“Plan Jericho is Air Force’s plan to transform into a fully integrated force that is capable of fighting and winning in the information age.
Jericho Vision: To develop a future force that is agile and adaptive, fully immersed in the information age, and truly joint.
This is not the final plan, but rather the first step to meet our challenge of transformation for the future.
The discussion with Air Vice-Marshal Davies started precisely on the point of how he viewed Plan Jericho and its importance in helping shape a way ahead.
According to Davies: “The Plan Jericho approach dovetails very well with the overall relook which Australian defense is taking with regard to first principles.
There is a first principles review going on at the same time we have launched the Plan Jericho effort.
We think our approach is not simply about the Air Force but the overall process of transformation for Australian defense.”
He emphasized that “if we simply continue without transformation we will not be able to deal with threat environment which Australia and its allies face.
Significant innovation, shaping distributed operational capabilities, and greater coalition effectiveness are all part of the way ahead.
It is about building a more credible deterrent force, one whose effectiveness can not be in doubt in the eyes of the adversaries of the democracies.”
He explained further how he looked at the challeng.
“I call it the Janes factor.
I want a potential adversary to look at the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Defense Force more broadly, and then at a coalition force, of which Australia is a part, and flick through Janes fighting ships, fighting aircraft, fighting systems, and conclude that I do not want to butt heads with that group, actually.
That’s going to hurt me more than I can stand.
I suspect if we continue to evolve as we are, and have done over the last 20 years, without taking on a fifth generation warfare approach, then when they read that Jane’s volume on Australia, they’ll say probably they won’t be able to hurt me that badly.
This is clearly NOT the conclusion we wish our adversaries to reach.”
Air Vice-Marshal Davies highlighted that a key trajectory for force transformation was to be able to combine kinetic with non-kinetic capabilities to deliver the kind of combat effects, which are needed for a wide variety of combat tasks and situations.
He comes from an F-111 background, and the ability to project lethality at a distance was built into the F-111 approach.
But this approach is not the most relevant to the way ahead, for it is about combined capabilities delivering a multiplicity of effects appropriate to the task which is required.
“What we’ve had trouble appreciating, and this is somewhat tough for an F111 man, is that that concept is no longer valid.
We need to take the fighting force, not just the kinetic effect, to battle, and so our requirement for air lift, our requirement for anywhere refueling, became part of a fighter support package, but really the fighter support package now includes electronic warfare, it includes ISR, and it includes the ability to update the battle second by second, minute by minute, whereas what and we have been reliant upon ISR updates of day by day up until this point.
If we don’t have all the elements as we go forward into a particular series of events, I don’t believe we will prevail.
We will not be able to have the response that we need and for a force as small as the ADF is, that’s simply not going to be effective”
The force integration piece is the goal for Plan Jericho.
He mentioned that the Royal Australian Navy leadership was shaping a convergent approach to innovation and looking at naval and air integration as a key element of moving forward as well for their platforms.
“We already see manifestations of this in Operation Okra, where we have navy controllers on the Wedgetail and we will have Air Force controllers onboard Navy ships as well.
This is about breaking the cultural barriers.”
A key element associated with the Plan Jericho approach is enhancing risk tolerance. Risk aversion will not see the kind of innovation necessary to shape an integrated force which can leverage the new platforms, with the F-35 being a centerpiece for the innovation process.
“With the new technologies, the younger generation intuitively probes ways to do things differently.
We need to not get in the way but to facilitate change as senior leaders. And we can seek out opportunities to enhance innovation.
For example, we have bought the C-27J in order to access many of the shorter airstrips in our area of operation.
We can access four times the number of air fields in the Australian region with C27 than we can C130J.
We are going to send young crews to work with a mix of experienced C-130 crew members because we want to have fresh looks at how this fleet might operate in an island environment as vast as Australia and deliver the kind of military tasks that these crews will face and the Government expects.”
A core effort for the RAAF and the ADF is working a diversity of coalition efforts, and the coming of the global F-35 fleet enhances our ability to shape new working relationships in the near term.
“We have seen an expanding willingness among partners to share experiences and to shape convergent ways ahead in the past few years.
And we hope to continue this trend going forward.
For example, as South Korea adds the F-35 and works logistics or its integration with its Navy or Army, how might we learn from what they do?
And as we expand ways to enhance interoperability with the integration efforts we can expand the apertures of how we integrate various pieces of equipment going forward based on expanding working relationships with Asian and other allies.
I think that is the next step.”
We concluded the discussion by addressing a core question: when his time as Chief of the RAAF is over what will he hope to look back on as achievements during his time in office?
“There are two key tasks which I hope we will succeed in achieving.
The first is pushing beyond the platform approach.
A C-17 is not just about going from point A to point B. How do we reshape its role as we craft a fifth generation warfare approach?
More generally, how do we tie our inventory together in a more effective war fighting approach enabling us to prevail in the 21st century strategic environment?
The second is overcoming a risk averse culture.
We need to open opportunities for the young officers, airmen and airwomen to drive innovation and to open the aperture for integrative change.”
Air Vice-Marshal Davies joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a cadet Navigator in 1979 and graduated to fly P-3B and P-3C Orion aircraft with No 11 Squadron at Edinburgh in South Australia. In 1987 Air Vice-Marshal Davies completed pilot training and after completing F-111 conversion course was posted in 1988 to No 1 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley.
In 1990, Air Vice-Marshal Davies was posted to Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, to fly F-111D aircraft on exchange with the United States Air Force. On return to Australia in 1993 Air Vice-Marshal Davies was posted to No 1 Squadron as the Operations Flight Commander followed by one year as Operations Officer at Headquarters No 82 Wing during 1996.
After a posting in 1997 and 1998 as the Executive Officer at No 1 Squadron, Air Vice-Marshal Davies completed RAAF Command and Staff Course. In 2000, he commenced two years in Capability Systems within Defence Headquarters.
In 2002, Air Vice-Marshal Davies’ long association with No 1 Squadron was again rekindled when he returned as Commanding Officer and achieved 2000 hours flying the F-111. He was the Staff Officer to the Chief of Air Force during 2004 before taking up the post of Officer Commanding No 82 Wing at RAAF Base Amberley.
Air Vice-Marshal Davies worked as Director Combat Capability within Air Force Headquarters in 2006 and 2007, during which he was deployed to the Middle East to work within the Combined Air Operations Centre. From 2008 he was the Director General Capability Planning within Air Force Headquarters until 2010, when he was posted to Washington as the Air Attaché. Air Vice-Marshal Davies returned from Washington in January 2012 to take up his current position as Deputy Chief of Air Force.
In March 2015, his future promotion to Air Marshal and appointment as Chief of Air Force was announced with effect 4 July 2015.