Airmindedness - An Essential Element of Air Power (RCAF Journal - SUMMER 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 3)

10th Anniversary Edition


Table of contents


By Brigadier-General Christopher J. Coates, OMM, MSM, CD, MSS

Reprint from The Royal Canadian Air Force Journal Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 2014

Author’s notes:

1. The author would like to acknowledge the editorial assistance of Colonel (Col) Chuck Oliviero (Retired), PhD, and Dr. Randall Wakelam.

2. The term airmindedness continues to be written as a compound word in two manners, both with and without the hyphen. The version without the hyphen will be the standard used in this article; although when quoting others, the original form will be retained.

3. In allied publications, the term “airmen” refers to both men and women serving in the respective air force.

The history of mankind is the history of thought—of the gradual ascendancy of mind over matter: the subjugation of brute force by intelligence.[1]

B. H. Liddell Hart, 1944


Air power has made significant contributions to most recent military operations and has contributed to the full range of Canadian Forces (CF) operations since the late 1980s, coinciding with the end of the cold war and the advent of peace-enforcement and other contemporary operations. Most readers would be familiar with the contributions of air power, but in the Balkans alone these have ranged from supporting embargoes on maritime shipping to maintaining critical supply lifelines into Bosnia, to participating in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Kosovo mission.

Most recently, throughout the decade of operations in Afghanistan, air power has played a significant role. Although initially limited to air mobility, both inter- and intra-theatre, CF air power eventually grew over time to encompass a wider range of air capabilities, including the delivery of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as tactical mobility and firepower. Canadian combat forces in Afghanistan integrated the full spectrum of allied air power into their operations.

In addition, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was a principal contributor of air power to many aspects of NATO’s operations against Libya. Furthermore, air power has played a key role in domestic operations, including search and rescue, maritime and Arctic surveillance, continental air defence operations and the provision of air security for critical national events. Air power, including CF air power, provided significant benefits during disaster recovery operations at home and in support of international humanitarian assistance operations, such as those in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010.

In the wake of these important operational activities, there is an opportunity to examine some elements of doctrine to ensure that the CF and RCAF learn from these experiences and are better positioned for the future. The operations of the last decade have involved airmen and airwomen in a wide range of operations and have presented non-Air Force personnel with robust exposure to air power, in both planning and execution. Canada needs to appropriately prepare members of the RCAF and others to apply air power to achieve the desired effects, and that can only happen with a fundamental understanding and appreciation of its use. In their doctrine, Canada’s allies—the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK)—recognize the uniqueness of the airman’s expertise, and in the United States Air Force (USAF), it is termed “airmindedness.”[2] Canadian doctrine does not address this notion of airmindedness or the aviator’s particular expertise, but in light of the significant recent use of air power, it is appropriate and beneficial for both the RCAF and CF to examine the concept of airmindedness.

This article will provide a critical examination of airmindedness, both within the RCAF and the greater CF through four major steps: discussing the notion of airmindedness; examining the current state of airmindedness; proposing a Canadian version of airmindedness; and finally, discussing the formal development of airmindedness in a Canadian context. In addition to my personal experiences, the ideas are the result of interviews conducted with a wide range of senior, experienced military personnel from Canada as well as our American and British allies. It is not a comprehensive academic examination of the notion of the subject, but it will occasionally refer to others who have made such an examination.

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The notion of airmindedness

To them that come after us it may be as ordinary to buy a pair of wings to fly into remotest regions, as now a pair of boots to ride a journey.[3]

– John Glanville, 1641

Writers of the 1920s initially coined the term airmindedness as part of the effort to promote the development of civil aviation. During that period, civil air capabilities were introduced, and there was a belief that a society that was airminded would better understand the potential benefits of air power. An airminded people would be more willing to embrace air transport, would support the development of air-related infrastructure and would see their community advance more quickly and with less effort due to the beneficial effects of civil aviation. The Oxford English Dictionary has defined air-minded as “interested in or enthusiastic for the use and development of aircraft; so airmindedness” and indicated that it was first used in 1927.[4]

A discussion of the notion of airmindedness and a review of the use of the term airminded in English-language print shows that they were used predominantly from 1930 to 1950.[5] The term airmindedness fell out of common usage after the end of the Second World War (WWII), as many Western populations widely accepted air activity as normal, if not yet common, in all its forms. The widespread development of civil aviation, which started prior to WWII, progressed more rapidly in the years that followed, and thus, there was much less need to promote airmindedness. The development of air power as a military capability accelerated after the end of WWII, and some air forces rekindled the use of the term.

In the Western military context, airminded and airmindedness are elements of the formal doctrine of both USAF and the Royal Air Force (RAF). In its capstone publication, Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1, USAF presents a section entitled “Airmindedness,” stating that: “The perspective of Airmen is necessarily different; it reflects a unique appreciation of air power’s potential, as well as the threats and survival imperatives unique to Airmen.”[6] AFDD 2, Operations and Organization further addresses airmindedness as a fundamental concept in a section entitled “The Airman’s Perspective.”[7] Between AFDD 1 and AFDD 2, the USAF doctrine attributes particular and unique perspectives to the airman by virtue of their operational experience and unique viewpoint. The USAF origins of the term airmindedness (apparently attributed to one of the iconic leaders of USAF—General (Gen) Henry H. “Hap” Arnold) were explored to help understand its military use. As described in the text box, airmindedness appears to be an invention of USAF in the 1990s during production of modern written doctrine.

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USAF Airmindedness

AFDD 1 states that: “The study of airpower leads to a particular expertise and a distinctive point of view that General Henry H. ‘Hap’ Arnold termed ‘airmindedness.’”[8]

The 2007 version of AFDD 2 attributes Arnold’s citation to Air Force Manual (AFM) 1-1, Volume 2, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force, March 1992.[9] This latter book is a collection of essays. The 21st essay, Essay “U,” starts with the same quotation by Arnold and attributes it to: General Arnold, Third Report of the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces to the Secretary of War (Baltimore, MD: Schneiderieth, 12 November 1945), 70.[10] Arnold used the term “airmindedness” on page 70 of the Third Report, but not in the context presented in AFM 1-1 or subsequent USAF doctrine.

It appears in the Third Report’s “Air Power and the Future” chapter, Section 9, “Civil Aviation.” Arnold says that: “Since military Air Power depends for its existence upon the aviation industry and the air-mindedness of the nation, the Air Force must promote the development of American civil Air Power in all of its forms, both commercial and private.” Arnold’s use of airmindedness is focused on marshalling civil aviation for the national benefit and is not related to a particular military perspective or expertise. He does not use the term anywhere else in the Third Report.

Col Dennis Drew (Ret’d), USAF, oversaw initial efforts to produce AFM 1-1 Vol. 2 and was unable to positively identify the author of Essay “U.” However, he offered that “perhaps the author of the essay … viewed Arnold’s use of ‘airmindedness’ less literally and much more figuratively as applying broadly to both civil and military aviation.”[11] Dr. Dale Hayden, US Air Force Research Institute, offered that USAF’s use of Gen Arnold and the term airmindedness might be a “meta-narrative” that has been accepted, as it served USAF’s interests.[12]

Despite being “universally accepted” and widely quoted, it would appear that Arnold did not use the term airminded to describe the airman’s particular expertise and distinctive point of view. Airmindedness, as currently defined by USAF, appears to be a creation of USAF in the 1990s.

The RAF also recognizes the airman’s perspective and defines airmindedness in Air Publication (AP) 3000, British Air and Space Power Doctrine as “airmen who understand and appreciate air power, and are able to articulate and advocate it.”[13] The airmindedness section of AP 3000 provides a description of the principles of war as applied to air power and emphasizes the benefits of airmindedness to the success of the joint campaign. Unlike its allies, the CF and RCAF do not use the term airminded or airmindedness and do not advocate or recognize a particular “airman’s/airwoman’s perspective.”

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The RAF and, especially, the USAF views of the airman’s perspective and airmindedness demand further scrutiny since they imply that the airman’s perspective itself leads to some abilities that are unique to airmen. The USAF view is that airmen think differently than other members of the joint team. They maintain that airmen naturally think spatially and strategically, whereas the thinking of others is more confined or limited.[14] The USAF Lemay Center for Doctrine reiterated this most recently when it issued a “USAF Doctrine Update on Airmindedness” that emphasized the ability of airmen to “think and act at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war, simultaneously if called for.”[15]

The USAF perspective on airmindedness promotes a view that could be interpreted as elitist or exclusive. In an article discussing airmindedness, Dr. Dale L. Hayden, the Deputy Director of the US Air Force Research Institute, states that: “Airmen are better equipped to exploit the other global commons of space and cyberspace since they view them as domains rather than tools,” reinforcing the notion that airmen are specially endowed.[16] In a 2007 article in the Air & Space Power Journal,[17] Major General Charles J. Dunlap (Retired), USAF, clothes his vigorous promotion of air power in a layer of airmindedness, but his tone is overly negative towards joint partners. Lieutenant Colonel Buck Elton, USAF, criticizes Dunlap’s 2007 monograph,[18] which is a longer version of the same argument presented in the Winter 2007 Air & Space Power Journal article, by noting that Dunlap’s “recommendations only serve to discredit ‘air-mindedness’ as unrealistic … .”[19] Elton provides a strong condemnation of Dunlap’s argument; one which is also reflected in USAF doctrine, when Elton remarks that “[p]erhaps the most disturbing concept discussed by General Dunlap is the statement that only Airmen think strategically or specifically that ‘Airmen tend to reason in strategic terms and Soldiers are intellectually disposed to favor close combat and tend to think tactically.’”[20]

In his blog “Building Peace,” Mark Jacobsen, self-identified as a USAF C-17 pilot, proposes that the term air-mindedness should be jettisoned. He argues that he sees “no indication that the Air Force by definition has a more strategic view of war than the Army.” His view is that the current notion of air-mindedness is “elitist” and contributes to “interservice rivalry.”[21]

While airmen have an inherent advantage in the understanding of air power (whether one is discussing counter-insurgency operations, conventional combat or even humanitarian assistance operations), by associating airmindedness with superior strategic thinking, the notion of airmindedness presented in USAF doctrine is exclusive and pretentious and does not encourage joint partners to embrace the use of air power. Nonetheless, it would be productive to better understand the perspective of air personnel and define airmindedness in a manner that would be beneficial in contemporary, joint operations. With the experiences of the last decade of joint and combined operations, there is a wealth of experience to help define airmindedness in a manner that would contribute positively to the application of air power in all its forms.

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Airmindedness today

Flying has torn apart the relationship of space and time: it uses our old clock but with new yardsticks.[22]

– Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St Louis, 1953

In an effort to better understand airmindedness, discussions and interviews with a wide range of experienced military leaders from Canadian, American and British military forces provided an up-to-date view on both the perspective of air personnel and on airmindedness itself. There was overall agreement that there is an identifiable, particular perspective that could be categorized as “airminded” or that reflects “airmindedness.” Working definitions or descriptions of airmindedness provided by those interviewed ranged somewhat widely, although common threads could be detected. Airmindedness was described as:

  • “Understanding of air power’s unique contributions across the spectrum of conflict, to include joint and coalition, and understanding the full potential that it can bring.”[23]
  • “An understanding of air power writ large.”[24]
  •  “The unique perspective and decision process used by airmen.”[25]
  • “The effective incorporation of air power into the planning and execution of joint operations.”[26]
  • “The thought process of airmen as they view problems.”[27]
  • “Understanding of the influence that air power can have in the battlespace and the supporting role it plays.”[28]
  • “How airmen look at problems; their default position. A broad view of air power, both tactical and strategic use of air power.”[29]
  • “With anything that military forces plan or execute, always have a view to how an airman would view or do that.”[30]
  • “A multidimensional perspective, providing different ways to influence warfare. A graduate-level thinking about warfare.”[31]
  •  “An appreciation of the third dimension. How it integrates into the other environments. A means to an end.”[32]
  •  “A lens that one applies to tactical and strategic perspective. How to view problems and execute [them] within the three dimensional realm.”[33]
  • “A comprehensive understanding of the third dimension of the battlespace and the application of air power to a maximum, even disproportionate, effect.”[34]
  • “An acute awareness of and the ability to rapidly evaluate time and space. The perception of land and maritime domains ‘from a perch’ and the rapid synthesis of and adaptation to options.”[35]
  • “The ability to see the battlespace free from the constraints of terrain-based obstacles.”[36]
  • “The thought process or concept of employment of aviation assets as they support an overall mission set in the range of military operations.”[37]
  •  “A deep understanding of air power’s strengths and limitations and when it can be used independently or as a joint enabler.”[38]
  • “An openmindedness in the approach to operations.”[39]
  • “Airmindedness is about thinking of a problem [in] a multidimensional, three-dimensional sense, across a full range of operations.”[40]
  • “An understanding of air power’s particular capabilities put together in a broader picture.”[41]

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As listed above, the short definitions of airmindedness offered by each of the leaders provide an indication of how each viewed airmindedness but do not completely or fully reflect their views or thoughts on the subject. Each individual provided more extensive commentary that addressed both the core and the nuances of airmindedness and are addressed in the paragraphs that follow, focusing on the elements of Canadian usage of the term.

While some of the non-USAF leaders interviewed had not heard of the term airmindedness, all agreed with the notion that there exists a manner of thinking or a way of approaching a problem that fits the notion of being airminded and could be described as airmindedness. So airmindedness does appear to be real. There were sufficiently similar elements used to describe airmindedness; therefore, it reflects an actual condition and is not just an arbitrary construct.

A large number of those interviewed found the existing USAF definition pejorative, “outdated”[42] or “archaic.”[43] This negative reaction was not limited to USAF’s joint partners, as several very senior USAF officers indicated that, in their opinion, the USAF definition was unhelpful. Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Michael C. Short (Retired), USAF, described it as “chest beating,”[44] and Lt Gen Allen G. Peck (Ret’d), USAF, indicated that “the term ‘airmindedness,’ when used in a better-than-thou context by Airmen, can do more harm than good regarding the perception of the Air Force as a coequal partner at the joint force table.”[45] They offered that the USAF use of airmindedness may have contributed to an alienation of joint partners and has put them “on the defensive.”[46] This was in fact validated by the comments of several of the senior non-USAF participants, such as Lieutenant-General (LGen) Charles Bouchard (Retired), RCAF, who suggested that the USAF approach to airmindedness “puts a wedge between the services.”[47]

The USAF definition associates air-mindedness with a perspective or a point of view, and while this was a common element of the leaders’ view of airmindedness, they saw airmindedness as much more than simply an outlook or a viewpoint. Airmindedness for them was not only a way of thinking about a problem or a situation but also related to the application of air power. It was based on an extensive and comprehensive knowledge of air power as well as a discerned, applied understanding of how air power could achieve effects. They saw airmindedness as being of greatest relevance when air power was considered as part of the complete team—national, political, joint, combined or coalition. For them, airmindedness related to the application of air power through the full range of operations, from tactical to operational to strategic and included air power’s ability to achieve effects to satisfy a national objective, both independently or in a supporting role. In the end, they believed that an element of airmindedness was an appreciation that air power was seldom applied in complete isolation, either from other military capabilities or from other instruments of national power. The most important difference from the USAF doctrinal definition was the emphasis that airmindedness must relate to the application of air power to achieve effects, rather than be seen simply as a perspective.

Those interviewed saw airmindedness as being scalable. In addition to the range of operations from tactical to strategic, they saw airmindedness as applying to individuals, from non-commissioned member and officer operators and support personnel, to unit, formation and force commanders. Major-General (MGen) Mike Hood, RCAF, reflected a common perception in his view that airmindedness was “scalable” and that it was “not limited to senior leaders.”[48] While LGen André Deschamps (Ret’d), RCAF, definitely saw the value of airmindedness in addressing strategic-level challenges, he viewed it as a “spectrum of understanding, beginning at the tactical level.”[49] Somewhat differently, Bouchard saw airmindedness as having meaning at the tactical level, but that “service-mindedness had no place at the strategic level,” at which level “what mattered was jointness, whole-of-government, PMESII (political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and information systems).”[50] From the comments provided, an effective Canadian view of airmindedness must account for the wide range of tactical and operational challenges and levels of conflict (strategic, operational and tactical) that demand the effective employment of air power.

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One of the most significant revelations was the leaders’ view that airmindedness was not unique to air force personnel. While air force personnel were expected to possess and demonstrate airmindedness, it was also noted that those of other backgrounds could also demonstrate what was understood to be airmindedness. All leaders concurred to a high degree with United States Navy (USN) Rear Admiral Terry B. Kraft’s view that “airmindedness is more natural for aviators, but not exclusive to them.”[51] As a result of their common environment and experience, airmindedness was expected and largely seen as innate for operators from the air component. Non-air force personnel who were sufficiently exposed to thinking about air power, who worked to overcome air power challenges and who shared air power experiences could also develop a degree of airmindedness. Possibly due to the more generic nature of airmindedness at higher levels, or perhaps due to their greater accumulated exposure to air power, the development of airmindedness in non-airmen was more common among those at higher ranks and with longer military service. Lt Gen Stanley Clarke III, USAF, provided the view that Gen John R. Allen, United States Marine Corps (USMC) and recent commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, “understands air power very quickly” and is an example of the airmindedness displayed by certain senior joint commanders.[52]

All of the leaders agreed that airmindedness derives from a combination of experience, education, training and culture. AFDD 1 describes airmindedness and the perspective of air personnel but does not explicitly address the source to this particular quality. In their doctrine, the RAF indicates that the airman’s perspective develops from an “instinctive empathy with scale and size and ease in operating across the different levels of warfare—sometimes on the same mission.”[53] This exposure to the unconstrained nature of air operations was seen as an aspect of airmindedness, but it could be achieved through a variety of means. All the sources of airmindedness mentioned above—experience, education, training and culture—were seen as necessary for the development of airmindedness in air personnel and those from other backgrounds. For those from outside the air environment, a strong grounding in air power education and training, accompanied by experience in planning and executing operations involving significant elements of air power, would compensate for some of the lack of air environment acculturation. Nonetheless, a sufficient exposure to air culture remains necessary for the development of airmindedness.

Airmindedness was viewed as beneficial, as effective airmindedness reduced overall risks to operations and increased all-arms effectiveness. Air Commodore Andrew Turner of the RAF and his UK counterparts noted that a failure to employ air power effectively during initial UK operations in southern Afghanistan was a result of a lack of airmindedness and led to higher-than-necessary losses.[54] In the CF, Bouchard claims that a similar lack of airmindedness developed over a generation in which there was little operational interaction between the Army and the Air Force and contributed to committing to operations in Afghanistan without adequate air power or mitigation of the risks.[55] Clarke credits airmindedness with the effective coupling of persistent surveillance and precision strike in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, leading to the rapid increase in effectiveness and the growing use of remotely piloted aircraft in the contemporary operating environment.[56] A lack of airmindedness leads to planning or thinking about the use of air power “as an afterthought.”[57] While he viewed airmindedness as expected in air force officers and air planning staff, MGen Jon Vance, Canadian Army, expressed a view similar to Brigadier Richard Felton, saying that “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 … .’”[58]

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A range of airmindedness was recognized by some of the leaders interviewed, commonly acknowledging a lesser form which could be termed “air awareness.”[59] It was seen as a less comprehensive understanding of air power, compared to the more fulsome understanding equated with airmindedness. Air awareness was understood to arise from either limited training or education in air power or, perhaps, a limited experience operating with air power, without the formal training, education or acculturation that would be needed to develop airmindedness. Air awareness might reflect a limited understanding, either theoretical or practical, of the benefits or effects of a particular class of air power. But air awareness would not couple that limited understanding with an appreciation of the limitations or constraints of that class of air power or, more importantly, an understanding of how other aspects of air power could be brought to bear. Moving from air awareness to airmindedness and continuing further would lead to the concept of jointness, and even further, it was a whole-of-government perspective. Without doubt, airmindedness is one of the essential elements of jointness, but it is beyond the scope of this analysis to discuss the contribution, role or relationship of airmindedness to jointness or “jointmindedness.” This is an area that merits further examination.

USAF extended the notion of airminded-ness to the areas of space and cyber, asserting in the description of airmindedness that “Airmen also think of power projection from inside the US to anywhere on the globe in hours (for air operations) and even nanoseconds (for space and cyberspace operations).”[60] The leaders contacted for this study did not see airmindedness as including particular expertise in space or cyber activities.[61] In the Canadian context, while space is a physical location, BGen Rick Pitre, CF Director General Space, viewed space effects as inter-domain, with space capabilities and effects intersecting, enabling and crossing all the traditional domains and that airmindedness was not a specific contributor to space effectiveness.[62] Airmindedness was focused on the air domain and air power; whereas for the most part, the leaders saw space and cyber as different, unique domains on their own. In describing the complexities and demands of today’s cyber operations, some contend that the United States “Air Force must start to inculcate cyber mindedness rooted in history and heritage,” distinct from airmindedness.[63] For the CF, there is little rationale for including space and cyber as part of the Canadian interpretation of airmindedness.

A final consideration regarding a modern Canadian definition for “airmindedness” relates to the immutability, or conversely the variability, of the term. As has been noted in several reports, outside of the Oxford English Dictionary definition, there is a lack of agreement over the actual application of the term. In his defence of airmindedness, Hayden notes that “air-mindedness does not have a static definition but captures nuances that change over time.”[64] In fact, it is somewhat natural that the use of the term should morph over time, changing to suit the circumstances. This indicates that there is some latitude in the Canadian interpretation of airmindedness, but in order for it to be believable, to be accepted, to encourage usage and to have sufficient resilience to endure, the definition must also retain some similarity to the historical or previous uses of the term.

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A Canadian definition of airmindedness

We want the air to unite the peoples, and not to divide them.[65]

– Lord Swinton,
Chicago Convention on
 International Aviation, 1944

In the Canadian context, and based on the considerations discussed above, an appropriate CF definition of airmindedness might be:

Airmindedness is a comprehensive understanding of air power and its optimal application throughout the operational environment.

This definition is similar in many ways to the RAF description of airmindedness, applying to a range of personnel and the full spectrum of operations. As will be elaborated, a Canadian interpretation of airmindedness would be that in any situation a firmly rooted airmindedness will ensure the tremendous value of air power is employed to maximum effect, wherever and whenever air power can make a contribution. The CF should share with the UK the view that airmindedness is not restricted to airmen.[66] The Canadian view of airmindedness needs to reflect that airmindedness is applicable to all aspects of air power, from air superiority and air dominance to the delivery of logistics in combat and in domestic humanitarian relief to joint air operations conducted with partners from other environment or with allies.

The Canadian view of airmindedness requires it to apply to the full spectrum of military operations. Air power is potent and influential, able to respond with considerable speed and flexibility. It is versatile, and the elements of air power can achieve multiple effects, often at the same time. But air power has definite limitations that need to be taken into account during planning and execution. Modern operations have become “ever more interdependent across the various domains,”[67] and air power effects must be delivered in that cooperative, interdependent environment. In the end, air power can make a significant difference in all operations, from those that are air-centric and focused on the delivery of air power to those with a more minor role for air capabilities. Airmindedness is the art and the science behind air power. It is about bringing air power to bear with maximum effectiveness in any situation.

For Canada, airmindedness is not limited to particular air personnel, nor is it restricted to a certain rank or organizational level. Airmindedness for the CF must be applicable to all members of the RCAF who must demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of air power writ large and be able to contribute to the application of air power in a complex, joint environment. Airmindedness is also desirable in members of the other environments. Starting as air awareness, the limited understanding of air power by joint partners must grow so that once at the level of joint commanders it resembles airmindedness and ensures powerful air capabilities are properly applied.

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Airmindedness is a critical element of RCAF air domain operations, but to avoid waste and unnecessary risk, it is also essential even where air power plays a lesser role. Where operations do not directly involve air activities, the absence of air power should be the result of a considered decision to forgo the use of air—the result of an airminded decision—not the failure to understand air power. But there is a limit to airmindedness. For the CF, space and cyber should be treated as separate domains, like the land and maritime domains. There are especially strong complementary linkages between air power and space and cyber capabilities, but neither space nor cyber are subordinate to air power or airmindedness. Although the CF has a strong affinity for joint operations, as long as air power is generated separately from the other types of military force, there will be air-power specialists, and it will be beneficial to continue to think of airmindedness apart from other types of joint thinking. That said, airmindedness must be integrated with joint thinking in addition to its value in air-centric operations.

In order to better relate to airmindedness, it may be beneficial to draw a parallel between airmindedness and airmanship. Airmanship is defined “as art, skill, or ability in the practice of aerial navigation,”[68] but those in aviation see it as far more than just skill or ability. Chris DeMaria, a certified flying instructor, describes airmanship as “not simply a measure of skill or technique, but also a measure of a pilot’s awareness of the aircraft, the environment in which it operates and of his own capabilities. One of those capabilities is physical skill, but equally important components are wise decision making and an elevated sense of self-discipline.”[69] In many ways, that combination of art, skill, technique, situational awareness and understanding of capabilities and limitations also describes the relation of airmindedness to air power. In effect, airmindedness and airmanship are companion bookends supporting the delivery of air capabilities.[70] For those familiar with the notion of airmanship, the important role of airmindedness is well reflected in the following expression:

Airmindedness is to the application of air power as airmanship is to the operation of aircraft.

Development of airmindedness for the CF

A good inter-Service staff officer must first be a good officer of his own Service, and we should lose more than we gained by merging the identity of the three Staff Colleges.[71]

– John Slessor, Marshal of the RAF

While the main objective of this study is to examine a contemporary Canadian interpretation of airmindedness, it is beneficial to offer some comments on the development of airmindedness in the CF. As discussed above, airmindedness arises from a combination of experience, education, training and culture. Aviators in Canada are well educated in the art and science of their particular air power capability (that is to say, transport, maritime aviation, fighters, tactical aviation, and so on), but for the majority, there is very limited exposure to formal training or education in the other aspects of air power, outside an individual’s area of expertise.

A first step in the development of airmindedness for the RCAF and CF would be recognition of the term and its incorporation into doctrine. By defining and adopting airmindedness as an element of RCAF doctrine, the Air Force would have a foundation upon which to build. Once part of RCAF doctrine, it should be possible to target the development of airmindedness.

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The formation of airmindedness in the CF must consider the relation between the development levels of personnel and the levels of application of airmindedness. While airmindedness is applicable to all levels of the military environment, the airmindedness of a first-tour pilot would naturally be different and more restricted than the airmindedness of an experienced unit or formation commander. Furthermore, air-power expertise within one’s area of specialization may provide a suitable level of airmindedness for the first-tour pilot, but it would not be sufficient for an aviator who must apply the larger spectrum of air-power capabilities. Development of airmindedness in the CF must account for the requirements at each level.

The Commandant of the Canadian Forces College, BGen Craig Hilton, Canadian Army, has observed that aviators or airmen/airwomen at the rank of major may have a well-developed understanding of their air-power specialty, but they typically do not exhibit much understanding or skill in the application of other elements of air power.[72] He commented that the termination of Development Period 2 (DP2) within the RCAF contributed to this separation between the RCAF’s air-power communities.[73] Regardless of whether it is through the renewed DP2 distance learning curriculum or some other method, to develop airmindedness beyond the most basic or lowest levels, the RCAF needs to deliberately train and educate its personnel in the application of all air power capabilities and the achievement of air effects in joint operations. RCAF success in this area is currently insufficient to provide the airmindedness needed for the 21st century.

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Another aspect that was discussed was the expression of airmindedness by non-airmen, by non-aviators. As Vance and others indicated, while airmindedness is expected from aviators, it is very desirable and beneficial from those from other environments. Canadian Forces College professional development programmes provide only limited training or education in the application of environmental capabilities, including air power—a level that could be categorized as awareness or familiarization. Currently the CF does not formally train or educate the wider aspects of air power across the joint environments.[74] To do so is in the interests of the RCAF, the service with expertise in the application of air power and the responsibility to generate air effects on behalf of the nation. It may not be possible to provide sufficient training or education in air power to develop airmindedness across the CF population, but it would be beneficial and might be possible to achieve a higher level of air awareness than currently exists. An increase in air awareness would, in itself, lead to a better application of air power in the joint environment, and doing so might permit certain joint partners to actually develop airmindedness. The USMC educates all of its officers, regardless of specialization, in the application of air power. The leadership of the USMC expects all officers to exhibit fundamental levels of airmindedness, and in doing so they optimize their use of air power.[75] The CF and RCAF, in particular, should implement training and education in order to generate joint air awareness and facilitate the development of airmindedness.

Experience and culture are the other elements necessary to develop airmindedness, and the CF and the RCAF have both strengths and weaknesses in this regard. The CF’s joint construct provides some Air personnel with the opportunity to work in joint environments, alongside their Army, Navy and special operations partners. This is mutually beneficial, exposing aviators to joint operations, while sharing Air experience and culture with non-airmen/airwomen. On the other hand, RCAF aviators do not typically get much cultural exposure to or experience in the greater Air Force, outside their area of specialization. At higher ranks, this is changing somewhat, with the introduction of air component commander (ACC) training and preparation. ACC training is focused on the command and control aspects of air power, and although it does not specifically address the tactical and operational employment of air power, the exercises and employment of nascent ACCs necessarily leads to cross-community acculturation and experience. This training is beneficial, but the cross-community experience is limited and circumstantial—it needs to be widely targeted and more deliberate.

One of the strongest contributors to development of airmindedness may be the recent Commander, 1 Canadian Air Division initiative to “Fly in Formation.” This effort to bring the air power elements of the Air Division together to focus on operational and tactical challenges will result in increased experience and understanding across the RCAF communities. It will contribute to development of airmindedness among participants.

While the CF gained strong joint operational experience in Afghanistan, there has been very little tradition or opportunity for the environments of the CF to train together as a joint force. Similar to the benefits of “Fly in Formation” for its impact on development of airmindedness in the RCAF, the new JOINTEX (Joint Exercise) series will provide an important opportunity for combined arms and cross-service experience and acculturation. In order to develop airmindedness and comprehensively understand and apply air power’s contribution in the joint environment, airmen and airwomen need to be exposed to and train with their joint partners. JOINTEX assists in the development of the airmindedness of airmen and airwomen. To encourage and promote airmindedness in those from the other environments, they need practical exposure to and experience with air power. JOINTEX addresses this requirement as well.

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Air power has made significant contributions to operations in the last decade. The optimum employment of air power is enhanced by the airmindedness of those involved in the generation and application of air effects. While airmindedness is not defined in Canadian doctrine, an analysis revealed that the existing USAF definition is too limited to meet Canadian purposes. Airmindedness for the RCAF and CF is best defined as: “Airmindedness is a comprehensive understanding of air power and its optimal application throughout the operational environment.” Airmindedness is most common among airmen/airwomen and aviators but is not, by definition or practice, restricted to this group. Arising from a combination of experience, education, training and culture, airmindedness is shared by those from other environments or occupations who have accumulated a sufficient mixture of the elements of airmindedness and are able to comprehensively understand and apply air power across the operational spectrum.

The RCAF should encourage the development of airmindedness, but this encouragement must start with the establishment of a definition for airmindedness and its recognition in Canadian doctrine. There needs to be formal education of air power across the RCAF’s communities, acculturation and exposure to pan-Air Force capabilities as well as real joint training and exercise opportunities. The cross-cultural experience and exposure applies to members of other environments who would also improve their operational effectiveness as a result of increased air awareness. Certain persons, such as some senior joint commanders, may develop airmindedness after accumulating sufficient air expertise and knowledge.

Airmindedness is focused on the air domain and the application of air power, but the airminded would appreciate the intimate relationship between air, space and cyber domains and capabilities. The relationship of airmindedness to jointness should be considered, but as long as the stand-alone notion of “air power” exists, then “airmindedness” will continue to be beneficial. In order to assist in the understanding of airmindedness, it may be useful to consider the expression: “Airmindedness is to the application of air power as airmanship is to the operation of aircraft.”

Current and future military operations require the close cooperation and synergy of all elements of military power. The effective employment of air power across the operational spectrum requires that those involved develop and express a high degree of airmindedness, an essential element of air power.

Brigadier-General Christopher J. Coates is a tactical helicopter pilot, having flown observation, utility and special operations roles. He has commanded at flight, squadron and wing levels and was the first commander of Canada’s composite air wing in Afghanistan, reintroducing Chinook helicopters to Canadian service during that time. He has advised the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff’s staff on Air Force employment, and as Director of the Air Operations Centre (AOC) in Winnipeg, he led North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) responses in Canada’s North and initiated the transformation of the AOC. He is currently the Deputy Commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region.

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ACC―air component commander
AFDD―Air Force Doctrine Document (USAF)
AFM―Air Force Manual (US)
AOC―air operations centre
AP―Air Publication (UK)
BGen―Brigadier-General (Canada)
CF―Canadian Forces
DP2―Development Period 2
JOINTEX―Joint Exercise
LGen―Lieutenant-General (Canada)
Lt Gen―Lieutenant General (USAF)
MGen―Major-General (Canada)
MOD―Ministry of Defence
NATO―North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NORAD―North American Aerospace Defence Command
RAF―Royal Air Force
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
UK―United Kingdom
US―United States
USAF―United States Air Force
USMC―United States Marine Corps
USN―United States Navy
WWII―Second World War


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[61]. McMullen: “association of airmindedness with cyber and space is a stretch”; Wise: “space is clearly a distinct domain”; and Clarke: “space is an enabler, not a domain.” (return)

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[75]. Lieutenant General Steven A. Hummer, USMC, interview with author, November 8, 2012 (return)

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