Progress and the Way Ahead in the Transformation of the Australian Defense Force: An Interview with former RAAF Chief of Staff, Geoff Brown


2016-08-25 By Robbin Laird

I first met Air Marshal (Retired) Geoff Brown, when he was the head of the Royal Australian Air Force.

At that time, he was focused on ensuring that the F-35 became a key element of the modernizing RAAF.

Since his retirement, he joined the Williams Foundation and has been a key leader in the continuing look at joint force transformation, first at the seminar earlier this year on air-land integration, and just recently, in the air-sea integration effort.

I had a chance to discuss his look back and forward on the process of transformation, after the latest Williams seminar.

Question: Looking back, how do you view the progress so far on force modernization and transformation?

Brown: I am pretty pleased with the progress so far.

When we were able to add the JSF as a key piece of the evolving RAAF, we then could open the aperture and start to think more directly and fully about what a fully modernized air force not only would look like but could achieve for the ADF.

Question: You have been intimately involved with the Wedgetail project from the beginning.  It is clear now that this air battle management system is evolving into a joint battle management capability. 

Indeed, for both Army and Navy it is seen as an Air Force platform which is fostering the kind of cross service transformation which is desired across the force.

But such a development was not all that evident at the outset, was it?

Brown: Not at all.

But being a small air force, means that we don’t have the luxury of having specialty platforms; we are not going to have an AWACS, a Joint Stars, a Hawkeye, etc..

We have to leverage our platforms as multi-mission and with a fifth generation focus right from the start.

The ability to  multi-task all of our platforms is the key to producing the required combat power.

Geoff Brown during the Williams Foundation Seminar on Air-Sea Integration, Canberra, Australia, August 10, 2016. Credit Photo: Second Line of Defense
Geoff Brown during the Williams Foundation Seminar on Air-Sea Integration, Canberra, Australia, August 10, 2016. Credit Photo: Second Line of Defense

Wedgetail has very much given us a very different capability that certainly has appealed to the Navy as a force enhancer to the fleet but I think Army’s starting to see what it can do for them too, as well.

And we have taken the same mentality with our C-17s and C-130s in terms of adding ISR and C2 capabilities to the airlift fleet, and this really is a work in progress for the joint force.

Question: The Army presentation at the Air-Sea presentation clearly was good statement about progress in the public discussion as well.

How do you view that?

Brown: The statement by the head of Army modernization about the intent and focus on Army’s role and approach to integrated air and missile defense clearly is a statement of progress in how we are thinking about the way ahead.

His focus as well on how Army capabilities can then unleash other capabilities for Air Force and Navy was a clear statement of the kind of joint leadership we need for the ADF to get the force transformation which we need for Australian defense.

Question: It is not always clear to folks that what you are focused on is not simply a new variant of network centric warfare.

How would you describe the difference between then and now?

Brown: We are a long way away from network centric warfare.

NCW was focused on getting the platforms simply more connected.

I think the difference is now that we have connected the platforms ,we’re actually exploring the possibilities of that connected force.

I believe that’s the difference and it provides the foundation for the next phase which is building an integrated force from the ground up.

We’ve still got to work towards more open architecture designs in all our platforms that allow the sort of flexibility with what I’d call the app application.

The ability to make small changes that actually give you significant combat power differences via apps on top of the software architecture and then to proliferate that app across the force where appropriate.