We started The Central Blue at the end of 2016 with two goals in mind: to provide a forum for the discussion and debate on issues relating to Australian air power, and to encourage airmen to write about their profession of arms. In 2017, our first full year of operation, we made solid progress towards both of these goals. But there is still much work to be done both in promoting discussion on air power topics, and in actually getting airmen typing. With these challenges in mind we decided that for the final post of 2017 we would review the year that was and outline a plan for the year to come. In so doing we hope that you may be inspired to re-engage with some of the 51 posts we have published this year, and provide comments with your thoughts on what topics we should aim to explore in 2018.

A Year in Review

Our contributors have explored a range of topics, including:

But three posts in particular stand-out, two for the interest they generate and a third for the foundation it laid.

We opened the year with a post that turned out to be our most popular, and which continues to attract an impressive level of interest and comment: Steve George’s continuation of the debate surrounding putting F-35B’s on the Canberra Class LHDs. It would seem that the heady blend of fifth-generation fighters and the possibility of a return to a carrier navy strikes a chord and polarises opinions across the Australian blogosphere. What was most compelling about Steve’s post was his clear articulation of the issues upon which the fighter-equipped LHD debate hinges. There is no one solution or answer to these issues, they are contingent on a number of assumptions on naval and air power theory, and Australia’s strategic priorities. So in engaging in this debate, Steve’s interlocutors who contributed in the post’s comment section pushed the blog’s broader readership to identify, articulate, and defend their assumptions. It is this cut-and-thrust of intellectual debate that we hope will continue to be a key component of The Central Blue experience.

This spirit of generating debate also drove our second most viewed post, which is also one of our most recent. In ‘My Fifth Generation’, Central Blue editor Chris McInnes provided a personal perspective of what it means to be a fifth-generation organisation. This post attracted attention and comment from a diverse array of groups and individuals, both within Australia and abroad. The reason for the interest in this personal reflection on the fifth-generation concept appears to be a thirst for substance in a discussion that has been dominated by catch-phrases and jargon. As it is a defining concept for the future of the Air Force, it is difficult to underestimate the importance of understanding what a fifth-generation organisation actually is. Unfortunately, there are very few forums within which airmen can discuss, debate, and refine their own views on what a “Fifth-Generation Air Force” actually means to them. This is a problem that The Central Blue aims to address. By providing a forum in which individuals can express and develop their personal understanding of air power, we can shore-up the intellectual foundations upon which Australian air power is built.

And this brings us to the third stand-out post for the year: our ‘debrief’ with the Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Davies. The support of the Chief is critical to the success of The Central Blue, without it we cannot expect airmen to engage in the discussion on air power issues that are so important to the development of their own and the Air Force’s understanding of air power. As this idea of engaging in discussion and debate on air power is so critical to what we do The Central Blue, it is worth quoting the Chief’s view verbatim:

“Air power is not a static concept; rather it must be studied, reflected upon, debated, and challenged. As airminded members of the profession of arms, Air Force personnel have a responsibility to participate in this contest of ideas. It is far, far better that we should respectfully engage in that contest than to hide our thoughts, only to find them wanting when it matters most.”

We are proud of the debate and the discussion that The Central Blue has been able to foster. Though there is undoubtedly more to be done, we have taken the first steps in providing a forum for the contest of ideas that is so vital to the ongoing development of air power in Australia. But the actual posts are only part of the story, albeit the most visible part.

More important than the words on a screen are the connections that are made in the process of developing, expressing, and refining ideas. For that you need a network of engaged and motivated individuals that are actively involved in furthering the discussion. We’ve been fortunate at The Central Blue to have a diverse range of contributors across ranks, specialisations, and services. But at the heart of the enterprise are the editorial staff that are responsible not just for the editing of posts, but also extending the network through social media and personal connections. Realising the importance of having an engaged and proactive editorial group that see the network as being as important as the posts, we have expanded number of The Central Blue editors from two to five. We are fortunate that we have a diverse, engaged, and proactive group of volunteers that are committed to the cause.

The editorial team that will take The Central Blue into its third year are:

  • Wing Commander Jo Brick
  • Wing Commander Trav Hallen
  • Squadron Leader Jenna Higgins
  • Squadron Leader Alexandra McCubbin
  • Wing Commander Chris McInnes

This team brings passion to the discussion of the air power, and a drive to develop critical thinkers who are able to guide air power into the future.

Planning ahead

As we plan ahead for 2018 The Central Blue will continue to pursue its core goals of promoting discussion of air power and getting airmen to write. But we will be adding a third goal: expanding the network of air minded thinkers and writers. There are two ways we plan to further these goals in the year ahead: collaborating more broadly with international partners, and engaging directly with Australian airmen to get them writing.

The first step will be a collaboration with From Balloons to Drones exploring the employment of air power in high intensity warfare. This six week series of posts commencing in mid-February will be published in the lead up to the Williams Foundation Seminar on high intensity warfare in late March. This collaboration will bring together contributors from around the world to answers questions about the past, present, and future of air power in major conflict. More details will be released early in the New Year.

A longer term plan will be to directly engage with airmen to encourage them to develop their ideas and put them out there to further the debate and discussion on the range of issues that affect them and their profession of arms. A number of initiatives are being planned to support this engagement including promoting The Central Blue as an outlet for research and writing completed as part of Air Force PMET, as well as encouraging and supporting airmen’s participation in events such as Defence Entrepreneurs Forum Australia (DEF Aus). Throughout, we will continue to work closely with the broader Australian military writing community through forums such as The Cove and Grounded Curiosity.

Closing thoughts

2018 holds great promise for The Central Blue and our efforts to further the discussion of Australian air power, but we also need feedback from our readership to understand how we can improve. Most importantly, we need to hear from you regarding what issues and topics we should be discussing and debating. So while we take a break over the Christmas period, we encourage you to put your ideas on topics in the comments section, tag us with them on Twitter (@TheCentralBlue), or post them to us on Facebook (@TheCentralBlue). These comments will inform our way ahead and let us know what topics and issues our readers think are important. For those who have an idea and want to write and just need a little encouragement, send us an email with your ideas (centralblue@williamsfoundation.org.au); the editorial team will help you transform your ideas into a post that will further the discussions that we need to be having.

Thanks for your readership and your support for the work we are doing. We’ll be back posting again on 7 January 2018. We wish you all a happy and safe Christmas and New Year break.