Australia Unveils Airpower Doctrine
“Australian Air Power Controversy: F-35 and Super Hornets Under Fire” discussed the latest rounds of a rising controversy swirling around Australia’s selection of the F-35A as the foundation of its future airpower, and of the F-18F Super Hornet as an interim gap filler until the F-35s arrive. Australia’s Liberal Party government has begun to respond to its detractors, which include a number of unaffiliated critics, foreign policy/defense think tanks, and the opposition Labor Party, who are demanding “an immediate review of the Government’s air capability plan… and… press the US Administration for access to the F-22 Raptor to expand our air capability options…” DID has updated our collection point article for the controversy with updated links from all sides.
Underneath procurement decisions, however, lie the more fundamental issues of doctrine and threat assessments. The one cannot be understood without the other, and so it’s worth paying attention to the revised airpower doctrine Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd unveiled during the recent Chief of Air Force Conference in Melbourne, Australia. See release | “AAP 1000 – Fundamentals of Australian Aerospace Power, 4th edition” documents. On the same day, Liberal Party defence minister Dr. Brendan Nelson’s offered a speech to that same conference re: “Australia’s Future Air Power.”
Back on March 26, 2007, DID noted that an assessment of potential threats, including capability projections for expected armaments in the region given current trends, were a critical component of the most-referenced independent analysis by by Air Power Australia [6.9MB, PDF format], and heavily shaped their differing recommendations. We asked our Australian readers to help finding documents that offered this element for the current Australian Liberal Party/DoD position, and received some assistance in April 2006. A recent speech by the Chief Of The Defence Force, which accompanies the new DoD document “Joint Operations for the 21st Century,” adds more background – but may not fully agree with some earlier statements. Relevant transcript/documents can be found at…
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, Chief Of The Defence Force, in his May 16, 2007 speech To the RUSI Conference. Its topic is “The ADF of the Future,” and it accompanies the release of the DoD report “Joint Operations for the 21st Century” [PDF]. After dealing with the ADF’s present state, some trends, and some of the emerging threats, he says that in 2030, the ADF will need to be able to:
“Firstly, in keeping with long-standing Government policy, we will need to be able to defend Australian territory against credible threat without relying on the combat forces of other countries [emphasis DID's; compare with Mr. Pezullo's remarks, below; there is overlap, but also important potential differences].
Secondly, we will need to be able to provide joint forces to contribute to, or lead, coalition operations in Australia’s neighbourhood.
Thirdly, the future force will be called upon to contribute to coalition operations further away…
Finally, we will continue to be called upon to provide regional situational awareness to a global commitment of military force.
As is apparent, many of the things we will be called upon to do are responses to contingencies that could arise with little to no notice. The brevity of warning time almost ensures that we will join the fight with a ‘come as you are’ force. This means that our future force will need to be appropriately structured to manage the risks posed by our uncertain future strategic environment.”
He later adds:
“Multidimensional Manoeuvre sees possibilities for a conventional military force to fight asymmetrically – through tailoring our operations so we do not fight like with like, or avoiding battle on unfavourable terms altogether. Further, deception and surprise are parts of an asymmetric attitude that refuses to accept conflict on the adversary’s terms.”
Presumably, this applies in the air as well as on land.
Other relevant information can be found via the March 31, 2006 session of the Australian Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee On Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade Defence Subcommittee: Australian Defence Force Regional Air Superiority panel. DID has linked to its compiled proceedings before, but our readers pointed us to one panel Q&A session in particular that included DoD witnesses: Air Marshal Shepherd; Mr Pezzullo; Air Cdre Harvey; Dr Lough; Air Cdre Binskin; Lt Gen. Hurley; Dr Gumley; Air Commodore Harvey. That session dealt with a number of questions, including the sections of the APA report proposing F-111 life extension. We have included the full set of links at the end; meanwhile, the relevant excerpts are provided below, unabridged:
“Mr Pezzullo – Thank you. Mr Chair, I might just add some comments to what the chief has indicated. I would like to spell out the strategic basis upon which these decisions are being taken, both the decisions that have been taken in the recent past in relation to getting into the JSF program and future decisions that need to be taken about the strategic framework upon which that is based.
The government’s outstanding guidance for Defence is contained in the Defence white paper 2000. That lays out the foundational basis upon which we do all of our planning, be that for air combat or other capabilities, and it certainly guides the work that I do and the work that General Hurley does down the line from me in terms of developing capability strategies for government consideration. There have been two updates, as this committee would be well aware, to that document, but the fundamental policy, as the Prime Minister reaffirmed last December, remains the Defence 2000 white paper. That is what we have to go on. We are not military or aviation enthusiasts who just go off in the blue sky, if I can dare say that, and design our own capabilities independent of government direction. Government direction, of course, is informed by professional advice that we provide to them.
The government has laid down quite clearly what it requires from us in terms of air combat capability. The white paper determines that Defence will maintain and further develop and integrate and balance a joint force comprised of principally maritime capabilities – which is to say mostly air and naval forces – that can defend Australia by denying the air and sea approaches to Australia by any credible hostile force. That is on the public record; it is unclassified information. It also requires certain other things from intelligence capability, strike capability and land forces that are not directly germane here, although they have a bearing when you look at the totality of how we achieve military effects.
The white paper spells out in quite some detail in chapter 8 the air combat capability goal that the government requires of Defence. It is the ability to protect Australia from air attack and to control Australian air approaches to ensure that operations against any hostile forces approaching Australia would be successful. The aim is to maintain the air combat capability at a level that is at least comparable, qualitatively, to any in the region. Other parts of the white paper, and the submission presented to this committee by the Air Marshal on behalf of the wider Defence organisation, make quite clear that the white paper guidance in relation to the definition of ‘the region’ means our immediate region: sea and air approaches and environs to our north in the archipelagic region. We need to be able to maintain a sufficient marginal superiority in that region to provide an acceptable likelihood of success in combat. That is all quite clear cut.
When I review the status of the project, it is my job to look at how the project is tracking, but not so much against technical capability requirements that the Chief of Air Force is obviously concerned about or the sort of cost and schedule concerns that Dr Gumley would be concerned about. My job is to match it up against the direction that government has given us. In terms of a fifth-generation stealthy and networked capability that meets those strategic tasks that I have just spelt out, which really just reproduce language out of the white paper, this is in fact the only option at the moment that makes any reasonable sense on a capability, value for money or cost effectiveness ground. If that were not the case, I would not be marking it as being appropriate against our strategic basis for our planning.
The chief has touched on other proposals and options that are before us. I do not want to go too deeply into another submission’s context, but it would really be failing in my duty to this committee to not draw your attention to the strategic framework and the basis that underpins the presentation made to this committee in another submission. It is the most extensive submission that you have. It is a very interesting, comprehensive and well-researched submission. If I can put it in a nutshell, and not to draw too fine a point on it, it is predicated on a strategic framework which is radically different from what the government direction to us is. It is predicated upon taking on a very complex air capable enemy. It makes mention of particular regions, and maybe even particular countries, from which such a force would be generated. By sketching out as it does the parameters for making a strategic decision of quite a different nature–not unreasonably, from the point of view of the authors, I suppose–it not surprisingly comes up with a different kind of option.
The scenario – and it is scenario based – that ultimately is embedded in the alternative submission is predicated upon a massive erosion of US military and strategic capability. It is predicated upon Australia having to operate independently beyond our immediate regions as I have defined them in my earlier remarks. It is predicated upon a radically different set of strategic circumstances which, I must say, I do not necessarily see even in the most speculative parts of my crystal ball. The scenario sketched out in the comprehensive submission that you have before you from another party would require, and therefore by definition there would be, a strong element of lead time and warning time be available to us. It would require government of whichever persuasion to radically rethink the scale of its defence budget and the level of investment, particularly in capital. It would require Australia to become self-reliant in a much larger force. It would also require – and I think this is the most problematic set of assumptions – that our access to the alliance capability and interoperability that we seek to have with our US alliance partners, in a whole range of scenarios and contingencies, be extinguished almost to zero. The only basis upon which I could see that arising would be through a massive political rupture in the relationship. It would also require a massive erosion of the US military capability edge which, again, I do not foresee even in the most speculative parts of my crystal ball.
Can things change? Yes, absolutely. What is our job as professionals? Our job as professionals is to employ warning time to provide quite fundamentally different strategic assessments to government of whichever persuasion happens to be in office at the time. In radically different strategic circumstances we would provide radically different advice. No doubt the Australia government of the day would provide a direction to Defence to employ a radically different strategy.”
Mr Pezzullo – As I heard your question, you asked whether there had been – as I interpret it; my apologies if I get this wrong – a significant shift in our strategic thinking or our assessment of the strategic environment such as would drive a different type of strike capability other than the one Australia has traditionally had for the best part of three decades. I think Chief of Air Force covered that. I would add this to his comments – it goes back to what I said earlier – in fact, I will take a step back and take the opportunity to make a broader statement that has got relevance to other Defence issues but foundationally it needs to be made because it is relevant to this issue as well.
I think there is a fair amount of uninformed debate, frankly, in the public arena about supposed ambiguity, nuance, slippages in strategic direction and the underpinning strategic basis that Defence planning is based upon. It seems to me that that confusion, such as it is, that ambiguity, such as it might be, is perhaps in the minds of the two dozen people who seem to obsess about this outside of what we do on a day-to-day basis. I need to say this pretty starkly – and I touched on this in my own remarks before – there is no confusion in terms of what I understand government to be telling me, which then frames the strategic task for the ADF that I try to articulate as best I can for General Hurley and his staff to then develop capability strategies and options to address those strategic tasks.
The air combat capability requirement set out by government – it is true to say that there are some classified documents that necessarily need to sit below this which are more precise as to geography, regions and distances, which I know you would not expect us to retail in public – is entirely congruent with the public language of the document. The white paper was published, as you well know, in 2000. The decision to enter in the JCF project and to change Air 6,000 into the new air combat capability project was made in 2002 has been remarked upon several times, and that is the track that we are currently on.
There have been some questions and answers about the project previously. It suggests to me strongly when I back cast into the decision-making process – and General Hurley can give you the fine details if he wishes – that there was a pretty clear understanding in the mind of government about the strategic task for the ADF that they had set only two years previously, 24 months or thereabouts. They took advice, as is the process, from the Minister for Defence taking a submission to the cabinet – or to the National Security Committee more properly in this case – and they announced a decision. It is not as though on my reading of it, both at the classified level that I get access to as well as the public documents, that much changed in terms of the fundamental strategic task for the ADF in that 24-month period. In fact I would contend to you the opposite: the capability that the project is developing in terms of its stealthiness, its network capability, its size capability, its situational awareness capability et cetera is precisely the project that seems to meet all of the strategic tasks that, if you like, I am the steward or the guardian of that I derive from the white paper. I put the proposition almost the other way: if I were to press them for an alternative outside of this project, they struggle to give it to me in terms of the all round kind of capability that the strategic tasks require.
It is a bit like a cricket analogy: this is a very good all-rounder, a brilliant all-rounder, across all the strategic tasks, public and in more detailed terms classified, that we develop. In particular scenarios, platform on platform, that some people focus on to a very high degree, are individual platforms going to be a better opening batsman than the all-rounder? Quite possibly, that is the whole nature of being an all-rounder. Were we the United States Air Force and, as the Air Marshal indicated, where you can have a balance of capabilities that address many different contingency scenarios with many different platforms, we would be a different sort of air force if we were like that. We would, funnily enough, be something that looked like the United States Air Force.
That takes me back to the proposition that I put to the committee in my earlier remarks: if you look at the strategic underpinnings of the very substantial other submission that you have got before you, it deals with the strategic reality that is in the government guidance that we have. But also in terms of the most speculative parts of the crystal ball that I can see, it is one that we do not plan for – that is to say a fully networked air force attacking Australia where Australia had no access to the kind of network capabilities that we have been touching on, where Australia’s alliance had completely disintegrated for political capability or whatever reasons is something that exists in a parallel universe. I do not mean to say that dismissively. There was a question asked by Mr Edwards before about people treating the gentlemen in question with some sort of antipathy. I would not know them if I fell over them in the street – I do not even know if they are in the room – but I am going off the strategic logic of what the contention is versus what government policy is.”
And finally, near the very end…
“Air Marshal Shepherd – Let me address that in the main and I will ask other members to pipe up if I drop the ball. On the F22: there is no doubt that it will be the world’s best air superiority fighter. If we were living in a hypothetical world and it was available, which it is not, and we could afford it, which we can but it would distort the budget, the F22 and the JSF would give us a better air superiority capability in the air-to-air role. There is no doubt about that. But at what cost? What cost to government in distorting other government programs, what cost to Defence in distorting our own capability budget and a balanced ADF, as I explained earlier, and also what cost to Air Force? In fact, the F22 is in operational service now in the US, and, interestingly, the ability to handle low observable technologies on a day-to-day maintenance basis is proving to be easier. That is better than was expected. But it still comes at a cost – of maintenance people, different aircrew et cetera. So it becomes a logistics, training and engineering cost to what is by world standards a moderate sized but First World capable air force. So there is that.
How much do you get for that extra cost? Well, you do not get a lot more. The JSF is very capable in the air-to-air environment. It is also truly multi-role. Putting aside the strike part of it, in just the air superiority and the air-to-air role, we believe it will still have a tier 1 v. tier 1 edge. If we were to look beyond our region – and, once again, the focus of our submission has been our region – then of course we would see ourselves playing a role as part of a larger coalition and we would package our forces. We would commit our forces along government guidelines at the time to achieve a political and strategic outcome, but we would package them in a technical and practical military sense to work well with those other forces.
That gets to the point of how vulnerable the whole package is when we push it forward. But I say again that we are already doing that. The F111 must be escorted by the Hornet now, so we are already in a situation where we have to push things like the tanker forward, and that is the old venerable 707. It will not be something as simple as having three JSFs detailed off to orbit around every AWACS aeroplane and every tanker; it is not that simple anymore. But in some ways it is a lot easier. If we have a fully networked system of systems, we will have knowledge dominance in the air battle space. We will know things about other people before they know things about us. We do not have to have flies buzzing around the honey pot – the honey pot being a high-value tanker or an AWACS in close proximity. We will be able to let the whole force range free with information sharing. The AWACS will be able to see things approach it before they can get to it. So it is not as simple as someone sending off a long-range missile that will sneak in through our defences. There will be an overarching network of knowledge that will allow us to know all. Then, of course, our aim would be to see first, shoot first, kill first.
So we would look at that in our doctrine and in our tactics. I know that Dr Stephens in his presentation mentioned how the Spanish air force were recasting their doctrine and tactics; we are very much looking at doing that now. We have already moved into that environment with our current level of networking. So I do not see any threat there, really; I just see a sensible adaptation of our doctrine and tactics. We would use the synergy that the network would give us to enable us to do that. We now also have long-range stand-off weapons. I hope that my fighter pilots of the future never get to see an enemy aeroplane unless it is in the data-linked image that is sent back from the long-range missile as it is about to hit one and blow it up. I hope they never get to see one with the naked eye, in the flesh.”
Assessing the realism of that hope is left as an exercise for the reader. Finally, a response from Australia’s Air Power Development Center:
“The Air Force’s air power doctrine draws on strategic and joint guidance to describe the conditions that shape the force and determine the Government’s options for its employment. In doing so, the doctrine is not military strategic guidance. Rather it describes how the Air Force organises to use air power in conjunction with the other Services to deliver military effect. On the other hand, military strategy describes the means the ADF might use to prosecute operations in a particular context. Because the range of possible operations is broad, military strategy and doctrine describe the foundations for a similarly broad range of military operations that can be shaped to met more specific circumstances or threats. The Government’s strategic guidance, issued in Defence 2000 – Our Future Defence Force and the 2003 and 2005 Defence Updates provide the public dimension of Australia’s military strategy.”
Agreed. Both military doctrine and military strategy must, of course, converge when making procurement decisions that go to the heart of the long-term force structure that must execute this doctrine in a given strategic environment. By bringing in additional sources, our readers have now been provided with further base for comparison and evaluation of the political and military choices being made where doctrine meets strategic needs.
Additional Readings & Sources
- Australian Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee On Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade Defence Subcommittee: Australian Defence Force Regional Air Superiority panel Q&A (March 31/06) – Mr Goon; Dr Kopp (Air Power Australia). Some of these questions and responses fed into the next session…
- Australian Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee On Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade Defence Subcommittee: Australian Defence Force Regional Air Superiority panel Q&A (March 31/06) – DoD Witnesses: Air Marshal Shepherd; Mr Pezzullo; Air Cdre Harvey; Dr Lough; Air Cdre Binskin; Lt Gen. Hurley; Dr Gumley; Air Commodore Harvey.
- Australian Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee On Foreign Affairs, Defence And Trade Defence Subcommittee: Australian Defence Force Regional Air Superiority panel Q&A (July 5/06) – Ipswich session, near RAAF Amberley: Group Capt. Morrison; Group Capt. Davies; Mr Webb; Mr Harling; Mr Duff; Mr Sanderson; Mr Macklin. A very interesting look at the elements required to maintain aging aircraft whose original suppliers are no longer making those parts – an issue that’s highly relevant around the world as global military aircraft fleets age.
- Australia DoD – “Our Future Defence Force” 2000 White Paper. The main site uses frames, and includes the 2003 and 2005 updates. It may be found here.