Today’s dynamic security environment and expeditionary nature of air and space operations require a cadre of the IAF commissioned officers with international insight, foreign language proficiency and cultural appreciation. These Air warriors will give the Air Force the required capability and depth on international forum and language skills to successfully sustain coalitions, pursue regional stability and contribute to multi-national operations. The Global Affairs Expert (GAE) programme will offer commissioned Air Force officers exciting opportunities to learn and fully develop these key military skills applicable to the 21st-century international security arena. Through a competitive process, candidates, officers at the mid-career point will be selected, assiduously developed and employed in demanding international and politico-military assignments as global affairs experts. These officers’ career progression will be carefully managed so that they, while developing a strong foundation in international affairs, will remain viable and competitive in their primary career fields. The expertise that will be brought by GAE officers will prove to be a boon to Air Force expeditionary operations around the world.
The IAF’s Global Affairs Expert programme can be started, in coordination with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which can have Armed Forces Global Affairs Expert concept introduced and can direct each military branch to create formal individual programmes that meet service-specific needs. The Air Force’s programme can identify and track officers who possess or are willing to develop the cultural and linguistic skills for the potential to serve in GAE positions. There must be strong commitment to deliberately create and manage a well-trained cadre of officers with the regional expertise needed to effectively support MoD and Air Force global mission requirements.
There should be a directive by the MoD which requires the three services to deliberately develop a corps of GAEs with the in-depth international skills required to represent the MoD in the conduct of politico-military activities and execution of military-diplomatic missions with foreign governments and military establishments. Consistent with the more demanding requirements of current geo-strategic situations and the IAF becoming global air force, the IAF officers should be deliberately developed (selected, trained, assigned and retained) under the new GAE Programme.
GAE Programme Concept (IAF Module)
Under the GAE Programme, officers should be competitively selected for orientation development at mid-career (typically at ten to twelve years of commissioned service when everyone has done Intermediate Staff Course (ISC) and even staff college and receive formal training and education with an appropriate follow-on assignment on one of two distinct development paths. Most will do this as a Politico-Military Expert (PME) in a well-managed, single career broadening opportunity to gain international politico-military affairs experience. Others will engage (at an early stage) in a more demanding developmental opportunity as a Regional Affairs Expert (RAE) with multiple GAE assignments designed to create a true regional expert possessing professional language skills. Both GAE paths are intended to be career-enhancing.
Politico-Military Expert (PME)
The PME development opportunity will be specifically geared to give our future senior leaders valuable politico-military education and experience through a single, well-managed developmental assignment opportunity. PME development should occur in conjunction with selection for Intermediate Staff Course (ISCO), typically around the nine to twelve-year point in commissioned service. Officers designated post-ISCO for GAE development path will undertake a one-year pol-mil- oriented programme/course to receive an international affair related advanced degree. This programme/course can be conducted at one of the tri-services educational institutes like Defence Services Staff College(DSSC). PME-designates will then be eligible to serve in an international pol-mil affairs assignment. Further developmental opportunities on the PME track may be available as determined by the primary career development team and the needs of the Air Force.
Regional Affairs Expert (RAE)
Using a dual career path concept, the RAE development opportunity will be geared towards creating a cadre of officers with in-depth regional expertise. RAE development should ideally begin within the seven to twelve year commissioned service window. Officers designated on this GAE development path typically will complete a two-year education and training programme, with variations due to foreign language training requirements. These rigorous programmes include a regionally-focused advanced degree (area studies, international affairs, national security studies etc), language studies, and in some cases, advanced language training through in-country immersion. RAE designates then gain in- depth international experience and professional-level language skills by serving alternating assignments between their primary career field and GAE.
Ideally, where possible, these assignments should be combined such that an assignment in a primary career field- related position occurs within the officer’s geographic area of specialisation (for example the staff course can be conducted in a country/region of his specialisation or he can be sent on a deputation to that country). This allows continued development of RAE skills while serving in the primary career field and provides an officer with international insight and skills to complement primary career field duties. This more demanding, dual career track must be carefully managed to ensure officers remain competitive and viable in both their primary career field and GAE career paths.
Implementation of the GAE Programme should be accomplished using a “ramp-up” programme to ease the impact on career fields. Success of this Programme depends on the selection of the right officers and a carefully managed and deliberate career moulding by the primary career development teams (Personnel branch staff and if needed, a dedicated team can be formed). Just like other developmental assignment opportunities, GAE development is geared to complement primary career field development, creating officers with essential international skills to enable expeditionary air and space operations.
The Air Force can create these skills in our most competitive officers and make this a highly desired developmental path. Through well-established GAE requirements, there is a viable career path for these officers to grow in service. They will be the most suitable officers for abroad missions/appointments (e.g. Air Attache or Defence Attache). Currently, many IAF international affairs related positions exist for officers and there is scope for generating more. All branches of the Armed Forces can have similar programmes which will contribute in enhancing India’s global image as well as will help in furtherance of geo- strategic relationships with many countries.
The GAE programme being a new concept is likely to face some practical challenges in beginning that can hinder the progress of a project essential in future. Knowing them and being ready can make implementation bit easier. The key challenges are as follows:
- Lack of Deliberate Development. A viable GAE career track does not exist.
- No Utilisation Leverage. Management priority may not be given in the primary career field assignment prioritisation plans to ensure that officers are available or assignable.
- Heavy Reliance on Individual Officers’ Self-obtained Skills. Without dedicated formal training programme, the viability and capabilities of the GAE cadre will rely heavily on the individual officers’ own initiative in developing their international outlook, language skills, and cultural appreciation which will depend on his/her free time while being in field for primary duties.
- Career Killer Perception. Because there is no viable career track and little or no formal recognition of international skills as a force multiplier or a critical war fighting enabler, the decision to be an GAE will be perceived as a career-ending move.
While GAE implementation will need an aggressive pace, the full benefit of the transformation will take at least a decade or more to achieve and by year 2029, we all know that IAF will have achieved better expeditionary capability to conduct global missions. Additionally, it takes several years for the required culture change to fully take hold in any organisation. Long term GAE programme success will depend on continued senior leader support, emphasising this capability as a crucial mission enabler, promoting PME or RAE as a viable secondary career path to competitive officers, and recognising the value of these skills on promotion boards. Despite challenges, the goal is clear: develop professional Airwarrior with international insight, foreign language proficiency, and cultural understanding and appreciation. These skills represent crucial force multipliers that will significantly increase the effectiveness of air and space power.
Wg Cdr Vikas Kalyani is a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation. The views expressed are personal