Sir James Rowland Seminar 2019 – The Foundations of Australian Aviation Culture

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This seminar series is presented by The Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society (ACSACS) with the Royal Australian Air Force Air Development Centre. The series honours the contributions of Air Marshal Sir James Rowland, the first engineering officer to serve as Chief of the Air Staff (1976-79) and a major contributor to Australian thinking on the strategic use of air power. They aim to foster a broadened understanding of the origins, evolution, application and depiction of air power in the national interest. The seminar brings together air power practitioners and academics, and wider Service, governmental and industry parties interested in the utility of air power.


distinguished guests fellow companions in the profession of arms I don't know if Wing Commander Fredrickson introduced me by my nickname of Dickey but that's what I'm commonly known as and it's probably because of my uncanny resemblance to this sari to this guy I'm honored today to speak at this see James Rowland conference I met Sir James on a number of occasions when I was in LA see on Judy at Government House in Sydney as junior staff we were provided with a few plates of sandwiches and jugs of beer after the investitures and we often found ourselves joined by Sir James who said he'd rather come around the back with us take his jacket off and have a few beers with the Raffi's then be stuck inside the mansion my presentation today is about the foundations of Australian aviation culture to investigate this topic I seek to answer the question what does it mean to be an Australian airman I'll start by proposing that we are members of the profession of arms who operate in the air domain as a military service we do so jointly with our sibling services to provide air power effects on behalf of the nation so let me unpack the three elements of my proposition the profession of arms operating in the air domain and being part of a military service Australian borne by British serving leftenant general Sir John Hackett argued that the function of the profession of arms is the ordered application of force in the resolution of a social problem somewhat imaginatively Hackett declared that there is an element of religious vocation in those who serve in the military and that in certain times and places the calling resembles a priesthood for us Packard who is writing in the 1960s might be a little hopeful in his assessment nonetheless military service demands a unique obligation from its adherents we must be prepared on behalf of the nation to take the life of another human members of the profession of arms must perform a role that is contrary to the endeavors of the rest of civilized society and they therefore form a distinct community within that society in fact since the dawn of civilization societies have set apart two groups the shamans that is the seers the healers those with special religious or medical knowledge and the Warriors the Warriors are the only ones generally granted authority to take human life deliberately and on behalf of society armed police forces can only kill in self-protection or the protection of others any lethal actions they commit cannot be deliberate or pre-planned the power invested in the military is an awesome one that also has a potential to threaten the society that sanctions it as a result warriors are held to a higher account than the general community in fact they are the essence of paradox they must be lethal but constrained aggressive but disciplined self-aware but dispassionate courageous but not reckless ruthless but compassionate they must value human life but be prepared to take it civilized society expects the human ideal in the profession of arms so what sits aside airman in that ancient and noble profession since the beginning of human conflict the ability to seize the high ground either to observe the enemy or to use gravity to advantage has provided considerable combat superiority high and – the action is ideal but rarely afforded to overcome gravity and view the battle below directly birdlike required technology beyond the reach of human ingenuity that was until the invention of the manned hot-air balloon by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783 the first use of their invention in war followed soon after during the Battle of Fleurus in Flanders in 1794 it provided an intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance role for French generals Jordan and his forces and helped them to prevail over the opposing Austrian and Dutch forces the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that war is common to all and that all things come from such strife and we can argue that conflict has been the driver of so much technology over the millennia like radar jet engines GPS and the Internet as now ubiquitous examples in living memory however journalist Wendy who suggests that aircraft exemplified the history of technology as a double-edged sword one that advances and modernized as a society while also increasingly threatening its eradication all technology relies on the inherent properties of the materials used and the way that we use them in aviation the limits of those materials can be reached due to environmental factors or human actions so the fragility of aviation requires special characteristics of those who would engage with it those who can accept and manage the risks display the attitude of air mindedness be they aircrew in military aircraft or passengers on commercial airliners air mindedness not to be confused with mnship which is the skills judgment and discipline required to operate aircraft safely and effectively is a term first coined by Sir Samuel hor the British Secretary of State for air in about 1926 the Oxford English Dictionary defines air mindedness simply as interest in and enthusiasm for the use and development of aircraft the concept really began with those for whom aviation was a possibility that is the wealthy and those who had served in the aviation services of the Great War in 1929 journalist and aviation enthusiasts still a wolf Murray exemplified air mindedness when she said even if she has never flown it is enough that she should want to and that she should gaze upward with longing when she sees an aeroplane in flight and that she studies the question enough to develop the air mind as aviation gradually became commonplace the civil community became unconsciously err minded and the term disappeared from general usage in the 1950s notwithstanding the observation by historian Jeffrey Blaney in his seminal 1966 work the tyranny of distance that aviation is a defining feature of the National character of Australia and that Australians became more accustomed to flying than the people of probably any other country however and mindedness has remained an enduring aspect of military aviation prophetically the proprietor of Britain's Daily Mail Lord Northcliffe said in 1905 that the day the English Channel is crossed by air England is no longer an island of course that Geographic reality had determined that the defence of Britain was in the first instance a maritime one Frenchman Louis Bleriot changed that in 1909 when he flew an aircraft of his own manufacture from Calais in France to Dover England on the day after Blair iou's crossing the Daily Mail said that they are not mere dreamers who hold that the time is at hand when air power will be an even more important thing then seapower of course the military potential of powered flight was realized by European military authorities long before 1909 Maj Fullerton of the Royal Engineers gave a presentation at the inaugural Congress of Engineers in China International Congress of engineers in Chicago in August 1893 entitled some remarks on aerial warfare he concluded his talk with a remark that wars in the future we'll probably commence with severe fighting in the air the victor following up his successes with sea and land battles aided by airships he added that warfare by sea and land will only be possible when a nation has the command of the air and note that he was saying this 10 years before the Wright brothers flew Italian air power theorist Greeley oh do I wrote in 1909 that at present we are fully conscious of the importance of the sea in the near future it will be no less vital to achieve the same kind of supremacy in the air before long Italian forces dropped grenades from observation dirigible x' on Arab and Turkish forces east of Tripoli during the Italo Turkish war in October 1911 the following month leftenant agree Leo givat II dropped grenades on Turkish encampments from his Taub aircraft air mindedness in the military context had come of age before the Great War official numbers vary but by August 1914 and mere five years after Blair iou's crossing Germany had about 246 aircraft in military service France had 160 the Russians had some 260 aircraft of varying standards while the British had a hundred and thirteen not all of these were suitable for frontline work of course Australia had five but that's another story the air crew and maintain is of those aircraft spawned the military aviation culture with a firm sense of air mindedness a century later one modern day airpower theorist defines air mindedness as a global strategic mindset providing perspective through which the battlespace is not constrained by geography distance location or time United States Air Force official doctrine adds that air power is not situation or platform specific and is applied dynamically but I am an intrinsically different from sailors raft doctrine argues that there are cultural differences between the three Australian services and that the differentiation lies in the different technologies used and therefore the way they fight in combat environments as well as individual histories and heritage they maintain Major General Peter Haddad summed up this situation very well after serving in the joint environment for many years and while commander joint logistics command he said that he'd finally worked out the difference between the three services the Army he said does a dangerous job that nobody really wants to do and the best way to do it safely is to get in do it and get out this relies on leadership he said I might argue that it's better described a strong command for the Navy every sailors job contributes to the ship's mission and survivability and if one fails they all go down with the ship so the Navy relies on teamwork the general said that it took him the longest to understand the Air Force he finally determined that operating in the air requires independent thought the constantly rechecks assumptions and questions decisions if general Haddad is right this might explain some of the cultural rub points between the services however without using the word he was recognizing quite simply that Airmen are air minded in case you can't read the fine print at the bottom I'll just blow that up for you Airmen are proud to be different from sailors and soldiers however they recognize and respect the skills and knowledge of others and they recognize their own limitations they know what air mindedness brings to the joint environment this ranges from the tactical application of air power in joint operations with maritime and land forces to the strategic options afforded by air power in national posturing to shape deter and coerce am and therefore epitomized modern-day air mindedness now I began with the proposition that as Australian airman we are members of the profession of arms who operate in the air domain as a service so finally I wish to explore the nature of being part of that service in other words I want to ask what sets Australian a man apart life is on Australian airman is different from life in the general community it has always offered experiences and challenges not faced by most others this has generated a unique culture and what psychologists call a sense of community psychologist David McMillan and David Chavez proposed proposed that a sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group and a shared faith that members needs will be met through their commitment to be together in the case of the Air Force community that commitment to be together is more of a psychological and emotional one than a physical one of course this sense of community is a critical part of Australian aviation culture but culture is also much more than that culture is a way of life that comprises very use assumptions knowledge symbols social behaviors and customs actually you might have heard that said that the Navy has customs the Army has traditions and the Air Force has bad habits this serves to reinforce the culture is passed on generationally and is accepted generally without thinking military aviation cultural eyes on three elements technology knowledge and people the inherent and enduring air mindedness of M of Emin means that they are willing to trust the technology that allows them to form their role this however relies on technical and professional mastery at all levels as a part of that mastery we design systems to ensure safety and sir Angus outlined those in some detail in in his talk but those systems are worthless without the values that Airmen share so much for the theory but how does this culture manifest itself in Australian military aviation and now I'll just give you some examples it manifests itself when I had a conversation with a Super Hornet pilot who told me that he was not looking forward to his flight back home from the Middle East and when I asked him why he said that he absolutely trusts the work of the maintain is in his squadron and when they declare his jet ready he has no question that it is however he was not as assured on his contracted passenger jet our culture is evident in the language that we use in the case of the Air Force where an organization of knucks and Spitz black handers and back Enders doggies and drained sniffers TECO's and trash haulers Gunny's and geeks fish-heads and Jeffers and of course only one of us are only half of us has a real name I've recently deployed with Guk's & gam and I'm sure everyone knows Fritz and blitz and chippy chapo and chipper of course our culture is alive when we don't see our colleagues for a long time because of postings but we pick up the conversation again virtually where we left it off three years earlier then our partners do the same the barbecue the next weekend the sense of community comes to the fore in cases like this air woman and air force spouse who joined an air force related Facebook group a couple of weeks ago now culture plays out in familial connections such as those of the case of my colleague a Commodore not ISA Wade who's I can't remember it's three four or five children are serving in the ATF and to whom I once suggested we could save a fortune by canceling the recruiting program and just continuing with the breeding program it's there when we look out for one another today when our gender religion ethnic heritage and sexual orientation makes no difference to those we work with allowing our technical and professional mastery to carry us above all else it wasn't always like this of course it's evident when we come together after tragedy particularly when one of our number dies in the service of the nation through military aviation an equally so when we never forget commemorating their life and sacrifice in gestures even as simple as toasting absent friends during a dinner so I'll wrap up now and with a nod to Charles Miriam suggest to you that what sets us apart is that the Air Force's victories are our victories and that we can rightly celebrate them however all of the Air Force's mistakes and sorrows are also ours and we must reflect on them and learn from them all of the Great's of the surface past and present are our companions in the bond as Airmen and although humble as individuals we are members of an illustrious group as Australian airman thank you [Applause]

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