As the big powers face off against each other, the RAAF wants air power to be the central element of Australia's upcoming defence strategy document.
RAAF chief Geoff Brown says some believe Australia's optimum defence structure should feature an upgraded army with the RAAF continuing to play a vital, if invisible, role - as it has in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the air marshal says neither the government nor the Australian people have much enthusiasm for long-term nation-building operations far from our immediate region.
The RAAF could provide the government with multiple response options, ranging from rapid delivery of humanitarian aid to bombing missions or just placing an adversary at risk to influence behaviour.
Notice times were now in hours or even minutes, as the recent aid mission to Iraq demonstrated.
"It is obvious that air power must take its place at the centre of our national security strategy," Air Marshal Brown told an Australian Strategic Policy Institute dinner on Tuesday.
The government is now preparing a new defence white paper which will spell out Australia's view of current and emerging strategic challenges and how the defence force should be structured.
It will be released next year.
Air Marshal Brown says there is a risk recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which ground forces played a central role, will be viewed as an immutable form of war which should determine future defence structure.
The white paper needed to consider recent operations and ensure defence was prepared to confront the emerging world, rather than the era just past, he said.
"The enduring qualities of air power are even more relevant as we move into an era of rising major power confrontation."
Air Marshal Brown said the new F-35 would be the smartest and most agile aircraft ever to fly, providing the RAAF with a winning edge well into the future.
RAAF's transformation into a force able to respond to emerging challenges would be driven by the new Plan Jericho to be released early in 2015.