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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


05/04/2003Departmental 304052003/03


Media briefing: Australia's contribution to global operations

5 April 2003 at RAAF Base Fairbairn


BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our daily update on operations in the Middle East. This morning's brief will be a little different. Apart from the venue, we have with us the Commander of the Royal Australian Air Force's Air Combat Group, Air Commodore John Quaife. And he will provide us with some briefing and background details on the characteristics and capabilities of the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft you see parked behind me. And, of course, this is the aircraft which is providing such sterling service to us now in the Middle East.

We thought this would be useful, given the high level of interest in the aircraft and the work that it's doing on these important operations.

Okay. I'd like to now turn to Middle Eastern operations, and it is with some pleasure that I can tell you once again that our people are safe and well.

Beginning with maritime operations, there have been no significant changes to maritime operations overnight. The clearance divers remain on task in the Port of Umm Qasr, supported by our Army landing craft and providing logistics and clearance support.

Now all of the berths in the old port are now clear. The new port is expected to be clear within the next two to three days, and this should allow the access of the larger grain ships and other HA, humanitarian assistance ships, into the port.

HMAS Kanimbla continues her role as a command platform for the clearance operations.  While HMAS Anzac is conducting escort duties through the Straits of Hormuz. HMAS Darwin, as we reported yesterday, is conducting resupply.

Turning to land operations, our Special Forces continue their surveillance operations in their AO, in the area of operations. And there have been no significant incidents in the last 24 hours.

For air operations, all of our aircraft have completed their assigned missions over the last 24 hours without significant incident. Our Orion maritime patrol aircraft have again conducted surveillance flights in support of Coalition shipping in the northern Arabian Gulf, while our C130 aircraft have flown supply missions throughout the Middle East and, of course, into Iraq.

All of our F/A-18 aircraft have been in action, flying more close air support missions in support of the Coalition forces now closing on Baghdad.

Now, the focus of the F/A-18 missions remains close air support against Iraqi military units. As the land operations progress over the next few days, you can expect to see the number of military targets available for this kind of operation gradually reduce, and perhaps the mission rate of our F/A-18s start to wind back.

That concludes this morning's brief.

Before taking questions I'd like to ask Air Commodore John Quaife to come forward and give you a short formal brief on the aircraft and its capabilities. We'll then take a period of formal questions. And the Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Angus Houston, is with us here today. All three of us will be available for questions.

Following that, Air Commodore Quaife will be available to speak to you in more detail about the aircraft and allow you to have a look at it close up.

Thank you. John.

AIR COMMODORE JOHN QUAIFE: Yes, thanks, Mike. As Brigadier Hannan has said, it's been my task to bring you a bit of hardware to take a look at. Basically what you've got parked here is a lump of metal, some composite materials and some wiring, with a heap of potential.

As Mike also said, I command Air Combat Group. I've got 2,000 people that actually realise the potential of the hardware. And, frankly, it's not without the people that I can actually generate anything.

As you know we've got 14 aircraft in operations at the moment in the Gulf. And so obviously the airframe itself is fairly topical. So let me talk a little bit about it.

What you've got here is a true multi-role combat aircraft. That means it is fully capable of air-to-air tasks and air-to-surface tasks. And I think you've seen that in the tasking that the Royal Australian Air Force has completed thus far.

It's air-to-air refuelling capable. I stuck the probe out when I landed here so you could take a look at that. Normally that sits inside the ferrying of the aircraft and is not visible.

The key features of the jet, it's got an extremely powerful, modern latest generation pulse Doppler targeting radar which sits in the nose of the jet. It also carries an infra-red sensing pod, which unfortunately this training aircraft that I've got behind me is not fitted with. That also includes a laser target designator.

To complement the targeting features of the jet, it's got a pretty impressive suite of both air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. On the air-to-air side, it's equipped with radar-guided beyond visual range missiles. This aircraft is fitted with training missiles of that variant that are sitting on the centreline stations there. It's also, for shorter range work, got nine heat-seeking missiles, which are the missiles that you see on the wing tips.

Air-to-surface wise, basically we have a suite of weapons that are based on the variation of the Mach-80 series weapons, so 500 pound, 1,000 pound, 2,000 bombs. What you've got on the jet behind me is a pair of 500 pound bombs. Any of those bombs can be fitted with laser guidance kits. The bombs that you see behind me aren't actually fitted with those kits.

The weapons and the aircraft make it pretty impressive combination as far as accuracy is concerned. Just dumb-bombing, so in the configuration you see behind me dumb-bombing we're talking accuracy in terms of metres. If we put the laser-guidance kits, we're talking accuracy in terms of feet.

The jet itself has been in continuous development since we introduced it in 1985. Most recently we've completed Phase II of the major Hornet upgrade project. That's given us the improved radar that I spoke about, the APG73. It's improved the navigation capabilities of the jet. We now have the global positioning system incorporated in the aircraft's NAV set.

It's also got improved communication. We've got jam-resistant radios on board now that we didn't have previously. And it also has a fairly state-of-the-art identification capability so it gives us the ability to positively identify air targets. Plus it's got some pretty neat software that's come with it that enable us to improve the, I guess the man-machine interface who make of the aircrew a little bit easier.

Just briefly on roles, as you'd expect from a true multi-role aircraft we can find ourselves tasked with anything ranging from air-to-air through air-to-surface. The counter-air tasks, basically however you describe them, what they're basically about is creating a favourable environment for which other aircraft or ourselves can operate in. And that basically means no bad guys.

For air-to-surface tasks, we can run the full gamut of strike tasks, whether that's an interdiction of enemy forces, close air support - and close air support means the close support of our people on the ground - or pre-planned strikes on fixed targets.

That's probably me rattling off, and I don't want to get into techno-babble, so I'll keep my mouth shut right now and I'm quite happy to answer questions if you've got them.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Okay. We can take questions across the full range of activities now.

QUESTION: I just wanted to know how many operations a Hornet would fly before it was taken out of service and how that relates to what's happening in Iraq and the Middle East?

AIR COMMODORE QUAIFE: Yeah, it's not really a question of numbers of operations, it's really a question of times between servicing, to tell you the truth. It's just like your car comes due for a service. So for us, you know, typically that can be, you know, periods of six, nine months if it can be organised. And then, quite frankly, as I say that's just a lump of metal and wires and things. You just replace it with another lump of metal, wires and things.

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: Just to add to that, I think you're getting at do we need to rotate the aircraft? No, we don't. We can sustain the current rate of operations for the foreseeable future. We don't anticipate having a need to rotate these aircraft.

QUESTION: Brendan Nicholson from The Sunday Age. There have been fairly persistent reports since the Iraq conflict began that the F/A-18s - our F/A-18s were not fully equipped or were in some way vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire or anti-aircraft missiles. Are those reports true? Is there any truth in them? Or have the aircraft been recently upgraded with more modern electronics?

AIR COMMODORE QUAIFE: Look, there's an element of truth in any story. But frankly, I get amused by that one. To put it in some sort of real basic analogy for you, it's kind of like suggesting that everyone in the footie team has to be in the front row, or a prop. You know, just have those sort of characteristics. The fact of the matter is there's a range of characteristics that make up a good football team. And basically, if you know your own strengths and you know your own weaknesses, you'll obviously play to those. That's basically what we do. With the knowledge of specifically what our gear can or can't do, that therefore determines the tactics and the choices that are available to the commanders.

QUESTION: Air Commodore, Keiran Gilbert [phonetic] from Sky News. How did you feel the other day and how do you think the morale would have been impacted by the F/A-18 being shot down? The Coalition aircraft that was shot down.

And the second question to the Air Marshal, we heard that there was 70 strike missions as of two days ago. How many as of today?

AIR COMMODORE QUAIFE: Back to the first one, I know morale is fine just in terms of the question on morale. However, to answer you honestly how would I feel? How do I feel when I hear that? It obviously grabs your attention, but it probably grabs your attention as a serious car accident would grab any driver's attention. So, obviously it is of concern, and I guess as a fellow air crew member, your heart just leaps out to the people that have had to experience that.

What does that mean for morale? Quite frankly I think what it does is it creates a steeling effect, to be honest. So I think it's actually, although it's a terrible thing to have occurred from a morale point of view, there's actually probably some positive elements to it.

Sir, do you want to handle the question on the numbers of strike missions?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: Yes, the number of strike sorties we've flown since then, it's probably now something over 80. And I would anticipate that we'll fly six to ten a day depending on how much work there is.

And, as the Brigadier said, I think the environment that we've got there now is such that there'll be diminishing number of targets that will need to be engaged as the land forces move into and around Baghdad. There simply won't be the tanks, artillery pieces and the sorts of targets we've been engaging out there. So I would anticipate that our role will be a diminishing one over the next few weeks.

QUESTION: Greg Turnbull from Channel 10 for Air Commodore Quaife. Just two quick questions: Have any of the Australian F/A-18s sustained any damage at all from return fire of any kind? Have there been people shooting back at our aircraft where they've been operating?

And, secondly, has anyone seen any trace of the Iraqi Air Force, assuming there is one?

AIR COMMODORE QUAIFE: I will actually pass to the Chief, but to answer your question on the first one I can assure you that the aircraft that we have deployed are all fully serviceable at the moment. But if you wanted to expand on that, sir, that's probably worthwhile.

AIR MARSHALL HOUSTON: First of all we haven't seen anything of the Iraqi Air Force. Secondly, we have had indications that there are missiles out there. The crews have responded and taken the necessary defensive action. But we haven't seen any missiles, nor have we seen any rounds close to the aircraft.

So to answer your question, I think that we have had a reasonably comfortable environment, and that's how the fighter pilots describe it. They do not feel that they have been engaged at any stage.

AIR COMMODORE QUAIFE: By the way, that's our job to create that environment. That's the whole point of the way we do business is to try and create that environment so we've got the freedom to operate as we desire.

QUESTION: Dennis Peters from APP. If I could direct this question to Brigadier Hannan. Brigadier, this morning there's been footage and further reports of Saddam Hussein being seen around Baghdad. What's the Australian Defence Force's view?  Is he alive or are we being fooled by old video?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: [Laughs] Well, it's the $10 question again. And I'm not sure that anyone knows the answer to this. But, as I said yesterday, I also think that it's not necessarily a relevant question any more. The issue now is to complete the job to oust the regime and to bring a peaceful future to Iraq.

QUESTION: Just with regards to what you were saying before about a diminishing role. Do you anticipate that you'll be scaling back the number of pilots and aircraft in the Middle East as a result?

AIR MARSHALL HOUSTON: Well, obviously there will be a diminishing role as the battle concentrates around Baghdad and the huge number of aircraft that are available there will be a diminishing role for air power in this conflict. We don't want to be going in there and using the aircraft to engage targets in a very urbanised environment.

So I would imagine that over the next couple of weeks air power will not be employed to the same level of tempo that we've seen up to now.

How that affects us is yet to be seen. But all I'm flagging to you is the fact that it will be a diminishing role for these aircraft. As the ground forces overcome the other divisions that are out there - the Iraqi divisions that are out there - we will probably get into a situation similar to what we've got down in Basra at the moment, where the city is surrounded, and it'll be a question of waiting for the regime to capitulate.

I would hope that the regime sees the hopelessness of the cause and capitulates sooner rather than later.  And obviously when that happens there won't be any role for the F/A-18.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] to the Brigadier. Are any Australian forces involved in the fighting close in to Baghdad or inside Baghdad?


QUESTION: In a word.

QUESTION: Air Marshal, yesterday you said that if the Coalition forces are drawn into urban warfare that the conflict could be drawn out. What are we looking at? Are we looking at weeks or months? What's the potential there?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: What I was flagging there was that in the next few days I would imagine that the Coalition will surround Baghdad. And if the regime doesn't capitulate, there will be a need to perhaps have a look at going in closer into the outer urban areas of Baghdad. That could be exceedingly difficult for the Coalition. And how it proceeds from here obviously is being worked on by the Coalition commanders, and I prefer not to comment any more than that.  But that's the reality of the situation that's starting to unfold.

QUESTION: A question for the Air Marshal again. Air Marshal, it's Gerard Frawley from Australian Aviation Magazine, I was just wondering if you could provide some background on the decision to send the Hornets. Was it a request from the Americans? Or did we evaluate what we had available? Can you give information on how we decided what number to send and if we looked at sending F-111s at all as well?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: When the circumstances arose and we started looking at options, this being a genuine multi-role aircraft provides a very good niche capability to deploy to a Coalition like this. It's an aircraft that's very flexible, very versatile, very adaptable, and it lent itself for a contribution to this particular Coalition.

QUESTION: This is a question for Mike Hannan. Just a broad question on the role of women. The fact that there's a female POW and one missing in action in the US has caused a little bit of concern among the American public that women are involved in combat roles, and I'm just wondering here in Australia whether there's any residual concern that women are in combat roles and how that corresponds to public sentiment.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Okay. Well let me say that about 10% - that's about 200 - of our 2,000 forces in the Gulf are women. And they are spread across the three Services. Navy has the greatest percentage of those. I think about 20% of the crew of HMAS Kanimbla are women. 

Because Army's contribution is mainly focused on Special Forces, which are a particular niche close-combat capability, there are fewer women in the Army contingent. And the Air Force contingent somewhere in between.

In speaking generally about women in the three forces these days, it's easier to talk about the few things which remain closed to women than it is to talk about the vast majority of jobs that are open to women.

Within the forces it is only the close-combat roles within Army, that is the roles whose specific task is to seek out and close with the enemy and by direct action engage them, that are closed. And those tasks include obviously the infantry, the artillery, the combat engineers and the armoured troops.

Now, the Air Force has its Air Defence Guards, which are a form of infantry, and they are also closed. And in the Navy, the clearance divers are the only closed activity.

Beyond that, all trades are open to women. So, for instance, all of our air crew trades across all three Services, certainly all of the seamen officer trades within Navy on surface and sub-surface ships.

Within the Defence Force it'd be fair to say that we're well and truly over 'this is an issue'. And we're surprised, I'd say, when it is continually re-raised.

The restrictions on women are a matter of policy, and it's important that the issue of employment of women is decided as a matter of national debate, a public debate, and then eventually reflected in government policy.

The ADF is quite flexible about its employment, and we will employ a person who is able to do the job in the job.

Beyond that I think the only other thing to say is that we couldn't run any of the three Services today without the women. It would not be possible to go back to the time before we had a large number of women in the Services.


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