RAAF’s Holt & Reid on Fleeting Nature of Military Advantage, Innovation

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Royal Australian Air Force Group Capts. Lyle Holt and Jerome Reid, directors of their service’s Plan Jericho to defend Australia from rapidly evolving threats, discuss the fleeting nature of military advantage, driving innovation and the future information environment with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the DSEI conference and tradeshow in London. Our coverage is sponsored by L3 Harris and Leonardo DRS and in partnership with Clarion Events — DSEI’s organizer — and working with the UK Department of International Trade’s Defence & Security Organisation to bring our audience the best in British defense.

Vago Muradian:  Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report.  I’m Vago Muradian here at the Excel Center in London where we’re covering DSEI, one of the world’s truly great trade shows covering air, land, sea, space, cyber and more.  The first day of this great conference is each of the military services talking about their strategy, plans and policies.  Full-day conferences on air, land, sea and space.

Our coverage here is sponsored by L3Harris, Leonardo DRS.  And we’re partnered with Clarion Events, the great organizer of this great show that puts on other flagship events all around the world.  And we’re working with the United Kingdom’s Department of International Trade, Defence and Security Organization to bring you the very best of British defense.

We are talking to two Royal Australian Air Force officers, both group captains — Lyle Holt as well as Jerome Reid — who are working on one of, you know, it’s not often after thousands of briefings that briefings stand out and your guys’ briefing on Plan Jericho really stood out.

Jerome, I’m going to start with you in terms of what Plan Jericho is doing.  Because one of the things you talked about was the fundamentally fleeting nature of advantage in the model in the world at a time when briefing after briefing after briefing is talking about dominance and dominating the battle space.

Talk to us a little bit about Plan Jericho, why it’s so important, and that fundamental, the necessary fundamental change on how we have to regard advantage.

Captain Jerome Reid:  So Plan Jericho is the Royal Australian Air Force’s transformation program.  It was established in 2015.  The name Jericho itself is a socio [inaudible] metaphor meaning to break down the walls.  And that’s what it does.

So structurally, we were set up for success right from the start.  Two O6 officers heading it up, so you get that creative tension. We have our own budget.  And we answer directly to the Chief of Air Force. That allows us to really break down some of those barriers and break down the siloes and do what we need to do.

Our charter is to go and find advantage wherever we can find it.  But the greater aim we’re working towards is transforming the Royal Australian Air Force into a 5thGeneration Air Force as opposed to one that simply flies 5thGeneration capability.  To do that, we realized that we had to break down those barriers and integrate and do things better.

Mr. Muradian:  Talk to us about the notion of advantage and how to think about it.

Captain Reid:  To a military officer, underestimating the adversary is the worst possible crime that you could ever commit.  And it’s hubris and rather arrogant to believe that your adversary is lagging behind you.

So it is our belief and our contention, what we’d like to call our theory of change which we call the transient capability advantage, meaning that advantage is fleeting. It might last seconds.  If you’re going to equate it to financial arbitrage, for instance, it will literally last seconds on the battlefield.

So to have one advantage or one exquisite platform or exquisite airmen delivering exquisite capability is not enough.  We need to have a system of advantages that we can pull up at any time to be able to defeat the enemy by being able to get into the OODA loop, as we call it, that decision cycle faster and better.  That’s simply the theory.

Mr. Muradian:  And Lyle, tell us the application of that.  So what are the changes, in order to be able to do this, what other changes does it drive?  And it does, I think, put a greater focus not on the technology but the fundamental quality of the people that you have in the organization to be able to sense that change in seconds and then to be able to act on it.

Captain Lyle Holt:  I think that’s right.  I think we start with the baseline that people have the quality in them.  What we really need to do is untap their ability, or tap their ability to actually filter down and really draw out destructive, innovative thought.  So give them a tool, a different tool, and let them work out how they might use that tool to do their job better.  Give them an environment to nurture how they might conceive of using that tool, and then let them play with it.

By that playing, they then will discover new ways of how they can do their current job.

Mr. Muradian:  How does this, and I appreciate — I’ve been covering innovation for a very long time.  I’ve been covering defense for almost 30 years.  Throughout that whole time, everybody has been talking about innovation.  It was the end of the Cold War, it was in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, and everybody was talking about this rich culture of innovation and how do we — then the internet was going to adapt and iterate and change everything.

So how do you guys translate this as opposed to it being another great project run by a couple of very bright colonels who know the right things to say, what did you call it, afordication?

Captain Reid:  Afordenance.

Mr. Muradian:  Afordenance.  We’re going to get to that in a minute.  I didn’t want to forget that thought.

But how are you guys going to succeed doing this?  How is the organization restructuring to take advantage of it so that it doesn’t become just another great idea that dies in a desk drawer?

Captain Holt:  You’ve got to recognize that you need to bring the people on.  The people need to get the concept, think differently about how they can perceive to use new capability, and let them have at it.

We’ve instituted a program called EDGY Air Force where we actively seek out early adopters and innovators inside of our force.  We’re doing that inside of Air Force predominantly, but we’ve opened it up more recently to Army and Navy.

This is not an Air Force problem to solve necessarily.
This is an all joint capability problem. Obviously we’re able as officers, but we recognize the need that we need to find a better way to apply air power to the joint force, and we’ll do that with joint input.

Captain Reid:  The thing I would add also, to answer your question, is this notion of micro-actions.  You can do big gestures and you can have plans and you can have structures.  We call that the reliability bias.  Big organizations like the Air Force have this incredible reliability bias.  Everything has to be just that perfect.  And that’s all right, because we are flying aircraft and we want to do that safely. But reliability and stability is the natural enemy of agile and innovation.

So yes, you’re right.  Innovation has been around forever.  If we didn’t have innovation we wouldn’t have been going to space in less than 100 years of aviation.

So the question is, what can we do that are small steps to get us, those micro-steps to get us to where we need to get to?  I think that’s how we deliver this.  Not through big gestures and tag lines and programmatic announcements, but by getting out there, getting dirty, and doing the small things.

Mr. Muradian:  You used a couple of, you should have been wearing a black turtleneck, by the way, for that.  Afford–

Captain Reid:  Affordenance.

Mr. Muradian:  Affordenance.  Go ahead. Hit us.

Captain Reid:  Affordenance is a big word but a simple idea.  So if you use the analogy of the internet, the internet is an affordenance.  When the internet was conceived and made and delivered, no one imagined the things it would do.  Revolutionize how we buy stuff, how we live, how we engage with entertainment.  So it allowed a whole bunch of spawning of other things.

So what we are saying is, warfighting is going to be very similar.  The idea of exquisite capability being applied in a particular way is perhaps somewhat obsolete.  But to think of it as a warfighting affordenance that democratizes knowledge and puts the knowledge at the fingertips of every warfighter, regardless of who they are, will take this endeavor in lots of different directions.

So it is our contention that the next step change in warfighting theory and practice will come from these sorts of ideas.

Mr. Muradian:  One of the things, though that is a question to the both of you, the technology is fundamentally changing our brains at a certain level.  Right?  I’m of the generation where I still remember phone numbers when people generally give them to me because I had to remember phone numbers.  My kids could not remember most phone numbers they’re given because it goes directly into their phones.

What we saw with the generation of officers in Iraq and Afghanistan, folks were using the radio because they could; whereas an older generation was much more mission command oriented, and I had to work at MCON Alpha right?  Mission Control Alpha, where I can’t get on the radio.

How does the reliance on the technology and in the sophistication of the future battle space, how do you square the need for a lot of information, the processing of information, and then the denial of information, given that we’re so dependent on it?  How do you get around that fundamental crux? I want to get both of your takes on that.

Captain Holt:  I grew up learning astral navigation.  I could navigate a ship by the stars.  I could navigate aircraft by the stars.  Then —

Mr. Muradian:  By the way, we need more navigators of your

ilk because you’ve got one of the cooler wings around.  But anyway —

Captain Holt:  Do I still need to know how to navigate by the stars?

In an aircraft, maybe not.  But certainly by a ship, if I were to consider a contested environment where we assume we’ll lose GPS.

I was in a conference a few yeas ago now where that was the contention of this conference.  If we lose GPS we lose our banking systems, we lose our ability to navigate our goods around the world.  These predominantly scientists were flummoxed by the problem.  What will we do?  How will the world survive?

Actually, the guy on the bridge deck can look out of the window and navigate by those islands that he’s passing by.  He can pull out his sextant and navigate by the stars.

There’s still a need to probably hold onto some of those old-school style of operations.

These days my flight planning is done on a computer.  If you lose your computer through a loss of the system itself or electricity, are our modern air crew capable of flight planning without their computer?

So we still need to be able to revert back sometimes to the old ways, but not to necessarily rely on them.  We have these systems for a reason.  It helps us. We don’t need to go back and become dinosaurs, but we just need to be able to have enough knowledge to go back and still operate.

Captain Reid:  I use the example of age processing in terms of how we interact with music because people find that easy to understand.

So when I was young, I had to negotiate with my other brothers and mom and dad to use the music in the lounge room, put the record player on, go by it, plug it in, tethered to a pair of headphones if I wanted to listen to it privately.

Now, the kids, they don’t even have to own their music.  They rent their music.  They listen to Spotify right on the edge in the car.  They can negotiate hot spots with their parents.  They live their life that way.

So the only reason, so to point a departure from Lyle’s point, that you’d want to have records is out of nostalgia and no other reason, because we live our life differently when you can edge process.

So my contention is life has evolved and this is how we now live our lives.  So therefore, this is how we should be conducting most of our endeavors in life, including warfighting.

So this idea of edge processing of knowledge and sharing where it is needed is a key concept, as opposed to the bias for centralized processing which is what we’ve had for a long time.

Mr. Muradian:  And so your contention is that parts of those networks will go down, but they will not go down in such a totality that I need to get back to sharp sticks and compasses, grease pencils and maps.

Captain Reid:  Exactly right.  If you are planning for an Armageddon, then you may as well start learning to ride horses because you know what?  I might just need to ride a horse because there’s no petrol.  Or you can say we have gone past that and the slip-back might be significant, but it’s not going to be that far back.  So our mesh networks will still allow us to survive and fight through and with information rather than going back to an Armageddon situation back in the dark ages.

Captain Holt:  I’m reminded, have you ever seen the video of the people’s reliance on modern technology, and it’s a video of an escalator.  And a line of people on this escalator.  And the escalator stops in the middle of a shopping center somewhere. And everyone just stood on this escalator looking at each other going what now?  [Laughter].   You can’t always forget the old ways.  You’ve got to walk off that escalator.

Mr. Muradian:  That’s great.  Jerome Reid, Lyle Holt.  Both group captains with the Royal Australian Air Force. Both involved with Plan Jericho. Utterly fascinating.  You guys are terrific.  Thanks very much for a tremendous brief.  Hope you guys have a great and productive time over here and a safe flight home.

Thanks very much, guys.  Absolutely fascinating.

Captain Reid:  Thank you.

Captain Holt: Thank you.

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