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Projecting national power: Reconceiving Australian air power strategy for an age of high contest

By Peter Hunter

Author Peter Hunter says, ‘There’s rich potential for the Air Force’s new platforms—from F-35 to P8 to Growler—to help project our national influence. Air power’s value will be measured not just by its ability to deter and discourage traditional military threats, but also by its role in helping achieve influence in our region.’

Dealing with challenges like coercive diplomacy and political warfare will mean the ADF needs to help shape regional events to our advantage, as well as prevent others from doing things we don’t want. But that will require disruptive thinking about how air power assets can be used in unconventional ways.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Reconsideration of air power’s role within an overarching defence strategy is essential for responding to the high-contest environment Australia now faces in the Indo-Pacific. Such a strategy should focus on effects, including deterrence, denial, influence, counter-influence, counter-coercion and cost imposition.
  • In light of the comprehensive coercion models being applied in the Indo-Pacific region, our air power strategy will need to deliver effects within a whole-of-government approach to wielding the elements of national power.
  • The obsolescence of platform-centric approaches in achieving strategic effects has been revealed by the political warfare and grey-zone strategies being used by regional rivals. A reframing of air power strategy is needed to ensure that our newly acquired, sophisticated platforms have relevance in these grey-zone scenarios.
  • An influence operations model will help to deliver such disruptive options. This may mean applying air power tools for purposes other than those for which they were at first designed. This will provide Australian governments with flexible options for wielding national influence.