Issue 4, August 2004

‘Aerospace’ is a popular word in the RAAF these days. From relative obscurity ten years ago, it has become ubiquitous throughout RAAF publications of the past decade. Our single-Service doctrine now describes us as proponents of aerospace power rather than just air power. We have directorates that are charged with aerospace development. Operational doctrine now describes aerospace battle management in place of air defence and airspace control. So when did ‘aerospace’ become the most accurate word to use in describing our doctrine, who we are and what we are hoping to achieve? What has changed such that aerospace is in fact a better word to use rather than air or aeronautical? In many instances the simple answer seems to be ‘not much.’ We seem to have chosen to use ‘aerospace’ simply because it sounds more exciting and technologically advanced—or to put it in somewhat less subtle terms, because it sounds sexier. Sexier, yes, but what does ‘aerospace’ actually mean? There certainly is an implied connection with space. In fact the Macquarie dictionary states that ‘aerospace’ is ‘the earth’s envelope of air and the space beyond.’ Thus by the use of ‘aerospace’ a direct link to space is established, along with all the trappings associated with space operations—big budgets, high risks and cutting edge technology. Small wonder then that aerospace has greater appeal than the term ‘aeronautical’ or just plain old ‘air’. The term ‘aerospace’ apparently first came into use in the late 1950s when applied by US Air Force senior leadership. The term was used as a means of presenting air and space as a seamless continuum, thus supporting the claim of the USAF for operational primacy in space over and above the growing claims of the US Army and US Navy. Specifically, USAF leadership actively propounded that ‘air and space are not two separate media to be divided by a line… They are in truth a single indivisible field of operations.’ And thus, goes the implication, should be the responsibility of a single service—the USAF. In essence, it appears that ‘the “aerospace” idea’ was advanced by past USAF leadership ‘almost entirely by fiat, with little serious analysis or prior systematic thought given to it’ in order to fight a turf war. Despite this somewhat questionable origin, the word ‘aerospace’ has survived and prospered, fostering a growing mindset that air and space can actually be viewed as one environment. The RAAF seems to have adopted this view wholeheartedly, doctrinally stating that the aerospace is the ‘third dimension… above the surface of the earth.’ While technically defensible—air and space certainly represent the third dimension above the earth—this single environment view is inappropriate. A comparison of the environmental characteristics of air and space clearly indicate that space is a distinct environment, as different from the air environment as the air environment is from land or sea. These differences drive fundamental dissimilarities between operations carried out in the two environments. Put simply, the laws of aerodynamics govern operations in the air environment, whereas orbital mechanics govern operations in space.

Definitions aside, does the presentation of the ‘aerospace’ as a single continuum really matter? The answer unfortunately is ‘it depends.’ In general usage, for all its inappropriate application, no, the use of the term aerospace doesn’t seem to represent the source of any major problems. When used by a military organisation to describe roles and responsibilities, however, as has been done by the RAAF, the use of ‘aerospace’ must be viewed more critically.

Current RAAF attempts to use the aerospace-as-a-singlecontinuum construct appear to be driving a belief that one doctrine can adequately account for the physical differences between air and space. This flies in the face of conventional practices. Military forces that operate in different environments have always had fundamentally different characteristics and thus different doctrines. This is reflected in the current structure of the ADF, comprising the three distinct services, with each service focused on the development of operational expertise in one given environment. Traditionally, the single Services have existed in order to develop environment specific expertise and capabilities. Specifically, the Navy is the maritime environment expert, the Army is the land environment expert and the Air Force— at least in the past—was the air environment expert. The services accordingly have developed doctrine to support operations in their specific environments. Current Navy and Army single-Service doctrine publications, titled ‘Australian Maritime Doctrine’ and ‘The Fundamentals of Land Warfare’ respectively, reflect this single environment focus. Previous editions of RAAF doctrine likewise focused on a single environment, air, with this focus implicit in the title of ‘The Air Power Manual.’ With the release of the fourth edition of AAP1000 the RAAF seems to have attempted to maintain this single domain focus, but has chosen to define its environmental responsibility as the ‘aerospace’, rather than the air environment. The real danger of this approach is that, by failing to recognise space as a distinct environment, existing air power doctrine may then be inappropriately applied to the space environment. Inappropriate doctrine will always handicap the employment of current competencies and any attempts to develop capabilities for the future. Recognising this fact, the USAF seems to have now acknowledged the error of its original aerospace construct, stating that ‘Attempts to combine space and air operations—the aerospace philosophy—have served to retard the development of space doctrine.’

Without the acknowledgment of space as a separate environment, the RAAF will never be able to develop meaningful space power doctrine and capabilities. With this in mind the RAAF must acknowledge that ‘aerospace’ does in fact mean ‘air’ and ‘space’, and move to develop doctrine and capabilities accordingly.

Further Reading
Lambeth, B., Mastering the Ultimate High Ground Next Steps in the Military Uses of Space, RAND, Santa Monica, 2003. White, General Thomas D., ‘The Inevitable Climb to Space’, Air University Quarterly Review, Maxwell AFB, 1958. RAAF, AAP1000 Fundamentals of Australian Aerospace Power, Aerospace Centre, Canberra, 2002. Oberg, J., Space Power Theory, UASF Air Warfare College, Montgomery, 1999.

“Any Air Force which does not keep its doctrine ahead of its equipment, and its vision far into the future, can only delude the nation into a false sense of security.” - General Henry H. Arnold, USAAF, 1946

‘Pathfinder’ is a fortnightly bulletin from the Air Power Development Centre. Its title is a tribute to the Pathfinder Force which operated within RAF Bomber Command from August 1942. The original Pathfinders were an elite navigational group with the role of preceding each raid and accurately lighting up the target area with incendiary fires to permit visual bombing by the main force. The first commander was Group Captain (later Air Vice-Marshal) D.C.T. Bennett, a Queenslander who trained with the RAAF in 1930-31 before transferring to the RAF, and many other Australians also flew with the force. The emblem we have adopted is ‘Fiery Mo’, the unofficial insignia carried on No. 6 Squadron’s Hudson aircraft in New Guinea during 1943.

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