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Combat Innovation: Australia
Posted on Sep 07, 2015

The Aussies Shape a Path of Combat Innovation: Plan Jericho and the Way Ahead

I recently returned from Australia where the Royal Australian Air Force is put in motion what they call Plan Jericho.  In effect, the RAAF is providing the Australian Defense Force with an approach to transform jointness, or how the various elements of the ADF can work together to enhance combat effect.

The Aussies have a modern air fleet, with Super Hornets, KC-30A tankers, the Wedgetail E-7 battle management system Heron UAVs, and C-17s, recently in service and are seeing Growlers, the Triton UAV, the P-8 and the F-35 coming into the fleet shortly.  But no platform fights alone, and the Aussies are looking at how to rework their forces to shape a more interactive and enabled force. The F-35 is seen as not a replacement aircraft, but one which takes the integrated enablement of the force to the next level, but that will not happen without the transformation of the RAAF and with it of the ADF.

The Williams Foundation of Canberra, Australia held a one day seminar/workshop on Plan Jericho on 6 August 2015, which featured presentations from the RAAF and industry as well as from the USAF looking at the way ahead.  The morning session was open but the afternoon session featured a presentation by the RAAF officers co-chairing the effort with participation by many RAAF officers from all levels within the force.

I am currently writing the report for the Williams Foundation, and will publish it later this month.  In addition to attending the seminar/workshop, I had the opportunity to interview several senior officers in Canberra and on airbases in New South Wales as well to build out a comprehensive look at how they are addressing innovation.

Former Air Vice Marshal John Blackburn, one of the key stalwarts of the Plan Jericho effort, introduced the session. Blackburn hammered home really the most significant and challenging point – it is about design driven innovation, not simply R and D, technology or mini-experiments driven.

Rather than piece-meal, bits and pieces of applications of technologies to platform modernization or patchwork modernization, Plan Jericho aimed at a different goal – design driven innovation.

Blackburn contrasted the network-centric efforts of the 1990s with what Plan Jericho had in mind.  In the network centric effort, stove pipes were linked; it was about filling gaps, linking disparate systems, and getting as much connectivity as possible – with the basic operational mantra of the diverse platform drivers largely unchanged, namely to drive ahead with the diverse cultures, but better connected.

In contrast, Plan Jericho looked to design innovation and a way ahead, where connectivity could be built-in from the design to the delivery of capability, and whereby the operators would look at the effect which the force could deliver, not just their own platform set.

“What results do you want to achieve?” rather than “What upgrades do you want to add to your platform?”

With the first example, the focus is more fully upon adaptive capabilities to shape future ways of warfighting. 

To emphasize, the perspective of Steve Jobs was used as an example of a "key innovator who was able to capture the way forward. Jobs once underscored what he believed was crucial to shaping innovation this way:

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have,” he said, noting that when Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. “It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you 'get' it.

In the opening presentation, by the new head of the RAAF, Air Marshal Leo Davies, he focused on the central role of the human element making an across the board transformation effort possible.

“Through sound force planning and sustained support from successive Australian Governments, we are in the process of modernizing our fleet. By 2025 the RAAF will be one of the most potent and balanced Air Forces in the world.


“Jericho is designed to ensure that we achieve the synergies offered by that sophisticated array of platforms. But if we are to match the rhetoric about being a ‘force by design’ and a ‘system of systems’ then we really must be innovative and adaptive in key areas.

“We need to truly empower our work force. Real innovation depends on people. And I mean airmen and women – not just industry research and development partners and DSTO scientists. We must encourage ‘bottom up’ innovation.”

The co-heads of Plan Jericho, Group Captain Rob Chipman and Group Captain Jake Campbell then briefed the group on key elements of what they saw as necessary for Plan Jericho success and focused particularly on the industrial partnering part of the effort.

They asked four questions which the various subgroups discussed and then reported back to the full working group.

  1. What do you think Australia does really well when it comes to innovation? Where should defense industries and academics focus their innovation efforts?
  2. Where and when can we bring defend together with industry and academics to innovate?
  3. What would a “first principles” system fostering innovation into defense capability look like?
  4. How do we change behavior between defense, industry and science and academia to enable best practices?

In short, the workshop took some hard looks at how to maximize success in shaping a more capable integrated and better-enabled 21st century combat force.

And the public side of discussing the way ahead is a key piece for shaping change.  One can shape in secret new technologies and step changes in technologies; but to get the kind of changes in mental furniture, training and co-ops necessary for the RAAF and the Australian Defense Force it was crucial to engage in a broader public discussion, to inform, to engage, and to open up the aperture of the hierarchical nature of military organizations. 

And if the military breaks the code of innovation, but the politicians, bureaucracies and public continued to think in the old way, the kind of change in con-ops envisaged by Plan Jericho will not easily happen. 

Here the Williams Foundation has played a unique role among organizations in industrial democracies.  Australia is demonstrating thought leadership, evidenced at the Williams Foundation seminars and workshops, a core element for change, otherwise the Greek chorus of critics of airpower or those living in the Platonic cave interpreting the shadows of 20th century air operations as if they were guiding principles to light the path to 21st century concepts of operations will continue to dominate the debate.

The Williams Foundation hosted a seminar early in 2014, which focused on air combat operations through 2025 and identified key impacts which the new platforms of the RAAF and the coming of the F-35 would enable in transforming the force.

Then earlier this year, the Williams Foundation co-sponsored a seminar in Denmark to discuss the evolution of airpower. This was not US-led, but Australian-led which is a statement all by itself.

The latest workshop continued the public discussion and the focus on the need for design-led innovation.

In conclusion, it is important to underscore the impact informed discussion of combat innovation can have on informing the way ahead. I remember well a long discussion I had with Herman Kahn when I was a graduate student about his relationship with the USAF in thinking about the way ahead, and the challenges to innovate but the importance of leadership in the USAF to break glass to shape a way ahead.