Professional Airpower Mastery and the Royal Canadian Air Force: Rethinking Airpower Education and Professional Development (RCAF Journal - WINTER 2016 - Volume 5, Issue 1)

A paper sponsored by the Commander, Royal Canadian Air Force

Dr. Brad Gladman
Dr. Richard Goette
Dr. Richard Mayne
Colonel Shayne Elder
Colonel Kelvin Truss
Lieutenant-Colonel Pux Barnes
Major Bill March

Editor’s note: The following article was produced as a service paper with numbered paragraphs. Although not our usual practice, for ease of reference with respect to feedback from the readership, we have retained the numbered paragraphs.

As the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, I am blessed with a workforce that possesses significant intellectual capital, and I see it as my role to harness this potential in order to further the development of the conceptual component of airpower. I am, therefore, committed to exploring ways to expand our body of professional knowledge, to encourage self-development, and to provide opportunities for experiential learning. There is also a requirement to continually review the training and education we give to all ranks to ensure that it is configured to deliver what we need within the contemporary environment. To this end, I recently commissioned a paper by the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre to look at airpower education and professional development as one of a series of academic pieces that will underpin a professional airpower mastery programme. Such a programme will ensure expert comprehension of airpower and the ability to apply that understanding effectively wherever and whenever needed. This consequent paper does not hold all the answers, but it is an excellent point of departure for future work. I commend it to you and encourage you to join the ongoing professional airpower mastery debate.Alternate ending: debate about professional airpower mastery.

Lieutenant-General Michael J. Hood, CD
Commander Royal Canadian Air Force

Directly related to the moral and physical components, the aim of the conceptual component is to provide the intellectual basis for armed forces, theoretically justifying the provision and employment of armed forces as well as to preserve and take forward corporate memory, experience, and knowledge. The conceptual component is relevant from the tactical through to strategic levels.

Today’s operating environment is as challenging as it has ever been. At the strategic level, the foreseeable future will involve the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) competing for capital investment, operating funds, and human resources; those Air Force personnel involved in supporting related decisions will need to be masters of their business. On operations, continued focus on joint and multinational actions will require Air Force leaders to have a deep understanding of airpower in general as well as Canadian air power’s particular strengths and limitations.

Through natural evolution rather than design, the RCAF is an air force that predominantly generates and employs tactical-level air power. This has long been the case and is the reason why the RCAF invariably delivers high-calibre tactical output. Such mission-execution focus, however, may have led to disinvestment in the development of knowledge, skills, and competencies required at the operational and strategic levels.

Earlier in the RCAF’s history, the need to nurture the conceptual component was deliberately addressed. Following World War II, the RCAF developed a programme of professional development and military education that concentrated on core airpower requirements. However, these programnes were not to endure. In the years following the unification of Canada’s separate military services in 1968, the overall control that the RCAF had exercised over the professional development of its personnel underwent considerable change. In the pursuit of a more joint approach, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) adopted a broad military-education model at the expense of specialist airpower expertise.

To redress the educational deficit, action is required to promote a deeper understanding of airpower within joint, multinational, and corporate contexts and to develop the individual skills needed to capitalize on such understanding.

This study reviews the historical context, current situation, and possible options for action to make significant strides in the professional development of the RCAF primarily with respect to education. The basic tenet upon which the paper is built is: in order to succeed in the future, the RCAF must do more to leverage the intellectual capital of its people, invest in the conceptual component, and strive for mastery of its domain.

1. Almost a century old, the air forces of Canada have evolved into the modern, capable, and battle-tested RCAF. After decades of experience gained through participating in operations that varied from domestic security and emergency assistance to Canadians, United Nations’ peacekeeping missions, to higher-intensity combat operations in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq, the RCAF has developed an effective way of operating, defined by tactical professionalism and mission success, sound operating procedures, and effective leadership.

2. By being metaphorically constrained to the cockpit, though, the RCAF may have unintentionally restricted its institutional and intellectual development to the tactical level. The net effect has been the development of an officer corps which is able to think and act, to problem solve and analyse, and to communicate in a way that is effective for the non-complex, often linear challenges that present themselves at the squadron level. At the operational level, through some targeted exposure and on-the-job training, we perform adequately. At the strategic level, however, where issues are more nuanced and wicked problems are the norm, different skills are needed which must be inculcated over time. In this area, the RCAF appears to be doing less well. At the departmental level, especially, the Air Force struggles to explain new doctrinal constructs or new air operating concepts, to justify new capability requirements, or to argue convincingly for resources based on clear logic.

3. It may be argued that staff officers from all environments face the same demands in order to be effective and that the RCAF’s situation is not unique. Airpower issues, though, must be informed by airpower expertise. Related decisions must be knowledge based, and it behooves the Air Force to ensure its personnel can give the best professional advice possible. Consequently, the RCAF must enhance its own comprehension of how it functions and operates in order to explain its relevance to national government policy and grand strategy. Through development of a culture that values learning, encourages knowledge development, and embraces and fosters critical analysis as well as constructive debate, the RCAF will be more effective at the strategic level, for its own institutional-credibility’s sake and, more importantly, for defence.

4. There are a number of avenues through which such a cultural change might be achieved. A blended solution of training, education, learning incentives, access to information sources, and creation of airpower forums will likely be required. The CAF professional-development framework acknowledges the role experiential learning has to play, and this key developmental pillar, with its attendant requirement for careful talent management, must not be overlooked. The focus of this paper, however, is formal, structured airpower education.

5. Before solutions can be devised, we need to consider the genesis of today’s apparent problem. It is important to understand the roots of the challenge as well as to appreciate from where the RCAF as an institution has come and where it is now, in order to have the context to determine where it needs to go.

6. As a first step, it is necessary to identify some key terms and concepts that will not only be central to the debate but also should become core components of the RCAF’s daily operations and lexicon. The following definitions of key terms are not meant to be definitive at this point; instead, they are offered as the initial seeds to grow a shared mental model of what the RCAF needs to achieve:

  1. Air power and airpower. Air power can be thought of as the delivery of an air force’s output (essentially, the bones, muscle, and organs of the RCAF; the physical manifestation of our activity). Airpower is a more comprehensive notion that includes the physical aspects (the physical component), conceptual and intellectual elements (the conceptual component), and the moral compass (the moral component) that guides and develops the delivery of air power.
  2. Professional airpower mastery. The aspirational level of airpower, professional airpower mastery (PAM), can be applied to an individual or the entire institution. For the RCAF it represents the institutional requirement to maintain expert levels of comprehension of airpower; ability to contemplate and debate airpower in future development terms; an understanding of organizational theory and institutional functions; a professional awareness of the joint, combined, and interagency environments; and the ability to apply operational, strategic, and governmental decision-making constructs. All this in order to fully understand the science of airpower but also to be able to effectively apply the necessary art to be considered airpower and warfighting experts.
  3. Airpower mindedness. With a focus on the individual, airpower mindedness refers to an attitude or mindset. Based on an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of airpower’s large body of knowledge achieved through training, education, analysis, and debate, airpower mindedness allows the individual to automatically see problems and opportunities through an airpower lens. Key to airpower mindedness is not merely the understanding of the underpinning theoretical concepts of airpower but also the requisite depth of comprehension of systems (planning, execution as well as platforms and training, techniques, and procedures) in order to practically deliver air power.

7. The RCAF came into existence gradually in the post–World War I period (1918–1923), building upon a non-permanent foundation that, although rich in combat experience, focused primarily on the nation’s civil-aviation requirements. As a result, the RCAF during the interwar period thought, acted, and developed as a tactical air force, with little room for airpower considerations in a culture that venerated the individualistic “bush pilot in uniform” ideal. As an institution, the RCAF sought well-educated individuals, at least in technical terms, as recruits, but service training and experience at the squadron level and below became the benchmarks of professional development instead of broader staff training and education.

8. In many ways, the RCAF was the brainchild of John Armistead Wilson, a seasoned public servant with an intuitive appreciation of the country’s air power requirements and what would be acceptable to the government. Recognizing the symbiotic relationship between military and civil aviation, he spent his career supporting the former and fostering the latter.[1] A frequent contributor of airpower articles to the Canadian Defence Quarterly, Wilson used the term “airmindedness” in a 1928 article that highlighted government assistance in setting up flying clubs throughout the country to “promote the knowledge and use of Aviation [sic] among the rising generation, and to encourage the provision of flying fields by municipalities.”[2] These flying clubs would provide numerous pilots for the RCAF and formed the backbone of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan during World War II.

9. From 1924 to 1939, the RCAF focused on civil-government air operations (forestry patrols, support for other government departments, etc.), training, and aerial-defence responsibilities. High-level staff training and airpower education were provided to the one or two individuals per year selected to attend the Royal Air Force Staff College in the United Kingdom. During World War II, a massively expanded RCAF (over 250,000 personnel by 1944) functioned at the tactical level through the provision of aircraft, personnel, and squadrons in all of the overseas theatres of war.

10. Notwithstanding this overall tactical focus, charged with the aerial defence of Canada during World War II, Western Air Command and Eastern Air Command saw the RCAF engaged at the operational level of air-warfare planning, coordinating and implementing air campaigns in conjunction with the other services and allied military forces.[3] Faced with a shortage of trained and educated staff officers who had mastered their profession at the operational level, an RCAF War Staff College was established, offering 10-week-long courses that emphasized staff training with a smattering of other educational elements.

11. The RCAF War Staff College ran seven courses prior to the end of the war, which was deemed a success, so the RCAF, despite shrinking to an immediate post-war strength of less than 12,000, not only kept the institution open, albeit with the removal of “War” from its title, but also lengthened the course to six months. Both staff training as well as subjects of a broader educational nature were expanded. The Commandant, Air Commodore F. G. Wait, articulated four goals of the RCAF Staff College: (1) To teach individuals to think clearly, express their opinions briefly, and develop critical analysis skills; (2) to train individuals in higher staff skills and methods; (3) provide a background knowledge of armed forces organization and operations; and (4) impart an understanding of the correct application of air power and how best to integrate it with land and sea power.[4] These goals remained relatively unchanged until unification.

12. Although a small number of personnel attended allied air colleges, most of the training and education was provided through this institutionally developed approach to professional airpower mastery. The RCAF Staff College continued to follow the goals set out in 1945 and encouraged airpower discussion with the promulgation of the R.C.A.F. Staff College Journal, beginning in 1956. It also recognized a need to provide air-staff training and airpower education at lower levels, establishing separate RCAF Staff and Extension schools. The RCAF Extension School also provided access to university courses through an agreement with the University of Toronto. In 1962, a reorganization of the RCAF educational system led to the establishment of the RCAF Air Force College, consisting of the Staff College, Staff School, and Extension School. Total directing staff for all three components of the Air Force College was approximately 59 military and civilian personnel.[5] In hindsight, this institutional investment in the intellectual capital of the RCAF, with a particular focus on airpower, is seen as quite exceptional in comparison to today’s approach.

13. Beyond the wing commander (lieutenant-colonel) rank, there were no provisions within the RCAF for advanced airpower training and education except what could be gleaned from national institutions such as the National Defence College (1948–1994) and attendance at similar foreign institutions. For flag-level officers, it was very much a learn-as-you-go approach, with a premium placed on experience.

14. Since it was raised in 1924, the Canadian Air Force has maintained an institutional emphasis on controlling tactical training. In contrast, it controlled higher-level air-staff training and airpower education up to the lieutenant-colonel level only for a brief period. The period between 1945 and 1966 (where the Air Force had control of the development of its intellectual capital, the officers, through a maturing professional development programme) could well be viewed as a potential watershed paradigm shift for the RCAF. The loss of control of the intellectual-capital development of the RCAF and the potential to enhance institutional professional airpower mastery at unification is now a matter of fact.

The appropriate level at which a joint, or purple, organization can be allowed to work on the attitudes, values and beliefs of service personnel and officials is problematic.[6]

– Air Commodore Peter W. Gray and Jonathan Harvey

15. With unification, the RCAF lost its control of higher air-staff training and airpower education, as the newly-minted CAF adopted the RCAF educational model. The RCAF Staff College became the Canadian Armed Forces Command and Staff College; the RCAF Staff School became the Canadian Armed Forces Staff School; and the RCAF Extension School gradually morphed into the Officer Professional Development Programme (the “Opie-Dopies”).[7] Henceforth, how much “airpower” was taught would be determined by joint as opposed to air requirements, the level determined by college staff, with little or no direct input by the Air Force. There is no doubting the importance of the joint educational and training demands in light of the complexity of contemporary military operations, but surely the aim should always be that an Air Force officer is an airpower expert prior to the joint step. That is, of course, the focus of training up to Developmental Period 2. Whether the desired level of expertise is being achieved is the point in question.

16. Specialized airpower education became even more problematic, as it was only available through occasional courses at civilian universities and the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), but with its access controlled via a yearly selection process at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) and its fields of study heavily populated by technical or specialist degrees. Often—given a prevalent belief at that time that education was self-serving and no substitute for tactical experience—bolstered by a lack of strong recognition by evaluation boards as well as a lack of long-term personnel planning to permit the selection of optimal candidates, suitable post-graduate billets that might have been useful from an airpower perspective were handed out to individuals at the bottom of the merit list as an afterthought or as a consolation prize.[8] Although Minister of National Defence Douglas Young decreed in 1997 that all CAF officers required undergraduate degrees, the subject of the degree was never specified, nor did the new educational directive translate in a meaningful way to the post-graduate realm.

17. With the business-oriented approache to leadership and management that thrived in the 1990s and early 2000s, a master’s in business or public administration became the new “ticket” to punch.[9] Increased educational opportunities with more of a military focus were created at various civilian universities using government funds to support the establishment of centres for defence studies. At RMC, the Department of War Studies was created to offer a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the profession of arms.

18. Underpinning these initiatives was a reinvigorated Individual Learning Programme that allowed serving members to pursue continuing education on their own time. Again, while the Air Force permitted its personnel to take advantage of these opportunities, there was no concerted effort to capitalize on them. The Air Force seemed content to leave responsibility for developing and administering post-graduate education with either NDHQ or the newly created Canadian Defence Academy, while only providing minimal input of its own. Post-graduate opportunities languished or were taken up by support services, such as the technical and personnel branches, that had some semblance of long-term educational plans.[10]

19. In the same period, the Air Force developed a vision that included the creation of a warfare centre, responsible to some extent for the three main pillars of the conceptual component: doctrine, conceptual innovation, and expounding the principles of war as they relate to air operations. The Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Studies (CFSAS), which had been established in 1987, had and still has a mandate to meet the RCAF’s professional-development needs, thus providing another medium through which one might expect professional airpower mastery would be achieved. Despite creating units such as CFSAS and the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre (CFAWC), however, there appears to have been no overarching policy to guide such units’ activities in order to meet the institution’s overall needs, and inadequate mechanisms were put in place through which their products and services could be institutionalized throughout the Air Force. Where plans were put in place, a lack of consistent institutional leadership meant that they were often not carried out. Plans to make CFSAS a subordinate unit to CFAWC, for example, which would have encouraged a more coordinated, coherent approach to professional development, were not seen through. Even as CAF acknowledged that all of its members “must master the art of war in their own medium if they are to become true professionals in the joint, combined and inter-agency context,” the Air Force seemed content not only at the tactical level of thought and action but also with a fragmented or disjointed approach with regard to nurturing the conceptual component.[11]

20. Although the Canadian Forces continued to develop educational opportunities for advanced education from 2000 (including the professional Master of Defence Studies programme at Staff College as well as opportunities through centres for defence studies at civilian universities, and the War Studies programme at RMC), the opportunities afforded by these programmes are not being leveraged by the RCAF institutionally to enhance professional airpower mastery or individual airpower mindedness in a deliberate manner, with command-led oversight.

21. In any case, the opportunities available in Canada are not exhaustive and would not satisfy all the institutional needs. There is no equivalent, for example, of the United States Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies doctoral-level course in air strategy available domestically. While it is fair to state that the RCAF may have developed in recent years a more educated Air Force in academic and perhaps technical terms, this has not equated effectively to institutionally enhanced professional airpower mastery. To be frank, with the RCAF’s natural and cultural bent to the tactical in light of an increasing operational tempo since 2000 and a quite intense recent focus on force development, the internal concern to strive for enhanced professional airpower mastery (in the broadest sense of the definition) has not really been the focus over the last 10–15 years.

22. It is interesting to note that if one includes the most recent “Canadian Armed Forces Professional Development System Study Final Report,” there have been no less than eight detailed examinations of officer professional development in the Canadian military since unification, but not one that looks at it specifically from an RCAF or airpower perspective. To paraphrase the words of General Jean Victor Allard (Chief of the Defence Staff, 1966–1969), “it matters little whether the [RCAF has its] present manpower strength and financial budget, or half of them, or double them; without a properly educated, effectively trained professional officer corps the [RCAF] would, in the future, be doomed at best to mediocrity; and at worst, to disaster.” [12]

23. There exists a growing internal RCAF perception that the institution is not meeting the demand in aspiring to enhance professional airpower mastery. Major-General Coates, Deputy Commander (Continental), Canadian Joint Operations Command, in an article entitled “Airmindedness: An Essential Element of Air Power,” argued that more has to be done to “prepare the RCAF and others to apply air power to achieve desired effects.”[13] More importantly, he argues that in the joint arena it is not enough to cultivate airmindedness solely amongst aviators, an outlook echoed by our current Chief of the Defence Staff General Jon Vance, “airmindedness in other planners is critical, as effective planning can’t be the air force guy saying after the fact ‘hey, don’t forget about air … .’”[14] These views must be taken into consideration as we seek to address RCAF shortcomings with respect to professional development so that it is inclusive rather than exclusive.

24. Any assessment of the current level of professional airpower mastery in the RCAF, necessarily subjective, needs to be based on institutional needs. What then is the extent of the need for professional airpower mastery for the RCAF going forward? It was noted above that the RCAF can be relied on to deliver high-calibre mission results and, therefore, we are already clearly doing some things right. It should be remembered, however, that the RCAF has wider responsibilities than just delivering today’s air power (the sustain agenda). We must also develop the RCAF of tomorrow (the change agenda) while meeting corporate departmental responsibilities. All three key roles demand intellectual agility, sound judgment, critical analysis, and deep professional knowledge. To reiterate just some of the issues at play:

  1. There is insufficient capital funding available to meet the current air, maritime, land, and special-forces acquisition requirements. “Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now we have to think.”[15] The same pressure exists for force structure, manning levels, and operating budgets. The RCAF must be able to articulate valid requirements convincingly.
  2. Air power has been at the heart of three most recent operations, yet RCAF representation within Canadian Joint Operations Command, Strategic Joint Staff, and Vice Chief of the Defence Staff remains, for obvious reasons, significantly less than that of the Canadian Army. It is imperative, therefore, that Air Force personnel understand their business and the system they are working within and can provide the necessary airpower advocacy and advice in a way that can be heard and understood by all.

25. Examples of the kinds of questions that have recently challenged RCAF staff relate to command and control of expeditionary air operations, optimum peacetime force structures, air-capability readiness, and the relationship of flying hours to force posture. These are not hard questions for an Air Force with established professional airpower mastery, yet anecdotally at least, the RCAF has not been able to explain its position well. This cannot be good enough. If a future defence review or alternative to the Canada First Defence Strategy raised more existential questions (such as “Why does the Army not control tactical aviation?” or “Why does Canada need an expeditionary attack capability?”), there is a risk that an inability to provide cogent, strategic advice could do irreversible damage to the institution and to the nation’s security. The capability to develop warfighting experts centred on the airpower comprehension platform with the skilled application of air power—requiring individual airpower mindedness and an enhanced institutional professional airpower mastery—must be developed.

26. If institutional professional airpower mastery is built around the individual airpower mindedness of its officers and non-commissioned members at all rank levels, and that individual airpower mindedness is the sum of each person’s knowledge and understanding of the theory and practice of air power and its effect in war and peace, plus their knowledge and understanding of institutional processes and advanced staff skills, then the initial steps for enhancing both qualities in the RCAF seem readily apparent. Charting a relevant course forward would involve changes to the RCAF professional-development system to ensure the required level of airpower competence is achieved through training and education, which complements the practical air power experience gained over a career.

27. In this process, the role of senior leadership is critical in transforming individual airpower mindedness into institutional professional airpower mastery. This will be done by continually defining the enduring vision for the RCAF as an institution and adjusting it to ensure its relevance to grand strategic goals as well as providing the guidance necessary to shape the force towards those ends while enabling effective operations.

28. The objective of the RCAF education and professional-development programmes needs to be raised in order to harness the clear intellectual capital base that the RCAF maintains. In so doing, the development model (of which a key component is education) adopted should be separated from “the foundational training necessary in military forces” and instead “must have a visible continuum from the lower levels all the way to the senior ranks.”[16] In other words, changes should not be targeting only the very senior leadership of the RCAF. The development of individual airpower mindedness is something that must begin early in a member’s career and continue throughout their time in uniform.

29. The kind of critical thinking and analytical skills called for are not easy to acquire, nor is a comprehensive understanding of airpower theory and practice, and these skills are perishable without continual challenge, employment, and ongoing education. Thus, an acknowledgement of the value of the study and critical analysis of airpower—both the history and theory of its practice and the underlying reasons for its successes and failures—must be forthcoming from RCAF leadership at all levels in order to ensure the success of changes to the RCAF professional-development system.

30. Some recent scholarship has pointed to a need for small air forces to have their personnel possess a higher level of professional mastery, which equates to both individual airpower mindedness and institutional professional airpower mastery, because “they function at the critical mass most of the time, especially when they are engaged in actual operations.”[17] This requires a higher level of command ability and institutional understanding, developed in part through individual airpower mindedness, to ensure the force is being optimally employed; to prevent operational fatigue; and to continue to raise, train, and sustain the force while conducting operations.

31. There is, though, a dichotomy between the demands placed on an air force with a high operational tempo and the development of both individual airpower mindedness and institutional professional airpower mastery. Professional development is one of the principal factors that ensures the competence and relevance of small air forces, and yet, because of the demands on their personnel, these programmes are often the first casualties. Only through emphasizing professional development and becoming true “learning organizations” are small air forces able to shape the security environment rather than being reactive to emerging challenges. Thus, it is critical to the future success of the RCAF as an institution that it continues to deliver appropriate air power effects at the tactical level, improve its ability to articulate the central role of military airpower at the strategic level, and advance the institutional output. Doing so will require a professional-development system that supports a comprehensive understanding of airpower and nurtures the critical thinking skills that result from that study.

32. The focused study of airpower history and theory (such as studying the literature on the long-term trends in warfighting over the past century or thoroughly examining the lessons from recent military operations) as a central feature of a revised RCAF professional military-education programme provides more utility and ultimately better guidance in preparing RCAF personnel to engage more effectively across the continuum from force employment to force generation and force development. In particular, the study of the history of air power can help one understand change or, conversely, continuity in military trends by providing a theoretical or mental framework for looking at change over a time, and it also can serve as an effective method for investigating lessons from specific operational experiences.

33. In terms of understanding change, how one addresses future uncertainty can very much depend upon on how one thinks about the past and how it has shaped the present. History can serve to educate both military professionals and analysts of the factors associated with past victories and defeats as well as the enduring principles and evolving character of air and joint warfare, all of which should shape their discussions and inform their judgments about ways to meet future air requirements. Such study across a career develops and shapes critical-thinking skills while providing the essential contextual understanding needed to confront current airpower and warfighting problems.

34. Moreover, the contextual understanding provided by a study of the history and evolving airpower theory normally instils an appropriate sense of humility regarding new concepts purporting to solve all military problems. Thus, any evolution to the RCAF professional-development system should feature the study of air power history as a central feature. As British Army armoured warfare theorist Major-General J. F. C. “Boney” Fuller aptly said, to “understand the past and to judge the present is to foresee the future.”[18] It is only through the continual study and thoughtful reflection on the history and modern application of air power that the required expertise can be developed to confront and address current and future airpower problems and in so doing, to improve the RCAF institutional output. Again, the development of a base of airpower knowledge, and the career-long education of RCAF personnel in its theory and practice, provides far more utility in confronting the very real problems facing the development and employment of Canadian military air power.

35. Over time, the emphasis on this kind of focused study of airpower theory and practice will pay dividends, and as the analytical skills across the RCAF improve, it will be well placed to address present concerns. Collectively, these efforts will harness the vast intellectual capital resident within the RCAF—a resource with which to develop what 19th century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz called a “sensitive and discriminating judgment … ; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth,” and to pierce the fog of uncertainty that clouds both operations and strategic military planning.[19]

36. Although this paper is not a plan proposal, it is important to note at this stage that many of the pieces likely to figure in any solution are already in place. For example, CFSAS, RMC, and the Canadian Forces College Joint Command and Staff Programme provide military history and airpower courses that could be strengthened and aligned with command intent. Moreover, many of CFAWC’s publications—in particular the reports from Operational Research and Analysis, RCAF doctrine, lessons-learned reports, and the Royal Canadian Air Force Journal—along with RCAF history and heritage studies are valuable resources not fully exploited.

37. With appropriate oversight and likely minimal investment, these resources could be strengthened through the addition of academically sound literature and thinking, supplemented with regular airpower symposia discussing the future of military airpower, and all aligned with command intent to ensure a comprehensive approach. While a thorough analysis of the existing professional-development system might identify educational gaps that should be addressed through additional airpower history and airpower theory courses of varying sophistication, the additional resources needed to address these gaps would be modest since the expertise already exists within the RCAF.[20] Into whatever final form the professional-development system transforms, the career-long learning model, beginning with basic airpower-history theory courses through to an advanced study or fellowship programme for high performers, should be the ultimate aim in order to develop true masters of airpower—the future senior leadership of the RCAF.

38. For an Air Force that has shown great professionalism and success in its varied tactical roles, as witnessed over decades of air operations, the RCAF is now poised to begin the journey of rising to its full potential by harnessing the intellectual potential found in its most valuable asset—its people. By focusing on career-long professional development, including preparing high performers with advanced study that features a detailed appreciation of its vast and proud heritage, the RCAF can attain airpower mastery as an institution and, through this understanding, assume a more prominent and effective role in the defence discussions on the central role of the RCAF in current and future military operations in support of Government of Canada policy goals.

39. While identifying the problem of a lack of airpower mastery is an important first step, there is an urgency to develop and institutionalize this intellectual evolution within the RCAF. This is because the problems associated with a lack of airpower culture will only expand and grow more complicated as time passes, air power embraces advanced technology, and the demands of the battlespace begin to change rapidly. A coherent and dedicated approach to improvement is needed; one that insists that the status quo is no longer acceptable. There is an opportunity for the RCAF to further the national-power responsibility, effectively provide air power sovereignty protection, and play a greater role in the joint operating environment.

40. If the RCAF cannot embrace an immediate programme of transformational and intellectual change, then it will remain a force that merely excels at the tactical delivery of air effects instead of truly mastering airpower itself. The importance of this point cannot be overstated. By virtue of being a small air force, the RCAF must find ways to ensure its officers and members can use airpower mindedness and professional airpower mastery to the RCAF’s and the nation’s benefit. There will always be times when the RCAF will need to compete with the Army, Navy, and other federal departments for limited government resources—particularly in times of economic austerity—and those times require agile and flexible minds with a professional mastery of airpower to press for the continued evolution of Canadian military airpower. Moreover, the speed with which the security environment is changing and, more importantly, the speed with which the United States and other key allies are adopting advanced technologies and novel operating concepts with which to deal with real threats make this all the more imperative.

41. Unless the RCAF has members (especially senior officers) who understand or, better yet, possess the intellectual prowess to link the value of Canadian airpower to national policy objectives, it undoubtedly will find itself in a position where its relevancy and, perhaps, its very survival are drawn into question.

Dr. Brad Gladman is an operational research analyst, presently working for the Commander, RCAF, within CFAWC.

Dr. Richard Goette is presently on the staff at the Canadian Forces College, Toronto.

Dr. Richard Mayne, CD, is the Director, RCAF History and Heritage

.Colonel Shane Elder is a member of the Air Staff and is presently deployed in support of Operation IMPACT.

Colonel Kelvin Truss is the Commanding Officer, CFAWC.

Lieutenant-Colonel Pux Barnes, CD, is the Branch Head, Air Warfare Education at CFAWC.

Major Bill March, CD, is the RCAF Historian, RCAF History and Heritage.

CAF―Canadian Armed Forces
CFAWC―Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre
CFSAS―Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Studies
DND―Department of National Defence
NDHQ―National Defence Headquarters
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
RMC―Royal Military College of Canada

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Douhet, Giulio. Command of the Air. London: Coward-McCann, 1942.

English, Allan and Colonel John Westrop (Retired). Canadian Air Force Leadership and Command: The Human Dimension of Expeditionary Air Force Operations. Trenton: Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre, 2007.

Evans, Michael. The Continental School of Strategy: The Past, Present and Future of Land Power. Duntroon, Australian Capital Territory: Land Warfare Studies Centre, 2004.

Gladman, Brad and Dr. Michael Roi. Look to the Future, Understand the Past: The Limitations of Alternative Futures Methodologies. Ottawa: Operational Research Division Technical Report TR 2005/10.

Gray, Air Commodore [Royal Air Force] Peter W., and Jonathan Harvey, “Strategic Leadership Education.” In In Pursuit of Excellence: International Perspectives of Military Leadership. Edited by Colonel Bernd Horn and Lieutenant-Colonel Allister MacIntyre. Kingston: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2006.

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1. Hugh Halliday, “Fathering Civil Aviation: Air Force, Part 8,” Legion Magazine, 1 March 2005, accessed January 11, 2016, (return)

2. J. A. Wilson, “Civil Aviation in Canada, 1928,” Canadian Defence Quarterly 6, no. 3 (April 1929): 307. (return)

3. Both of these RCAF commands provided operational-level command and control: Western Air Command in the Aleutian Campaign and more broadly, the Eastern Air Command in the Battle for the Atlantic. (return)

4. William R. Shields, “Canadian Forces Command and Staff College, a History: 1797–1946,” 4–27. This is an unpublished draft document prepared at Canadian Forces College, Toronto, 1987. A copy is held by the Directorate, RCAF History and Heritage, 8 Wing Trenton. (return)

5. Canada, Royal Canadian Air Force, R.C.A.F. Staff College Journal (Armour Heights, Ontario: RCAF Staff College, 1964), 90. The commandant of the Air Force College was an air commodore (brigadier-general) with a headquarters staff of 12, including one civilian with a PhD. The director of the RCAF Staff College was a group captain (colonel) with a staff of 15 (no civilians). The director of the RCAF Extension School was a wing commander (lieutenant-colonel) with a staff of six including a civilian with a master of arts. The director of the RCAF Staff School was a group captain with a staff of 22 (no civilians). (return)

6. Air Commodore [Royal Air Force] Peter W. Gray and Jonathan Harvey, “Strategic Leadership Education,” in Colonel Bernd Horn and Lieutenant-Colonel Allister MacIntyre, eds., In Pursuit of Excellence: International Perspectives of Military Leadership (Kingston: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2006), 81. (return)

7. Allan English and Colonel John Westrop (Retired), Canadian Air Force Leadership and Command: The Human Dimension of Expeditionary Air Force Operations (Trenton: Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre, 2007), 49. (return)

8. Colonel Bernd Horn, “Education – The Key Component to the Development of the Next Generation of Military Leaders,” in Major Julie Bélanger and Lieutenant-Colonel Psalm Lew, eds., Developing the Next Generation of Military Leaders: Challenges, Imperatives and Strategies (Kingston: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2011), 26–27. (return)

9. Ronald G. Haycock, “The Labours of Athena and the Muses: Historical and Contemporary Aspects of Canadian Military Education,” Canadian Military Journal 2, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 11. (return)

10. Ronald G. Haycock, “The Labours of Athena and the Muses: Historical and Contemporary Aspects of Canadian Military Education,” Canadian Military Journal 2, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 12. (return)

11. Canada, DND, Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada (Kingston: Canadian Defence Academy, 2003), 74. (return)

12. Canada, DND, The Report of the Officer Development Board (Ottawa: March 1969) 1: iv. The committee that produced the report was chaired by Major-General Roger Rowley and is commonly referred to as the “Rowley Report.” (return)

13. Then Brigadier-General Christopher J. Coates, “Airmindedness: An Essential Element of Air Power,” Royal Canadian Air Force Journal 3, no. 1, (Winter 2014): 70. (return)

14. Then Brigadier-General Christopher J. Coates, “Airmindedness: An Essential Element of Air Power,” Royal Canadian Air Force Journal 3, no. 1, (Winter 2014): 76. Quote taken from an interview between Coates and then Major-General Jonathan Vance, 28 January 2013. (return)

15. Attributed to Winston S. Churchill or, in an alternative form (“We’ve got no money so we’ve got to think.”) to Ernest Rutherford. (return)

16. Sanu Kainikara, At the Critical Juncture: The Predicament of Small Air Forces (Canberra: Air Power Development Centre, 2011), 146. (return)

17. Sanu Kainikara, At the Critical Juncture: The Predicament of Small Air Forces (Canberra: Air Power Development Centre, 2011), 147. In Dr. Kainikara’s analysis, air forces are either large or small. This term is used deliberately and in no way assumes that a small air force is incapable of strategic effect. (return)

18. Michael Evans, The Continental School of Strategy: The Past, Present and Future of Land Power (Duntroon, Australian Capital Territory: Land Warfare Studies Centre, 2004), 1. (return)

19. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 101. (return)

20. In the “think globally and act locally” tradition, there is value in following the pattern begun by Dr. Brad Gladman and Lieutenant-Colonel Pux Barnes at CFAWC. With the support of the Commanding Officer at CFAWC, a “Barker Society” was established in 2014, which brings officers, non-commissioned members, and civilians together to discuss assigned readings on airpower. This approach has been trialed at wings across Canada and has been well received. It is entirely voluntary, but allows for a peer discussion of airpower theory and/or history to broaden the understanding of airpower of RCAF personnel—civilian and military. (return)

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