Shaping a Way Ahead for the RAAF: The Perspective of Air Marshal Robert Chipman

By Robbin Laird

At the Williams Foundation seminar held on September 28, 2022, the newly appointed head of the RAAF Air Marshal Robert Chipman along with the Chiefs of Navy and the Army provided their perspectives on the way ahead for the evolving joint force.

He entitled his remarks as follows: “Preparing air and space power for the joint force in a complex and uncertain environment.”

He focused on a key consideration “As we consider strategies to deter conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, we should consider how we might contain conflict geographically and/or within specific domains. And what actions might lead to runaway escalation?”

With the return to a priority on the direct defense of Australia, albeit in a broader alliance context, “geography should shape our approach to national security. The ability to deliver effects at a distance from, and in the approaches to Australian sovereign territory will be a critical feature of our future security strategy. Air power will make a vital contribution to our joint force structure and posture in this context.”

But he warned that the traditional view of the strategic geography has been modified by technological and warfighting advances.

“Our traditional view of a contest in the physical domains is obsolete. Operations in and through the space and cyber domains have extended Australia’s strategic geography. They don’t displace the maritime, land and air domains, but rather demand a lift in our capacity to contest them all, and importantly, integrate our warfighting effects between them in order to conduct joint all-domain operations.”

Air Marshal Chipman attending the Williams Foundation Seminar on September 28, 2022.

There is an inherent tension between tradeoffs for enhancing the readiness of the force in being and the need to reshape the force with new capabilities.

The challenge is to manage this tradeoff in what is a rapidly changing strategic environment for Australia.

Air Marshal Chipman underscored: “Let me share with you a recent conversation I had with AIRMSHL McCormack and Brown who, alongside AIRMSHL Davies and Hupfeld continue to provide wise counsel. Asked what I’ve found most challenging in my tenure as CAF to date, I responded managing strategic risk over time.

“There is sometimes a tension between building the readiness of our force in being, and investing our resources in preparing the future force.

“Experimentation can help us guide our choices, but there is still need for judgement in the determining the ends, ways and means of a national security strategy.

“We know our strategic warning time has eroded.

“The corollary is that we must field ready and resilient forces across the five domains sooner than expected.”

He highlighted the importance of enhancing both the lethality of the force with longer-range strike capabilities as well as the resilience or survivability of the force with enhanced force mobility.

This is how he put the longer-range strike dynamic.  “The Air Warfare Centre will play a vital role too in bringing new capabilities into service. This includes the strike capabilities Australia needs to hold adversaries at risk in our immediate region.

“The Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a modern fifth-generation weapon will soon enhance the lethality of our Super Hornet and P‑8A’s maritime strike capabilities. It is an investment that will help Australia avoid coercion, protect our sea lines of communication and assure maritime security in our region.

“It will be complemented by the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER), another variant of the AGM-158 family of missiles that will enable our Super Hornets, and in future, our F-35As to engage targets at ranges exceeding 900km.

“These weapons will be supported by a joint ISR and targeting enterprise, integrated with our allies and partners, to enable precision long range fires. As we introduce this capability into service, we will continually revisit the robustness of this enterprise, the sufficiency of our war stock and the resilience of our logistics arrangements to sustain the capability.”

At the same time, the survivability of the force needs to be enhanced as well through an emphasis on mobility and resilience.

Air Marshal Chipman underscored that in order to project power from Australia, “we must address the resilience of our air bases, supporting infrastructure, ICT, and of course our fuel and Explosive Ordnance to sustain air and space operations. To force generate the resilience we need to fight with degraded systems in contested environments.”

The resilience piece needs to be driven by innovations that derive from an effort to “imagine how we will sustain and project air and space power against an adversary capable of exploiting our vulnerabilities in all domains.

“However, if the present monopolises our thinking, we simply stay the execution. There is a future of hypersonic missiles, directed energy weapons, artificial intelligence and swarming unmanned systems that is also racing towards us. We must deal with both realities, and manage strategic risk over time.

“We must ensure our strategy, capability and resources are harmonised and deliver an air and space force with the right balance of protection, agility, lethality and survivability.”