The Way Ahead for the RAAF in the Integrated Defense Force: The Perspective of Air Marshal Leo Davies


2017-08-31 By Robbin Laird

During my recent stay in Australia to attend and write the report for the Williams Foundation seminar on the future of electronic warfare, I had the chance to continue my discussions with Air Marshal Leo Davies, the Chief of Staff of the RAAF.

The RAAF is certainly leading the pack in shaping and crafting a fifth generation air force.

In my most recent interview with the Air Commander Australia the strategic shift was described very clearly.

Question: You have raised the question of the shift in recruitment and training with regard to your pilots. 

How would you regard the shift on the demand side for the pilot?

Air Vice-Marshal Roberton: You go from having to manage a package to being a node, a sensor, and a shooter in a network.

We are no longer operating as little bespoke package and building block of a force. 

If you’re doing this properly to prepare for a fifth-generation fight, you start them in the middle of the web, and our warfighters understand what they can contribute and where they can draw upon to be a sensor and a shooter in that web.

And that’s not just airpower, that’s across the entire joint space.

This requires us to fundamentally change our exercise approach to train aviators in the kill web. It is a fundamental in dealing with the kinds of adversaries we find in the real world.

We cannot take yesterday’s “block and tackle” combat aircraft approach to train to be the kind of distributed mission commanders we need in the future air combat force.

We need to focus on the sensor-shooter relationship in which we can deliver distributed kinetic and non-kinetic effects.

And this comes from within the kill web.

Put another way, you are training for autonomy in all of the weapon shooter nodes and crafting the overall impact accordingly.

Our decisive advantage is going to be in our ability to operate in high-tempo ops, fully networked.

Wreath laying at the Pool of Reflection during the Last Post Ceremony, commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay at the Australian War Memorial.

(L-R) Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus J. Campbell, AO, DSC; Regimental Sergeant Major – Army, Warrant Officer Don Spinks, OAM; Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies, AO, CSC and Warrant Officer of the Air Force, Warrant Officer Robert Swanwick.

That’s what will make it a completely unfair fight.

It’s not going to be about mass and numbers; that will always have a part to play.

But our decisive advantage has to be our ability to just run our kill web at high speed.

We have parts of our organization that are now thinking at the tactical and operational level in fifth-generation sense, but we are yet to exercise the enabling and support function in that same mindset.

That’s a challenge for us.

With a major reshaping effort under way as described by Air Commander Australia, how does the Chief of the RAAF see then the role of the RAAF?

“Our core business is to ensure that we can be a responsible element of whatever coalition the government determines we need to work with to meet Australian interests

“Australia and the Air Force in particular need to be equipped, trained and agile enough to be effective.

“Our core business is to focus on day-to-day management of sovereign Australia territory and interests.

“And that can vary from our contribution to the monitoring of fisheries, or of dealing with people smuggling, or of being aware of what’s in the sky above us, and what might be in the sky above us in years to come, is our everyday evolution of a defense force.

“We can do that better if we understand our neighborhood as well as we understand our own country.

“We have consciously begun to shape a trained workforce and a strategy which prioritizes our international engagement and our relationship with our neighbors,

“We’ve had strong military-to-military relationships with our neighbors for many decades. And we look to strengthen and improve our effect in this domain.”

Question: You are being a more integrated force, but this template, which you are shaping, could then form a solid foundation for the kinds of innovation, which your government might see as important in the years ahead.

What kinds of innovations do you see in the mid term from this perspective?

Air Marshal Davies: Clearly, situational awareness of the air and space domain is critical, but so is an ability to affect an adversary; potentially at long range as part of an integrated package.

“What form this will take is a work in progress and will reflect judgments about need in the period ahead within a coalition context.

“If we shape a force that can only do parts of the warfighting continuum we will have failed.

“That is why in our exercises with partners such as in Talisman Saber 2017 we are working the spectrum of conflict both to shape capability, but to lay a solid foundation for thinking about future operational needs.”

Question: As we go forward, it is important to think through the military force we are building up against the objectives, which Australia and its allies can establish within the region and beyond.

You are building a very flexible and in that overused term, agile force, but these tools need to be matched up against objectives.

Clearly, as you have said, protection of Australian territory is crucial but beyond that what approach do we need?

Air Marshal Davies: As you suggest, military capability is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success.

“It is crucial that we sort out objectives among ourselves in the region and beyond,

“What are the most crucial challenges to be met?

“How and where do our approaches overlap and where do they differ?

“And we need to remain aware that the military responses are only one of those options that each respective government has.

“We need to be credible

“And building of credible military options, should they be needed, requires coordination with our allies.”

Question: How do you view the fundamentals of the Australian approach going forward?

Air Marshal Davies: A key element is simply our unique geography and the nature of our neighborhood. We have a unique geography, which provides protection as well as challenges within our region.

“As I mentioned earlier, this means shaping robust and clear relationships with our closest neighbors.

“It means working with allies like the US and Japan to shape very flexible military options to adapt to changes in the region.

“Space is becoming increasingly important.

“We have used space largely as a communications domain, but as adversaries adopt new approaches, we need to reconsider how we do business as well.

“And we are adding Tritons and F-35s, which means we can reshape our networks, and access to space will be needed to enable configurable and redundant networks.

“Antarctica will become increasingly important in the period ahead. It is the world’s back door and states will look to use transit over the pole to shorten operating distances to areas of interest.

“We want to make sure that we are able to properly defend our ability to maintain Antarctica as a neutral environment.”

Question: Integrated air and missile defense is clearly an important coming capability for Australia.

How best to approach that challenge?

Air Marshal Davies: We have a project, Air 6500, which is designed to get to this capability, and we have tactical pieces relevant to such an effort.

“But we are certainly not there.

“We should be starting with, “How are we going to coordinate air warfare destroyers, space-based communications, F-35, future frigates, Triton and P-8 into an integrated operating picture?

“How do we coordinate all of the command and control, including the civilian air traffic control sensors?

“How do you get them onto the same sheet of music?

“How do you begin to get all the different parts of the national orchestra to play a tune we have not finished writing yet?

“We are working to shape intellectual warriors who allow us to use those disparate elements, and pull them together.

“And without that web, without that integrated air and missile defense, within which we have to plug our allies, or at least make it pluggable, we’ll have fallen short.

“That is one of the next big steps for us.”

Editor’s Note: With regard to the photo above, here is the full caption provided by the Australian Department of Defence which highlights the World War II approach to integrated operations:

On Friday 25 August 2017 a dedicated Last Post service was held at the Australian War Memorial marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay.

The Battle of Milne Bay was an important victory for Allied forces, marking the first time that Japanese forces were defeated on land. feature of the battle was the close cooperation between the Australian Army and the RAAF.

Hudson bombers from RAAF No.6 Squadron provided reconnaissance and bomber support, No.75 Squadron provided Kittyhawks, and the flying squadrons were supported by No 37 Radar Station and No8 Fire Control Unit during the Battle.

Personnel from the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) conducted a naval survey of the bay in Laurabada, which was manned by RAN personnel.

RAN warships, including HMAS Arunta, escorted the transport vessels delivering earth moving equipment, food, ammunition, aviation fuel and other essential supplies.

The Australian Army deployed its 7th and 18th Infantry Brigades.

More than 370 Australians were killed or wounded while the Japanese suffered almost 1500 casualties.