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has unloaded 10 million pounds of aviation fuel
supporting coalition operations. On top of that it
has an availability rate of close to 100% - and this
same aircraft has been in constant operation since
September last year, flying over 1000 hours. The
entire fleet of tankers flew about 2,500 hours the
previous year, so that gives you an idea of the work
being done by the one deployed to Iraq.
“All of our aircraft are showing themselves to be
extremely reliable – with Wedgetail having around
97% availability and having flown for more than
1,000 hours. In terms of technical performance,
the Wedgetail is doing incredibly well, controlling
the airspace over the whole of Iraq and Syria when
operating at full capacity. To give you an idea of how
that compares: the USAF has six E-3C AEWAC
aircraft to provide two lines of mission tasking –
whereas a single RAAF Wedgetail can look after a
line of tasking by itself.
Q: Aircraft like Wedgetail seem to have done
well in exercises, so is this now flowing
through to operational reality?
A: Yes. In many respects, the Wedgetail is turning
out to be the preferred AEW&C platform in the
area if there is a complex mission that needs to
be carried out. On average it is controlling around
70 aircraft per mission – and they vary in length
from 12 hours up to 17 hours, which we achieved
recently. Now, we aren’t doing that every day: it’s
flying very second day.
There have been quite a few occasions when
the Wedgetail has been tanked during a mission to
keep it flying longer than originally planned – and
that 17 hour mission is the longest ever flown by a
Boeing 737 airframe.
Q: Looking at the structure of the operation, is
it the USAF and RAAF, or others as well?
A: There are several parties: RAAF, United States
Air Force, the United States Navy, France, the
Dutch, Canada, Britain, Denmark, UAE, Saudi
Arabia, Qatar and Jordan– to name just some of the
Q: How do you sort out the forces authorised
for operations in Iraq from those authorized
only for Syria?
A: Strikes over Iraq are being authorised from
Baghdad. The process for gaining approvals for
strikes in Iraq is far more complex than for Syria,
however Iraq strikes are done via the CAOC, so the
approvals are more timely.
The Super Hornets have bombed mainly in the
area of Northern Iraq – sometimes combined with
Peshmerga forces on the ground in places like
Sinjar. This has meant that we have had almost
all-Australian operations, with our Joint Terminal
Attack Controllers from 4 Squadron coordinating the
Q: Are we learning from the experience, or
have exercises and previous operations meant
it’s already a well oiled machine?
A: It is definitely a well oiled machine. The
bombing missions we are undertaking need to be
very, very precise because of collateral damage
considerations. Some of the individual tasks are by
no means easy to carry out – the team have been
doing an excellent job.
I’ll also mention the KC-30A tanker, which has
largely come of age during these operations, and
the great success of Wedgetail. I flew an AEW&C
mission on the Wedgetail on Boxing Day that lasted
around 12 hours. The crew were working hard
for almost all of that time. You need to realise that
the Syrian Air Force is still launching missions, so
we need to monitor what they are doing as well
as manage our own aircraft – the Wedgetail is
giving everyone a heads-up on what can be a fairly
complicated battle space.
Q: So after some major problems it sounds
like Wedgetail is now living up to its promise?
A: Having personally watched the project since
2003, it was fascinating to see it in an actual
combat operation and how well it now works.
I have no doubt that the US would like some
Wedgetails themselves – and they certainly like our
tanker as well! That is partly because our equipment
is new and very reliable. The performance really
stands out when compared with older aircraft.
Q: Is it because the aircraft the RAAF has
deployed are all from the digital age?
A: Yes, that’s a factor – but so is the youth of the
aircraft, especially when compared with the US
legacy fleet. USAF tankers – KC-135s date back to
the 1950s and KC-10s from the early 1970s and
their F-16s are from the 1980s and 1990s.
It is nice to go into theatre with just about the
best kit of any air force.
Q: When will our aircraft reach a point where
they need to be rotated?
A: We always intended keeping the Super Hornets
there for a maximum of six months. The job that they
are doing is only one part of the suite of missions
of which they are capable – and so we need to
balance that up in terms of how they are being
Next we will deploy some of the ‘Classic’
F/A-18A/B Hornets and it’s our plan to rotate
those squadrons every six months. The Super
Hornets have some performance advantages over
the Classics – but having said that, they are more
than adequate for the missions being flown in Iraq.
Actually, things such as the LITENING targeting pod
on the Classics is probably a little better than the
pod on the Super Hornets, so there will be no loss
Q: Turning now to the purchase of F-35s
and their introduction into service, can you
describe Plan Jericho and what that is about?
A: Plan Jericho is much wider than just the F-35A
– the arrival of the F-35A is the driving force behind
what is going on. I describe this as something like
acquiring a smart phone – if all that you do is use it
like an early model phone, you miss out on a lot of
the capabilities and functions that are available.
This idea of fully understanding the breadth of
capability being acquired, extends to the entire Air
Force. For example, the P-8A Poseidon multi-mission
maritime aircraft we are buying will also come with
a range of new features. The same is true for the
EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft. When
you put all of this together there is a lot of potential
operationally to do things differently.
We have already started this process with the
Super Hornet – for example, the air-to-air tactics are
vastly different from how we have operated before
because of their active electronically scanned radar.
We have had the advantage of some of our people
returning from exchange in the US flying F-22s.
That was the catalyst for thinking that it would be
a mistake to treat the F-35A like an F/A-18 when
introducing it into service. In the same way it would
be an error to treat a P-8A as being exactly the
same as an AP-3C Orion.
On top of that, if you look at our airlifters and
the connectivity we can make with other assets, all
sorts of possibilities open up. At the moment we
are undertaking some experimentation looking at
transferring live video feed from our Heron UAVs to
Special Forces soldiers who are on our aircraft so
29/01/15 7:28 PM
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