Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR Sept 2014 Contents 46 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter SEPT 2014
way, a KC-30A could fly 1,000km from
its base; stay on station for 5 hours and
refuel 1,500 average family cars before
There have been some issues with
support for the aircraft – especially the
availability of spare parts – though these
are being overcome with experience.
It is anticipated that when the fleet is
in a mature configuration the 5 aircraft
currently in the inventory will be flying
for 3,100 hours per year. Last financial
year the aircraft exceeded their planned
2,100 hours and reached 2,500 hours
of operations. As well as supporting
domestic operations such as PITCH
BLACK, two RAAF aircraft are currently
back in Spain to assist Airbus with the
ongoing test program.
Elsewhere in our region the Republic
of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is also
considering purchasing KC-30As and is
evaluating these against the rival Boeing KC-46A
ordered by the United States Air Force. The RAAF
has been happy to assist Singapore by giving them a
great deal of access to the aircraft. If Singapore goes
ahead with a purchase it will be of some benefit to
Australia in that we will be part of a regional fleet, with
shared opportunities for training. This is important for a
number of reasons, including keeping boom operators
current, with RSAF F-16s needing to be refueled using
the centerline system.
RAAF personnel on board, including Head of
Airlift Command, Air Commodore Warren McDonald,
emphasised that what we were seeing is only the start
of the capability envelope that will be provided by the
KC-30A fleet. The aircraft already have Link 16 and a
powerful radio suite. However, consideration is being
given to adding more equipment to the aircraft to
allow them to contribute to Network Centric Warfare
capabilities. While no specifics were mentioned, it is
worth noting that the USAF can use some of their
tankers for additional tasks such as signals intelligence
and data relay.
We discussed defensive aids – the MRTTs would
be high value targets in a major conflict – and Large
Aircraft Infra Red Counter Measure (LAIRCM) systems
are currently being fitted to the fleet. Work is being
done in Queensland by Northrop Grumman – which
has acquired the former Qantas Defence Services.
In what might not be a total coincidence NG also
makes the ‘Nemesis’ derivative defensive system. This
is a fully automated active protection device that
can detect missiles and then use a laser to blind the
incoming seeker head. It is switched on when entering
an operational area and then functions autonomously,
detecting and targeting incoming missiles. These
are also being installed onto the RAAFs C-17s and
The main purpose of the flight was to witness
air-to-air refueling as part of the major exercise PITCH
BLACK. We departed Canberra at 7am on a clear
morning, climbed to 38,000 feet and set course for
RAAF base Tindal in the Northern Territory. Our aircraft
made radio contact with Tindal more than one hour out
to coordinate details with the two receiving aircraft.
As we approached Tindal the tanker descended to
24,000 feet in good weather.
As the accompanying images show, we refueled
two ‘Classic’ Hornets – one single seat and the other
a dual seat – each carrying a missile on the left wingtip.
The process of connecting with the receiving aircraft
only required a few minutes as they took it in turns to
line up with the drogue streaming from the left wing of
the tanker and approach at slow walking speed. Once
the connection was made, the hose was reeled in a
short distance until an optimal point was reached and
then the flow of fuel started.
The Hornets went through the procedure several
times – partly for the benefit of the cameras, but mainly
to use the opportunity for practice. During most of
the operation, which lasted for about half an hour, the
tanker continued to orbit Tindal.
Having made this modest contribution to PITCH
BLACK, the aircraft took us to Darwin for the remainder
of the Minister’s program. The media were involved in
part of it, including his visit to Robertson Barracks that
afternoon for Army briefings and Larrakeyah the next
morning to inspect part of the patrol boat fleet.
The author has met a number of Ministers over
the years and very few have ever had the genuine
interest and enthusiasm for their portfolio as David
Johnston has for Defence. He consistently took time
out from his crowded schedule to speak at length
with members of the ADF of every rank, asking
them detailed questions about their equipment, their
responsibilities and their experiences. Jaws dropped
when he started discussing burn rates of ammunition
propellant with an Army sniper. Even though he was
unwell with a cold he spent an hour in the sun at
Robertson and made a point of speaking with just
about ever soldier who was there, with them proudly
displaying equipment ranging from an M1A1 MBT
down to picks and shovels. It was a similar story the
next morning at Larrakeyah as he spoke with the
entire ship’s company of an Armidale Class patrol
boat for an extended period of time.
Having a Minister so interested and so committed
to the portfolio must do a great deal of good for the
morale of the ADF.
The author has met a number of Ministers over the years and very few
have ever had the genuine interest and enthusiasm for their portfolio as
David Johnston has for Defence.
EXERCISE BLACK PITCH
Hornet refuelling from KC-30A
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