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Published Airpower Journal - Summer 1989


Wing Comdr David J. Schubert, RAAF
Wing Comdr Brian L. Kavanagh, RAAF

We find ourselves constantly in a dilemma as to whether too much detail has been presented or whether we have become so terse that the meaning [of doctrine] is clouded and darkness descends upon the reader . . .

IN a reference to doctrine and the writing of doctrine, US Air Force Gen William W. Momyer--then a colonel--once wrote, "'We find ourselves constantly in a dilemma as to whether too much detail has been presented or whether we have become so terse that the meaning [of doctrine] is clouded and darkness descends upon the reader.'"1 Even a casual discussion of doctrine causes some people to shudder, others to expound at length on the many different views of its meaning, and the remainder to sink slowly and interminably into the darkness that Momyer refers to. The mention of doctrine within the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will elicit, at best, confusion, and, at worst, looks of derision. In the words of the indomitable Professor Julius Sumner Miller, "Why is it so?"2

A Borrowed Doctrine

The straightforward answer is that, in the past, the RAAF has not perceived a need for an Australian doctrine. That is, Australia's earlier "forward defence" policy allowed the RAAF to adopt, wholesale, the air force doctrines of "big league" sponsors such as the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States. This luxury has, at the same time, proved an impediment to the independent development of strategic thought on air power in Australia. RAAF doctrine, therefore, has been the doctrine of other nations--neither directed specifically at Australia nor influenced significantly by members of its air force. In short, few members of the RAAF have thought about doctrine; of those who have, even fewer have contemplated it in an Australian context.

An example of borrowed doctrine was the British Royal Air Force (RAF) Air Publication (AP) 1300, Operations. This manual had a significant influence on the RAAF until a major shift in UK strategic strike defence policy in the 1960s rendered much of it obsolete. Until that time, concepts used in Australia--such as "the balanced air force"--were derived from this useful manual, once considered the unofficial bible of air operations in the RAAF.

Times have changed. Major shifts in world politics--the US Guam doctrine of 1969 and the emergence of regional economic and national powers, to name just two--have altered Australia's strategic circumstances. Because Australia's national strategies and defence policies have changed, old reliances are now irrelevant, and the absence of a specifically Australian doctrine is becoming apparent. The RAAF can no longer rely on the doctrinal precepts of larger, broader-based air forces that support fundamentally different national policies and military strategies. Their doctrines are at times outdated, but--more important--they are inappropriate to Australian conditions. Moreover, looking to other air forces for direction in the use of air power in future hostilities is contrary to the fundamental principles of Australia's recently adopted defence policy of self reliance.

There is another, more important, philosophical reason why an increasingly self reliant fighting force should have its own unique, formalised doctrine. Unless a fighting force has a definitive doctrinal statement of how it is going to fight in war, it has no explicit and absolute basis on which to focus its strategy and planning. Of equal importance, without a doctrine that fosters broad-based understanding, a fighting force lacks those shared assumptions among commanders and subordinates that enable them to know intuitively what each is likely to do under the pressures of combat. Doctrine, if it is sound, is the means of reducing the fog and friction of war and is the foundation of all successful military enterprises.

Editor's Note:
The Royal Australian Air Force has recently set itself the task of developing a comprehensive air doctrine from "scratch." The authors are taking the opportunity, at selected milestones in the process, to report the essence of their thinking and the status of their progress. This article is their first effort in that regard and offers us in the US Air Force the fascinating opportunity to observe as another air force struggles with the complexities of defining and writing its own air doctrine.

Doctrine--The Holy Writ?

Contrary to popular folklore, doctrine is neither some kind of codified law enunciating immutable rules on how to fight war, nor a dusty book of commandments kept in all old trunk in a deep, dark cellar, guarded by monks and brought out only for Kangaroo Exercise washups. These myths suggest something sacrosanct--that is to say, unchanging and unchallengeable. This is not doctrine but dogma. The rigidity of dogma inevitably leads to failure, as history and experience show. Military operations do not aim to fail, so dogma has no place in their domain.

Military doctrine is a body of central beliefs about war that guides the application of power in combat. Although authoritative, it is only a guide and requires judgment in its use. Doctrine is derived from a synergy of two sources: fundamental principles and innovative ideas about the best use of combat power. Fundamental principles draw on experience and are time-honoured as the optimum way to succeed. They are the guidelines that have worked best in the past. Conversely, innovative ideas look only to the future and include theoretical as well as practical application. Fundamental principles evolve slowly and are, by nature, relatively permanent, whereas innovation embraces continuous change. The overall interaction of these two elements, therefore, makes military doctrine a particularly dynamic process bounded only by the limits of our imagination.

Air Power Doctrine

Having defined doctrine generally, as it applies to any combat power, we must now give air power doctrine a more specific focus. First, we should consider what air power is. The widely recognized definition by R. A. Mason and M. J. Armitage in Airpower in the Nuclear Age proclaims air power as "the ability to project military force by or from a platform in the third dimension above the surface of the Earth."3Thus, air power doctrine can be described as the central beliefs about the conduct of war that guide air services in the application of military power within this third dimension.

Second, we must note that air power doctrine is neither restricted to air war nor confined solely to air forces. Air power doctrine concerns itself with the best use of air services to exploit the intrinsic qualities of air power in the achievement of national objectives. The characteristics of air power, including its advantages and limitations, must be conveyed within the context and form of future warfare. Although air power doctrine may logically be based on past events and established in the present, its prime concern is with the future. Lord Arthur W. Tedder, marshal of the RAF and all exponent of air power, encapsulated the concepts of doctrine when he stated, "We must look forward from the past . . . not back to the past."4

The Shaping
of Air Power Doctrine
in Australia

Let us take, Lord Tedder's advice and dwell for a moment on the historical events that have shaped air power doctrine, both globally and nationally. In this way we will have a better understanding of where RAAF doctrine is today and where it should go.

Throughout the relatively short history of air power, there have been few opportunities for the development of air power doctrine. Specifically, the efficacy of air power doctrine was harmed by some overearnest, politically motivated proponents of air power who actively sought the independence of air forces. Further, some people emphasised air power's traditional responsibility to support land and maritime forces, often to the detriment of the development of operations exclusively within the air. Air power can be applied in support of other combat forces; it can also be applied independently. Both applications are vital to a nation's security, yet history suggests that the latter has received a disproportionate emphasis in the past."

An unrelated but parallel development has been the change in attitude toward warfare since the end of World War II. The idea of global confrontation, either conventional or nuclear, was the driving force behind Western military doctrine immediately after World War II and for the next 20 years. This concept has steadily given way to greater emphasis on limited warfare. For political or military reasons, modern warfare now seeks limited objectives rather than the total victory of the past, and conflicts may take the form of counter insurgency, guerrilla warfare, or counter terrorism. The invasion of Grenada and the raid on Libya are examples of the modern use of combat force and are described in today's warfare lexicon by the phrases low intensity conflictor (in Australia's case) escalated low-level conflict. These changes in attitude toward warfare over the four decades since World War II have had a major impact on the application of air power.

Technology, too, has had an effect on the application of air power. Because it has improved the performance of military equipment, the number of weapons and weapon systems within military inventories has deceased--but not without corresponding and dramatic rises in costs. Also, the cost of training and retaining personnel has increased, relative to the past. In short, past capabilities can now be matched with fewer resources, but rising costs and diminishing numbers of assets are matters of concern within a modern military force.

There is no doubt that the RAAF today is a high-technology force, but it is still a small force with a decreasing inventory and, paradoxically, is subject to increasing demands for air services. This latter point is exemplified in the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) need for fleet protection following disbandment of the Fleet Air Arm. At the same time, strategic guidance from the 1987 defence white paper emphasises how the newly adopted Australian defence policy of self-reliance and defence in depth "gives priority to the air and sea defences in our area of direct military interest."5 Furthermore, the rather large geographical area of Australia's direct military interest is unlikely to decrease in the future.

To reiterate, air power in Australia today faces different challenges than those of the past in terms of perceived threats, forms of combat, and tasks. Air power is now responsible for the defence of an enormous area of military interest, using more lethal but more expensive air assets that are gradually decreasing in number. Allocation of these limited assets is now the most significant issue of command and control within the Australian Defence Force (ADF). This last point is controversial because there is increasing pressure to unnecessarily divide Australia's air service among the service components--a concept that defies doctrinal precepts on the best use of air power.

When Writing Doctrine

Although the theoretical aspects of doctrine are important and necessary, they do not determine whether it will be successful. The practical consideration must be that doctrine is recorded in order that a body of central beliefs be accurately reflected and correctly perceived. The right perspective is an integral part of the revision and refinement that make doctrine a dynamic process. Recording the collective memory of central beliefs enforces a discipline and clarity of thought that help sustain this dynamic process.

As discussed earlier, the relative permanence associated with fundamental principles is the keystone to writing doctrine. When we distill these principles, which chiefly arise from combat experience, they provide an ideal foundation from which to develop air power doctrine. We then meld this foundation with innovative ideas, and the two elements react to form the core or philosophical basis of doctrine. But a working doctrine cannot end there because in this form it is sterile. To be effective for the organization, it must be adjusted to the dominant, influencing factors and realities of the organization.

The realities that directly influence the doctrine of a military organization are the nation's defence policy, geography, and geostrategic perspectives. An offensive national defence posture, for example, would engender a far different military doctrine than would a posture that is intrinsically defensive. Similarly, a doctrine for protecting an island nation with a vast area of national interest and regional influence must be different from that of a small, landlocked country with hostile neighbors. Other influences, such as economics and threat assessment, add to the equation, but they shape defence policies and geostrategic perspectives rather than directly influence military doctrine.

The influence of force structure--or the current, existing force--must be considered in writing air power doctrine. No military organization starts from a clean slate, because existing conditions are already part of the central body of beliefs. Once doctrine is written, based on the present organization, force structure should then be subject to the guidance of the doctrine rather than vice versa.

One might use a still to represent the complexities and dynamics of a viable, continuous doctrine (see figure). The container is both the framework of a nation and its perspectives on warfighting. The fluid to be distilled--a mix of national defence policy and national geostrategic perspectives--is both activated and fed by a "yeast" containing the core elements of fundamental principles and innovative ideas, both theoretical and practical. This core Is alive, volatile, and capable of crystallization or precipitation, depending on the state of the solution. The distilled product is doctrine, which slowly reacts with a force-structure solution, thus changing the force structure over time. Eventually, the modified force structure feeds back, maturing and mellowing the original distillation process.

Figure 1. The Doctrine Still The Doctrine Still

This analogy shows the interactions of various dynamic elements and stresses that we should view the development of doctrine as if it were an ongoing chemical reaction or a continuum. That is, the process of distilling doctrine is perennial; that end product, after all, is a body of thought. Similarly, although the distillation process may operate without all the ingredients, the and product may not be the best available. In Australia's case, defence self-reliance has changed the content of the ingredients, and now there is a need to critically examine the quality of the yeast used previously. Given the changed ingredients, the most appropriate yeast, and the continuing chemical reaction, the best doctrinal distillate will flow as a matter of course.

Relevance of
Doctrine to the RAAF

How is all this doctrinal moonshine relevant to the RAAF, and what does it have to do with aeroplanes? Perhaps the best way to begin to answer these questions is to determine what we in the RAAF believe a doctrine should achieve and why we think we need to formalise our doctrine.

Surely an organization the size of the RAAF, which shares responsibility for the security of the nation, should have a common set of assumptions, ideas, values, and attitudes as a guide to its future actions. Furthermore, all members--from the initial trainee through the operational aircrew to the highest-ranking leader--should share an understanding of how air power can best be applied in an Australian context. We can achieve that aim by documenting our understanding. Once recorded, central beliefs provide a common baseline for education and the dissemination of collective thought. Should nothing else be accomplished, recording a doctrine is at least a common starting point from which to educate RAAF personnel.

Further, a recognised, accepted, and duly recorded doctrine will provide a common framework for planning within the RAAF and will influence its future force structure. Thus, establishment of a doctrinal framework gives direction to force structure and to development of the most appropriate strategies. From these strategies evolve the operational art and, at the unit level, the best tactics for using resources. Once again, doctrine is only a guide and merely directs. It is not a panacea, but a particular, necessary part of the planning process.

Viewed simplistically, planning can be likened to developing a playing field. That is, the Australian National Defence Policy dictates the range of games to be played. Doctrine corresponds to selecting and clearing a patch in the wilderness, leveling the ground, and growing the grass. Long-range planning assures that the correct lines are drawn on the ground and the appropriate goalposts are erected. Team leaders and members can then determine the best strategies, operational art, and tactics to play the game. There is nothing to prevent a team from working out its plays in advance, provided those plays are for the range of games dictated. However, playing the game involves more than strategies and tactics, and the outcome may not be satisfactory, particularly if the game has to be played in the wilderness.

So, in answer to the skeptics, doctrine has much to do with the RAAF and is not just about flying aeroplanes. It gives all RAAF personnel a common understanding of why the service exists and how air power can best be used to protect the nation. As a guide, doctrine encourages the best employment and support of aircraft at every level of planning. Furthermore, it directly affects the RAAF's air power capabilities and the selection of future aircraft and weapon systems.

Why a Single-Service

Most military commanders in Australia recognise that the ADF is at present firmly committed to joint operations and that its future defence commitments will most likely be joint in nature. Why, then, should the RAAF write a dedicated, single-service doctrine in a joint-service environment? In the context of military operations, jointness denotes two or more independent services functioning in their own operational environments--whether land, sea, or air--under a single point of command to meet a common aim. Although command is centralised, each service still functions in its unique realm. Further, each one strives to complement the combat powers of the other two by exploiting its own combat power within its operating medium.

As long as ships ply the seas, tanks roll over the ground, and aircraft take to the skies, there will be fundamental differences between the three arms of the defence force. For example, their force structures, for the most part, will remain separate because of basic differences in equipment and operating conditions. Second, the peculiarities of the land, sea, and air will demand different skills, applications, and tactical thinking of the people who operate in these environments: consequently, training requirements will continue to differ. Third, and most important, each service's role will remain aligned with its environmental dimension and in many cases can be carried out as a single-service task rather than a joint-service task.

Jointness, therefore, does not necessarily imply integration of the three armed services. Neither does it mandate a reduction in the roles of these services. The differences between land, sea, and air as operating media are too vast to permit an amalgamation of their essential functions, and the applications of land, sea, or air power cannot simply be lumped together for economic or technical expediency. Perhaps such consolidation may be feasible if and when we build a military vehicle that is capable of operating across the full spectrum of the world's operating environments, including space. Until then, for the sake of overall defence efficiency, some support functions can either be joint endeavors or assigned to one service. But, as long as functional divisions remain, single services will always carry out specialised roles and tasks unique to their own operating environments.

Justification of single-service doctrine would not be necessary if its critics viewed jointness from a historical perspective. In 1942, during the North Africa campaign of World War II, Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery and Air Marshal Arthur Coningham created the allied tactical air force and introduced AirLand Battle doctrine. They showed that the quintessence of jointness in an AirLand Battle is cooperation--in this case, between land and air forces and among allied nations. Without cooperation, all the joint doctrine and procedures in the world will not bring together three organizations as disparate as the fighting arms of a nation. With cooperation, however, jointness will triumph with even a modicum of preordination.

Unfortunately, this perspective of jointness is nonexistent. Jointness builds a momentum of its own, almost as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. It tends to de-emphasise the need for single services yet avoids full-fledged integration of the services. And, all too often, initiatives that are in the "interests of jointness" are considered sacrosanct. To challenge them borders on heresy. Perhaps we need to rigorously question some joint initiatives, particularly those that may reduce a service's capacity to operate effectively within its own medium. Perhaps we need to engender a sense of cooperation among the services that will pave the way for joint operations in war, rather than manufacture an artificial construct that compromises individual performance.

The Way Ahead

Where, then, does RAAF doctrine go from here? If, as stated, single-service doctrine is still necessary and written doctrine is important, then we must surely write a doctrine suitable for the RAAF. That is precisely what is happening. The chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Ray Funnell, has taken the initiative and nominated two officers from RAAF Development Division as project officers to develop RAAF doctrine. These two officers (the authors of this article) are tasked directly by CAS and now work in relative isolation at the RAAF Staff College. Their project is to develop a manual of air power doctrine for use within the RAAF and to determine a means by which this recorded doctrine can be continually verified and updated within the organization.

The task is a first for the RAAF; it is also rather onerous because, as General Momyer pointed out, "The writing of manuals is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in the field of military writing."6 Yet, the stakes are high. The future of air power is vital to Australia. The RAAF has a compelling responsibility to enlighten and align its personnel. Equally, the RAAF has a moral duty to make air power better understood and appreciated within the defence community of Australia. We can accomplish both aims by writing on air doctrine. The alternatives are ignorance, suspicion, misemployment, and inefficiency--characteristics that nestle comfortably under the mantle of General Momyer's darkness.


1. Quoted in Robert Frank Futrell. Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the United States Air Force, 1907-1964 (Maxwell AFB, Ala.: Air University. 1971), 197.

2. This phrase is the catchcry of Professor Miller, a wellknown academic in Australia who uses simple experiments to explain scientific phenomena to children.

3. M. J. Armitage and R. A. Mason. Air Power in the Nuclear Age (Urgana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1983),2.

4. Lord Arthur W. Tedder, "The Unities of War," in The Impact of Air Power; National Security and World Politics, ed. Eugene M. Emme Princeton, New Jersey: D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1959), 339.

5. The Defence of Australia, 1987 (Canberra, Australia: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1987), viii.

6. Quoted in Futrell, 196.


Wing Comdr Brian L. Kavanagh is on special assignment from the chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to write air power doctrine. He has held command positions, has worked with the US Air Force in the Joint Defence Space Communications Station at Nurrungar, Australia, and has flown several tours on maritime aircraft, including the P-3 Orion. Wing Commander Kavanagh is a graduate of the USAF Air War College and the Royal Australian Navy Staff College.

Wing Comdr David J. Schubert (BSc., Melbourne University) is on special assignment from the chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to write air power doctrine. He has had flying tours as a navigator on P-3 Orion aircraft and was an instructor navigator and operations officer at navigation school. Wing Commander Schubert is a graduate of the USAF Air War College and the RAAF Academy.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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