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RAAF Aviation Modernization

On coming to office, the Government commissioned the Air Combat Capability Review to provide advice on aspects of Australia's air combat requirements. That study and its findings were incorporated into the Force Structure Review. The Air Combat Capability Review assessed that the squadron of F/A-18F Super Hornets being acquired as a bridging air combat capability is a highly capable 4.5 generation aircraft and, as long as it retains commonality with the planned US Navy development path, would remain effective until at least 2020. The F/A-18F Super Hornet would begin to enter service from the end of 2010.

The Review concluded that a fleet of around 100 fifth generation multirole combat aircraft would provide Australia with an effective and flexible air combat capability to 2030. A further judgement of the review was that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is the preferred solution for that requirement. Other fourth and fifth generation combat aircraft considered by the Review were judged to be less capable of fulfilling Australia's multirole air combat capability requirements.

In November 2008 Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon toured Europe and visited Spain, getting briefed on Eurofighter by EADS CASA in Getafe. The Australian media started to report about it. The Australian Government has not finally decided yet, if they wanted to buy the export version of the F-35. It was being said that also the Australian Strategic Policy Institute looks at Eurofighter Typhoon “at the head of the pack of current-generation fighters”.

The Government decided that it would acquire around 100 F-35 JSF, along with supporting systems and weapons. The first stage of this acquisition would acquire three operational squadrons comprising not fewer than 72 aircraft. The acquisition of the remaining aircraft would be acquired in conjunction with the withdrawal of the F/A-18F Super Hornet fleet, and would be timed to ensure that no gap in our overall air combat capability occurs.

Australia's future air combat capability would therefore be based on four operational air combat squadrons consisting initially of three JSF squadrons and a squadron of Super Hornet aircraft, which would be replaced by a fourth JSF squadron. Defence would continue to progressively upgrade the systems and airframes of the current F/A-18 aircraft to ensure that they remain capable and sustainable until the JSF enters service with the ADF.

Maritime strike capability would be provided by the Hornet and Super Hornet fleets using Harpoon missiles, with the Government to acquire a new maritime strike weapon for the JSF. New air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons would also be acquired.

There has been considerable public interest in the potential acquisition of the JSF. The Government has examined its capabilities very carefully in the context of the Air Combat Capability Review, and remains confident that the JSF's combination of stealth, advanced sensors, networking and data fusion capabilities, when integrated into the networked ADF, would ensure Australia maintains its strategic capability advantage out to 2030.

The Government decided that it would be prudent for the ADF to acquire an airborne electronic attack capability. To that end, it decided that the production arrangements for the second batch of 12 Australian F/A-18F Super Hornets would include wiring those aircraft to enable them, should later strategic circumstances dictate, to be converted to the electronic warfare 'Growler' variant - the EA-18G. Should Australia acquire this capability, it would provide a potent ability to protect our own communications and electronic systems while jamming, suppressing or otherwise denying an adversary the full use of the electromagnetic spectrum in the area of operations.

Air combat capability is achieved by having a sophisticated system built on advanced multirole combat aircraft as well as ISR systems, Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) and air-to-air refuelling aircraft, air bases with their supporting functions and seamless joint command and control systems. Defence would continue to improve its capability to develop full situational awareness of Australia's airspace through a project that would fuse air surveillance information from multiple sources, to create a 'Recognised Air Picture' of the ADF's primary operational environment. Additionally, Australia would invest in improved military air traffic control, navigation and communications systems and deployable mobile regional operations centers.

The Government continued with the acquisition of five KC-30A air-to-air refuelling aircraft, and six new AEW&C aircraft. When the KC-30A aircraft enter service from 2010, they would not only greatly enhance air combat capability by extending the range and endurance of our fighters, but would also augment air-lift capability, as each aircraft can deploy around 270 troops and significant quantities of stores over strategic distances.

The Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft transformed air combat capability when it entered service, by providing vastly improved situational awareness and an ability to control and coordinate aircraft to enable mission execution. Defence would also investigate upgrading the AEW&C aircraft with CEC to enable it to more effectively cue weapons systems and perform other functions in an air warfare information 'grid'.

Boeing rolled out the first Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growlers during a 19 July 2015 ceremony at the company's St. Louis facility. Australia joined the United States as the only countries to obtain the airborne electronic attack (AEA) aircraft. A derivative of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, the EA-18G provides tactical jamming and electronic protection. Australia spent about $3 billion on the 12 Growlers, which would enhance the RAAF's fleet of 24 Super Hornets.

The RAAF wanted the capability to maintain an edge over regional adversaries, according to Air Marshal Geoffrey Brown, the RAAF's former chief. "We will always pursue a technological edge over any regional competitor," he said. Initial operational capability for the Growlers was scheduled for mid-2018 and full operating capability was anticipated for the early 2020s.

The RAAF expected to receive the Growlers in-country in 2017. The aircraft would first take part in flight testing at Naval Air Station China Lake in California before traveling to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington, where RAAF pilots would continue training with the US Navy. With no other plans to sell the aircraft to other international customers, US Navy Rear Admiral Donald Gaddis said the Growler provides Australia with a capability exclusive to the United States. "The RAAF is starting to look a lot like the US Navy," Gaddis said, adding that the allies will be able to operate together more easily in a "very important part of the world."

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Page last modified: 26-05-2016 20:12:23 ZULU