Letters to the editor (RCAF Journal - WINTER 2016 - Volume 5, Issue 1)

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Editor’s note: While not strictly letters to the editor, the comments below reflect a thoughtful reading of “Professional Airpower Mastery and the Royal Canadian Air Force: Rethinking Airpower Education and Professional Development,” included in this issue of the Journal. I do hope that these will be the first of many such comments and observations on this subject.

My overall impression of the paper is very good. A few thoughts? What is the intended audience? The abstract is the one area I would suggest you read to ensure it delivers the message you want because it sets the tone.

Paragraph 2. I find the initial sentence to be too focused on the operators. In my opinion, when we discuss the importance of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) intellectual capital, people reading the paper must understand that this is important in all aspects of what the RCAF does (communications, logistics, maintenance, etc.) and not only the pointy end. The paragraph also discusses how issues are nuanced, that problems are different at the strategic level and that different skills are needed. I would argue that different skills and experiences are needed and that the paper must define these skills and experiences. Most importantly, the institution will have to adjust to ensure that developing these skills is valued and rewarded by the institution. This will be the greatest challenge in my opinion. There is also discussion on how the RCAF struggles to justify new capabilities and associated resources. I think the integrated theme of your AIRPower (Agile, Integrated, Reach, Power) must be included here and expanded on in paragraph 3.

Paragraph 3. The paragraph focuses on comprehension of how the RCAF functions and operates. Once again, I think it is important to understand this also as it relates to other elements and domains. My point is that airmen and airwomen must understand not only how the RCAF functions and operates but also how the Army, Navy, Special Operations Forces operate; airmen and airwomen must also understand the space and cyber domains in order to ensure that the concepts we develop make the RCAF relevant and shine within the entire Canadian Armed Forces. I get the point of focusing on RCAF doctrine and air mindedness, but I think we must plant the seed on the importance of understanding all the people we have to integrate with on various operations. This will be an investment for when our leaders get to the more strategic levels.

Paragraph 4. In line with my previous observations, I would add at the end of the paragraph a comment on exchanges, either with other elements or other nations, as there is strength through diversity of education, experience and perspective. We must define the skill sets required but not be too prescriptive on how to get these skills. We need to leave space for innovation.

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Paragraph 6 c. Same comment on integration as above.

Paragraph 11. I think the four priorities highlighted by Air Commodore Wait are still very relevant today and reflective of an officer who had the right vision for what was good for the RCAF. His third point highlights the importance of understanding the Armed Forces as a whole, its operations and how the RCAF can best contribute.

Paragraph 15. Excellent. I believe in the importance of building a strong foundation and mastering the basics of our craft. I think this starts with recruiting, then I think RCAF Development Period (DP) 2 is absolutely critical.

Paragraph 16. It makes the point on self-serving education versus command driven/rewarded. I wonder if this has changed. It seems that there is an effort to do this now which is exciting. We need to ensure that the skills sought by the RCAF leaders are the ones rewarded. This is easier said than done but is absolutely critical. This will determine the leaders of tomorrow, thus the culture of the institution and when the right leaders are in place; this will lead to a virtuous circle where the culture will attract and produce the type of people we are looking for. This comes back to my paragraph 15 comment, where there needs to be emphasis on recruiting the right type of people and ensuring that after DP 2 we have set in place the right foundation at the captain level to build on.

Paragraph 17. I don’t like the first sentence on leadership and management. I think there is a huge difference between leadership and management. When I talk about the type of people we should recruit and what we want to produce and identify at DP 2, I think we must focus on leaders and not so much on managers. This is how the RCAF will produce future commanders and the culture I think I understand that you wish for.

Paragraphs 18/19/20. Unfortunately still true today. I wholeheartedly agree that the focus of education within the RCAF needs to be command driven. I think we are all working hard, but we need to work smarter. Paragraph 20 is great. My old hockey coach used to say that speed kills if you don’t know where you are going.

Paragraph 23. Great paragraph.

Paragraph 24 b. Once again, this is a bit too generic, as it talks about understanding our business and the system we are working within. This could be more precise so that the reader understands what you mean.

Paragraph 25. Last sentence is very good.

Paragraph 40. I don’t like the part on competition with the Army, Navy and other departments for resources. I understand the intent but feel this goes directly against your message of flying in formation. I think we must think in terms of lead and not lag measures, thus focusing on being the best we can be as RCAF officers and then trusting that this will lead us to attain our objectives.

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Parting thoughts:

  • Excellent paper.
  •  It seems to me that defining the skill sets sought is critical. Then we must ensure these are rewarded. This will determine what kind of people we want to recruit, how we want to set the foundation at the captain level at DP2, and then how to build on this foundation during their entire career. It should be command driven.
  • Building this kind of culture requires leaders/commanders, not managers.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jeannot Boucher, MSM, CD

Abbreviations

DP―development period
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force

 I find it futile to justify critical/analytical thinking by invoking the continued need for “airpower mastery.” In a world where everyone agrees that “if you are not doing critical/analytical thinking you’re pretty much dead,” should we not focus our precious time and energy on the how rather than the why?

Critical and analytical thinking is the great separator of followers and leaders. If we want to be leaders (even before thinking about “airpower mastery”), we should rely on critical thinking as a foundational element.

Critical thinking, for me, is the first line of defence against illogicality, status quo, silo mentality and unsupported arguments. Critical thinking is to be in control and not follow others like sheep. To have critical thinking means you’ve collected information without bias and know how to make decisions based on facts and not based on “we’ve always done it like this” mentality.

“Professional Airpower Mastery and the Royal Canadian Air Force: Rethinking Airpower Education and Professional Development” (included in this issue of the Journal) is right about one thing: We urgently need critical thinking in the Royal Canadian Air Force. What are the symptoms? Dangerous and repetitive errors, bad decisions, failed projects, inaction when action is warranted, erroneous assumptions, obsolete training programmes, taking four years to produce aircraft captains, rank-based culture, high attrition rates and mismanagement of financial resources. This list should be enough to provoke thought, but most importantly, we should never forget that a lack of critical/analytical thinking leads to the ultimate consequence: loss of life in a high-risk business.

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My critical thinking tells me that it’s unproductive to allocate resources to elaborate an elegant linkage between the decline of airpower mastery and the need for critical thinking. It’s a given! The real questions are: What can we do about it? How will we reform our culture to retain high performers fleeing toward greener intellectual pastures? How will we stay relevant in the information age when decision power is removed from leaders and firmly crystallized in processes and procedures that discharge anyone of accountability and calculated risk taking?

If we are to regain airpower mastery through the use of critical thinking: We need to start with modern and capable machines on the line. We need competent airmen and airwomen who fly every day. We need a culture and supervisors that recognize competencies and encourage excellence. We need exercises and exchanges with allies to maximize knowledge transfer and hands-on knowledge. We need an organizational culture where continual improvement and challenging the status quo are encouraged. We need a modern and lean way of thinking instead of a culture of fear and an exception-based rule for every single outcome. We need leaders who aren’t afraid to get into an argument and demand answers from the government. We need leaders who are confident in their team and let them do their job—even when there’s a risk involved.

My hopes are to provoke thoughts, illicit a sense of urgency and suggest we focus on tangible actions that have an immediate impact.

Captain Jean Le Bouthillier, MSc
Liaison Officer, Canadian Special Operations Forces Command

 

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