On 21 May 2018, I will be presenting at the fourth Sir James Rowland Air Power Seminar at UNSW Canberra. The Rowland seminars are a joint endeavour between the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society at UNSW and the Royal Australian Air Force’s Air Power Development Centre. The seminar is designed to act as a:

[f]orum aimed at bringing together air power practitioners, academics, Defence personnel, members of other government agencies, as well as students of armed conflict and international security to broaden the understanding of air power as a critical element in ensuring the nation’s defence and security.

I have previously attended one seminar last April when I delivered critical commentary on several papers. However, this time around I will be speaking on the subject of ‘‘It’s a pilots air force’: Air Force Culture and Military Effectiveness in a Disruptive World.’ This fits with the theme of the day, which is an examination of aspects of air power in a disruptive world. While a work in progress, my paper will draw on my ongoing research of air forces and in particular small ones. In due course, once I get a job, I plan to make this the focus of my research for the next couple of years.

Here is the abstract for my paper:

‘It’s a pilots air force,’ and ‘pilots have always been more equal than others.’ This recollection by Air Marshal Sir John Curtiss, one of the first navigators to reach three-star rank in the Royal Air Force (RAF), succinctly sums up the culture and ethos of many air forces. However, despite the proclivity of writers to bemoan the dominance of pilots in air force structures, little has been written about the ideas that underpin air force culture and from whence they come. Nonetheless, if military culture is the ‘bedrock of military effectiveness,’ it is essential to understand the culture of air forces and how they deal with issues related to the challenge of change in a disruptive world, such as their ability to learn lessons from their experiences.

Forming part of a larger research project into the culture, ethos, and ethics of small air forces with specific reference to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), this paper will seek to outline the importance of the military culture of air forces as a determinant of their effectiveness and their ability to adapt to a changing operating environment. To do this, this paper will draw on several historical examples to illustrate the importance of culture to military effectiveness such as the development of the RAF in the interwar years and the command challenges faced by the RAAF in the Southwest Pacific Area during the Second World War.

If you are based in Australia and have an interest in air power, then I would encourage you to attend. You can find more details here.


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