The Royal Air Force’s ability to realise mission command in the information age

  • Mark Ridgway

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research seeks to determine the extent to which the Royal Air Force (RAF) is capable of realising mission command - a leadership concept closely associated with empowerment - in the Information Age. It does so through a literature review, followed by a predominantly inductive analysis of 21 semi-structured interviews of senior RAF officers.
The research highlights the importance of mission command to the modern RAF, but also that there are inherent limitations to its delivery. It further shows how the innate characteristics of the Information Age make mission command simultaneously more important and more difficult. The research therefore explores whether the RAF is facing an inherent paradox whereby its conceptual approach - insisting on mission command - is potentially at odds with the demands of modern organisational realities. It then seeks to reconcile this paradox by suggesting ways the RAF can improve its realisation of mission command.
The interviewees broadly agreed with the existence of this paradox and verified, with some nuances, the thematic limitations of mission command revealed by the literature review. This research concludes that the RAF has an evident desire and intent to realise mission command in the Information Age. It identifies a number of factors that will affect the extent to which the RAF can achieve this aim. Of these, this research concludes that the most important factor is the need for persistent advocacy and drive from the senior RAF leadership, and throughout the organisation, towards these ends.
This research bases a series of recommended improvements for the RAF around a newly-developed pentagrammic model for mission command. This model is novel as an academically rigorous conceptualisation of the term. As such it enhances and extends existing academic theory. Similarly unique, and an additional contribution to the knowledge base, is the more specific analysis of mission command’s limitations and its consequences in the context of the RAF and the Information Age. The methodology of doing so via systematic interviewing of a focused and influential cadre of RAF leaders is also a first.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorJames McCalman (Supervisor) & Liza Howe-Walsh (Supervisor)

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