Air Force Personnel to 2030

Air Marshal Leo Davies, AO CSC
Chief of Air Force


Air Force, like other elements of Defence, faces a range of challenges in meeting the people element of future operational capability.  We are undertaking the largest technological upgrade in our history, and we cannot use the model of the past as the model for the future.

If we are to transform ourselves to a fully integrated, networked, fifth-generation force, we must change every aspect of our organisation including our personnel practices.


Current Challenges

Air Force, like other elements of Defence, faces a range of challenges in meeting the people element of future operational capability.  In addition to Government strategic guidance, future personnel practices must fit the personnel environment in which Air Force will exist and operate. 

When war was declared in 1939, a quarter of the Royal Australian Air Force members were Reservists, many flying with squadrons of the Royal Air Force as well as the Royal Australian Air Force.  Post World War II, the Citizen Air Force was assigned the ‘homeland’ defence fighter interceptor role that lasted almost 20 years.

Today the Air Force Reserve represents 20% of the Air Force workforce and, for the last decade, its management and administration has been integrated with the Permanent Air Force Personnel system. Reserve positions are now established within the Units they support in the delivery of capability. On a daily basis Permanent and Reserve personnel work together in their Unit, delivering Air Force capability side by side.

Air Force must recognise and plan for the interdependence between the people element of operational capability and the hardware element of operational capability in the effective delivery of airpower. The primary drivers for developing and sustaining people capability will continue to be the more short-term personnel management activities and financial imperatives. Continuing the current emphasis on the short-term will jeopardise the provision of future capability.  Consequently, Air Force and more broadly the ADF continues its journey to a ‘Total Workforce Model’, providing seven Service Categories (SERCAT) for employment of Air Force personnel. This structure will allow Air Force to design work in new and more adaptive ways that will meet societal expectations and the demands of our future operating context. 


Future Challenges

Through work underway within Plan Jericho, Air Force can begin to describe the critical attributes of the people element of capability required for our future force.  Maximising the human and intellectual capital, – and its material resources, will enable the Air Force to generate a fighting power that is greater than the sum of the individual people and systems elements. Increasingly, the Air Force will rely on experienced leaders who have the agility to meet the challenges of unfamiliar problems presented in unfamiliar contexts. 

Our leaders and Air Force members must be flexible, adaptive, skilled and informed to give the leadership more options to seize and retain the initiative. The capacity to operate fastest and most effectively in a dynamic and complex domain must continue to be developed in our people.

It is critical that Air Force develops a fifth-generation workforce that can quickly and effectively adapt to rapid technological and operational change and exploit the opportunities presented by Australia’s changing workforce demographics. Air Force must continue to modernise its workforce employment practices to meet the needs of contemporary Australians.

To meet these challenges, Air Force is developing an integrated, long-term personnel strategy that is clearly communicated, resourced and supported by the entire Air Force senior leadership. The strategy features the following seven pathways:

  • Aligning Air Force’s existing workforce with its capability and organisational priorities, including those emerging from the First Principles Review of Defence and the Defence White Paper 2016.
  • Restructuring Air Force where required to meet the warfighting requirements detailed in Joint and Air Force Operating Concepts.
  • Developing career pathways and education opportunities to ensure Air Force can provide appropriately trained and qualified personnel to operate and support Air Force’s new capabilities. This will include developing flexible patterns of employment and innovative uses of existing employment structures to sustain and develop a capable and adaptive 21st-century Air Force workforce.
  • Employing Plan Jericho’s culture of innovation as the basis for a revitalised approach to learning and development and adopting a modern education and training system.
  • Training and preparing Air Force members at the appropriate points throughout their professional development continuum to operate effectively in the joint and combined environments.
  • Promoting a commitment to ‘jointness’ in Air Force culture such that Air Force members recognise their own capabilities as operating primarily on behalf of the whole ADF.
  • Promoting commitment to Air Force’s strategic goal of transforming to a fifth-generation force and rewarding initiatives that facilitate this goal.
  • Building a stronger and more collaborative relationship with Defence People Group to pursue the right people policy outcomes to support our transformation to a fifth-generation air force

This strategic approach to the people element of Air Force capability must, simultaneously, focus on retention, reshaping and recruiting.   Air Force must ensure recruitment and employment policies have a sufficiently wide appeal to meet the expectations and needs of the future Australian workforce in an increasingly competitive employment environment.  We will be recruiting from a smaller and increasingly multi-cultural population base, and the growing diversity of the prospective workforce will require Air Force to consider the capabilities, expectations and interests of this potential workforce. 


The Future Workforce

As Air Force positions itself for the 2030s, workforce design and structure will be key to meeting our mission in a complex, highly dynamic environment. The future force structure will build on the current trend to more closely integrate permanent military, Reserve elements, Defence civilians, and contractors, leading to a significant shift in the composition of Air Force capability. 

These characteristics will prompt Air Force, through the Plan Jericho Program of Work, to offer employment opportunities to not only the relatively small pool of better-educated, and more highly skilled, but also to the pool of people with the aptitude and potential to develop to meet operational needs. 

Retaining people in this increasingly competitive employment environment will further demand personnel policies aligned with the Australian population’s emerging expectations. Flexible employment options that offer the desired balance between paid employment, changing lifestyles and domestic responsibilities will be essential. The employment options and personnel policies must also factor the following, potentially conflicting, expectations: 

  • the workforce will display a preference for employment mobility while retaining an option to pursue a career
  • the influence from working spouses will increasingly place demands for greater locational stability and predictability of relocation
  • people will expect more flexible work practices to balance work with both lifestyle expectations and family demands
  • the intrinsic rewards of work will gain greater importance and
  • the shift to lateral movement between permanent and Reserve elements, along with Defence civilian and contractor employment streams, will increase those joining the military through other avenues, rather than entry level. 



The Total Workforce Model will be critical to the achievement of Air Force capability transition and also future capability delivery by design.  Our personnel who are SERCAT 2 to 5 are continuing the tradition of service started in 1921 and represent a critical capacity as part of a broader capability for Air Force.  

We continue our cultural shift to ensure contemporary relevance for service in the military; drawing on the unique, intrinsic benefits of military service while ensuring employment conditions align with the expectations of the future Australian population. After all, Air Force people are the key to airpower.


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