The Australian Government is actively seeking to increase Whole of Government efforts in the South Pacific in a meaningful and consistent way.  In this post, SGT G outlines how the Royal Australian Air Force could contribute to the Australian Defence Force Pacific Mobile Training Team (MTT) through the incorporation of an ‘Air Advisor’ flight.

Competition for influence in the South Pacific has increased markedly over the past decade. Debt-trap diplomacy, coercion, and inducements are rapidly challenging the status quo. Australia can no longer assume it will be a default security partner, nor can it simply outspend alternate partners. Australia must articulate a clear value proposition to South Pacific nations as to why Australia should remain the region’s security guarantor of choice. A values-based relationship, founded on mutual respect with demonstrable benefits that build capacity vice dependency is our best point of difference over other regional influencers.

The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper called for increased engagement in the Pacific in support of a more resilient region. Foreign Minister Marise Payne, when addressing the State of the Pacific Conference in September 2018 said: “Stepping up in the Pacific is not an option for Australia, it is an imperative”. Prime Minister Scott Morrison reinforced this sentiment in a November media release stating: “Australia will step up in the Pacific and take our engagement with the region to a new level”. Among the initiatives in this whole of government effort was the establishment of an Australian Defence Force (ADF) Pacific Mobile Training Team (MTT). This paper will outline a recommended Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) contribution to this initiative.

One option is for the RAAF to form of an ‘Air Advisor’ flight, staffed with experienced Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) and Officers from all specialisations. This flight would work in concert with the newly established Office of the Pacific within Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to identify engagement opportunities through the region and to dispatch/deploy an appropriate ‘Tiger Team’ of advisors tasked to provide training assistance to local organisations. Support to local authorities could range from technical or doctrinal development support through to the deployment of a persistent MTT, complemented where necessary by members are drawn from the wider RAAF. Assistance can range from finance and personnel governance through to delivery of fires, and humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) responses. The aim of this assistance would be not to impose a RAAF solution, but to analyse the local problem set and constraints, and to devise a culturally appropriate and sustainable product. When not actively employed in an advise and assist task, advisors could develop regional language proficiency, review and improve RAAF tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) and pass on their experience to their parent communities in the wider RAAF.

There are several second-order benefits from this proposal.

Involvement in a regional MTT could lead to hundreds of personal relationships with a network of professionals across the region, which act as accelerants in time of crisis. With careful maintenance, these relationships would deepen over time and increase in value as individuals progress in their organisations.

The formation and deployment of regional MTTs would also improve the ADF’s geographic situational awareness through constant first-hand engagement in the region. For example, the speed and efficiency of HADR responses will be improved if the location of the event had been recently surveyed by an Airfield Engineer or Combat Controller members of an MTT.

Several areas within the RAAF already conduct regional assistance work within the region, most notably medical. The concentration of this role into an Air Advisor construct would allow this effort to be more focussed, tailoring the delivery of assistance and centralising the information and relationships developed to ensure they adequately collated, disseminated, and managed. An opportunity to serve as an Air Advisor should appeal to RAAF members who wish to contribute their tactical experience to achieve an operational effect while working with a high degree of autonomy.

Years of experience of operating with a variety of coalition members and partner forces in several theatres has exposed RAAF personnel to a plethora of methodologies, TTPs and workarounds. Just as valuable is the experience in building relationships that recognise cultural nuance and differing levels of resourcing: This is precisely the type of effect that government needs from the ADF to support the whole of government effort to build strong values-based relationships across the region. The establishment of an Air Advisor capability within the Tactical Air Wing allows us to retain, leverage and improve upon these vital skills as we adjust to the emerging regional security challenges.

SGT G. is a current serving Combat Controller in the Royal Australian Air Force. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect those of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government.