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Royal Australian Air Force History

All Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) units serving with the United Nations Command in Korea were administered by 91 Composite Wing. The largest and best known RAAF unit was 77 Squadron. The Squadron was the sole combat element the RAAF committed to the Korean War. All other RAAF units remained based in Iwakuni in Japan, but they were frequently called upon to serve in Korea. These units were 491 Maintenance Squadron, 391 Base Squadron and 30 Communications Flight which later became 36 Transport Squadron.

In June 1950, having served on occupation duties in Japan since early 1946, No. 77 Squadron's personnel and their families were preparing to return to Australia. Instead of a much anticipated homecoming the Squadron found itself thrust into the conflict on the Korean peninsula. Within days of the war's beginning Australian pilots were in action, escorting United States bombers and hitting ground targets.

Squadron Leader Dick Creswell, summed up the nature of the squadron's early operations: "We were basically doing interdiction work, armed reconnaissance and ground support roles.... We were after troop concentrations, transports, bridges, T34 tanks, self-propelled guns, gun emplacements, trains, railway tunnels and stores. Our main target was transport in the early days. If we could block transport on those very tiny roads coming down from North Korea into South Korea it saved the day, for a time anyway."

As risky as ground attack operations were, the war in Korea became more dangerous when in October 1950, Chinese forces entered the conflict. Having so far faced little aerial opposition, 77 Squadron's pilots now ran the risk of meeting Chinese MiG-15 jet fighters. As a consequence it was decided that 77 Squadron should be equipped with jets. The Squadron was withdrawn from operations to refit in April 1951 and flew Gloster Meteor jets for the remainder of the war.

Since the year 2000, the RAAF has been continuously involved in military operations in various parts of the world. At the start of the decade, the RAAF Hercules and Caribou aircraft continued to support the Australian-led International Force which brought stability and security to East Timor in 1999.

Following terrorist attacks on US locations in September 2001, Australia provided combat forces to the International Coalition Against Terrorism in its campaign to eliminate terrorist training bases in Afghanistan. From November 2001, a flight of four RAAF Hornet fighters provided protection for the major coalition airbase on Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean. Two Boeing 707 aircraft provided air-to-air refuelling for coalition combat aircraft over Afghanistan in 2002. From January 2002, RAAF Hercules aircraft flew Australian ground combat units to Afghanistan, and at regular intervals changed over personnel and delivered supplies.

In March 2003, an RAAF Hornet squadron, three Hercules transport aircraft and two Orion maritime patrol aircraft joined US and British forces in the combat operation to disarm Iraq. When RAAF Hornets attacked an Iraqi target on 20 March, it was the first time since the Vietnam War that an RAAF aircraft had dropped bombs in combat. In March/April 2003, the RAAF commitment to the Middle East operations peaked at approximately 650 personnel. After the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, the RAAF provided air traffic controllers to run the control tower and Airfield Defence Guards to provide security at Baghdad International Airport. Other RAAF members became part of the Australian Army Training Team in Iraq.

In August 2007, an RAAF Control and Reporting Centre deployed to Kandahar airfield with its radar to control all aircraft flying over southern Afghanistan. RAAF Airfield Defence Guards joined the Security Detachment protecting the Australian Embassy at Baghdad in June 2008. The RAAF Orion and Hercules detachments and the Control and Reporting Centre were still operating in the Middle East in May 2009. After the breakdown of law and order in the Solomon Islands in July 2003, RAAF Hercules aircraft flew military, police and civilian personnel from fifteen countries to Honiara as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Two RAAF Caribou aircraft flying from Honiara airport provided RAMSI with air transport between the many islands that make up the nation. In 2006, RAAF transport aircraft again moved ground forces to East Timor (in April) and Solomon Islands (in May) to restore order after civil disturbances.

Since the start of the decade, RAAF aircraft and personnel have taken part in many humanitarian operations in Australia and overseas. When terrorist bombs exploded in cafes and nightclubs in Bali in October 2002, RAAF aeromedical evacuation teams used Hercules aircraft to move the injured from Denpasar to Darwin and then on to other major cities for medical treatment. RAAF aircraft and medical teams were again called on after the second Bali bombing in October 2005.

Natural disaster relief provided by the RAAF comes in many different forms. RAAF medical teams and equipment were flown by RAAF transport aircraft to Pakistan following a major earthquake in October 2005. Similar disaster relief has been provided for victims of an earthquake in Iran in December 2003, the Boxing Day tsunami in December 2004 and Cyclone Larry in March 2006. During the Victorian bushfire emergency in February 2009, RAAF Orion aircraft orbited over threatened areas and used their infra-red cameras to provide the civil fire authorities with real-time information on the movement of the fires. As well, RAAF support personnel joined other ADF units in providing emergency accommodation for people who had lost their homes in the fires.

On several recent occasions, the RAAF carried out its primary role of protecting Australia's airspace. Combat air patrols by armed Hornet aircraft were flown over Coolum, QLD during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in March 2002, over Canberra in October 2003 during the visit by the US President and over Sydney in September 2007 during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting. Almost daily surveillance flights by Orion aircraft over the waters surrounding Australia have detected many attempts at people and drug smuggling, illegal fishing and marine pollution.

On 1 January 2007, a major change to the RAAF officer structure occurred when the officer specialisations of Navigator, Air Electronics, Fighter Controller and Air Defence were replaced by the single specialisation of Air Combat Officer (ACO). All ACOs can be identified by a new brevet (badge) consisting of a double wing with the Southern Cross in the center.

Since the start of the decade, the RAAF has introduced new VIP aircraft (Boeing 737 BBJ and Challenger CL-604), C-17 Globemaster III heavy airlift aircraft and King Air 350 training aircraft. June 2008 saw the last flight of the RAAF's Boeing 707 long range transport and air-to-air refuelling aircraft. In the near future, the F-111 strike aircraft and the Caribou short-range transport aircraft will be also retired. As the end of the decade approaches, the RAAF is preparing to introduce new KC-30A multi-role tanker transport aircraft, Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft and F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:33:59 ZULU