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Conference: Air Combat Operations 2025 and Beyond - Laird Special Report

On Tuesday 11 March 2014, The Sir Richard Williams Foundation conducted its biannual seminar on ‘Air Combat Operations – 2025 and Beyond.’

Robbin Laird

In my recent visit to Australia, I had a chance to visit the new tanker (KC-30A) and new airborne “AWACS” system (Wedgetail), the hypersonics development center and to participate in an RAAF sponsored conference on the impact of the F-35 on the evolving Aussie air combat approach.

What clearly came through is that Australia is building out a modest but effective 21st century Air Force built around the best available 21st century platforms and technologies. And in a discussion with a senior Canadian Air Force officer attending the RAAF air power conference, the point was made that “Australia is very relevant to our thinking about the future.”

Australia had not bought new equipment for a long period but with the East Timor and Afghan experiences under their belt, they are building out capability to deal with the challenges in the neighborhood. And they are not going in for the low end; they are shaping a multi-function, multi-mission force able to work with key allies in the region and to support their joint force able to operate a greater distance, for more sustainable operations.

First up was the acquisition of their six C-17s. The C-17 helped launch the re-set of the Aussie Air Force by providing reach, range, and capability, which the RAAF had never had before. And underlying the C-17 acquisition is participation in a global sustainment program, which enhances the ability of the aircraft to operate globally.

In an interview with the PACAF staff in Honolulu prior to coming to Australia, Jim Silva, a senior logistician with the Air Force highlighted the nature of this global sustainment program:

With our global sustainment program, if one of our C-17’s breaks in Australia, they have C-17 parts. We don’t even have to negotiate anything because there is pre-set agreement that we just trade parts. All of their parts are certified and can be used on any C-17 aircraft around the world. So we can go take an Aussie part and put it on an Air Force airplane, and vice versa; they can even use a U.S. Air Force part if one of their jets lands here in Hickam.  The system is managed across the enterprise."

An important addition to shaping the reach, range and sustainability of the RAAF is the coming of the Airbus Military MRTT tanker to the fleet. The fleet of 5 aircraft will be fully operational by 2015 and will be joined in the region by 6 Singapore Airbus tankers as well and the Aussies clearly intend to work closely with Singapore to build out a regional collaborative fleet.

Two of the five planes were at Amberly during the visit. Three of the Aussie five tanker aircraft are currently involved in maintenance, upgrade, testing, and residual acquisition activities in Madrid and Australia. The squadron fleet should be at full strength in 2015.

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