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RAAF Caribous in 2009
AIR 8000 PHASE 2
AIRBORNE TACTICAL TRANSPORT
One of the principles of modern warfare is that a
country can never have too much airlift capacity.
With this in mind, Defence hopes to have another
slow motion crack at plugging an annoying gap in
capability caused by the retirement of the long-
serving Caribou battlefield airlifters last year.
Known as project AIR 8000 Phase 2, this is likely
to be a re-run of a competition a decade ago that
had exactly the same aim, but was cancelled for
reasons that are the subject of speculation and
rumour, which will be put to rest later in this story.
In a broad sense the RAAF’s transport fleet
seems to be in a period of decline. The four
remaining C-130H aircraft out of the eight
purchased will soon cease flying; a fifth C-17 is
being acquired – but at the expense of an extra
two C-130Js. The 10 C-130Js that are in service are
working at full stretch and are being subjected
to a great deal of wear and tear. The Multi-Role
Tanker Transports have started to arrive but face
delays with introduction into service that seem
to have more to do with Australian process and
documentation than with the aircraft themselves.
But the most obvious gap is at the lighter end of
the scale with the retirement of the last of RAAF’s
14 Caribous in 2010.
The twin-engined Caribous were remarkable
aircraft for their time and are actually irreplaceable
in terms of unmatched short landing and takeoff
capability – but they were aircraft of limited speed,
range and payload. They served Australia and
numerous other countries splendidly for forty
years but they are now well and truly obsolete.
Because they are no longer available, the RAAF
is having to make uncomfortable compromises
in the way that it handles in-theatre transport
demands. In the words of one senior source “we
are getting by, but not very well”.
Put simply, there are many missions for which a
C-130J is too large and for which helicopters are
not well suited for reasons of range and speed
limitation plus – especially in peacetime – greater
operating and maintenance costs. Caribous were
able to carry around 30 troops or three and a half
tonnes of cargo over short distances typically of a
few hundred kilometres. The replacement aircraft
if Defence gets that far - will be considerably
more capable in payload and range.
As an interim capability, the RAAF has leased
five very small King Airs and has received a
further three transferred from the Army – but
these commercial aircraft are only useful for flying
half a dozen passengers at a time and cannot
conceivably perform the role of a battlefield
airlifter. Such tasks involve taking cargo or troops
from the strategic airlift part of the fleet – C-17s
and C-130Js – and using their shorter landing
and takeoff capability to distribute those loads in
smaller batches within the theatre of operations.
The new aircraft will also have an important
role for supporting Special Forces operations,
where their smaller size makes them better suited
for covert missions than the platforms currently
In a strange repeat of circumstances a decade
ago, there appear to be only two aircraft in
production that are able to meet the general
requirements of the RAAF. These are the C27J
from Alenia and the C295 from Airbus Military.
Both aircraft have been purchased by a number
of other countries either replacing their Caribous
or increasing their tactical transport fleets and
both are in production. The C-27J shares the
– the missing ingredient
Mule, Alpha Ute, Alpha command,
Beta Ute, Beta Command
minutes to deploy
months from concept
From the makers of Bushmaster comes Hawkei - the only true
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APDR Sept 2011.indd 21
2/09/11 2:24 PM
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