Armed Forces Overviews
Australia

Air Arms of the Australian Air Force, Army and Navy

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Other Forces

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By Dennis Peteri



 

Many people around the world are somehow attracted to Australia. Reasons for this can be it's beautiful and unique wildlife, vast area's of flora which cannot be found anywhere else in the world and not to forget the relaxed way of living ("no worries"). Many aviation enthusiasts are also attracted to Australia because of it's relatively small, but very interesting air Force.

The RAAF is one of the oldest air forces of the world. In March 1914 the Australian Flying Corps was established. The first unit however was not formed until August 1914. During that month the Central Flying School saw the light of day at Point Cook and up until 1994 this was the principle aviation school of the RAAF. Many squadrons saw action in Europe during the First World War. Four squadrons were used to fight the Germans in Egypt (1sq and 2sq) and France (2sq after it's Egypt adventure, 3sq and 4sq). In 1919 all four units were disbanded again.

On March 31st, 1921 the Australian Air Force was established as independent part of the Australian defence. In June of the same year King George V awarded the title "Royal" to this organisation and since than it is known as the Royal Australian Air Force. During these early days the (R)AAF had more aircraft on strength than personnel! The 151 officers and troops were able to utilize 157 aircraft. Reason for this was the large surplus of aircraft after the First World War. In 1923 the RAAF expanded further and started flight operations at RAAF Laverton and RAAF Richmond. 

The crisis during the 1930s resulted in slow growth of the RAAF. Little money was available to replace the mostly obsolete aircraft. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour the RAAF consisted out of 21 squadrons operating a total of 246 aircraft. Of these only 164 could be called operational fighters or bombers and again, most of them were obsolete. As with the Americans and British fighting forces, the RAAF expanded enormously during the initial years of the Second World War. In 1945 the Air Force was at its largest with a staggering 5,000 aircraft in service. Even though the RAAF decreased in size after 1945, there was little room for rest. The men and women from Down Under were deployed during the Berlin crisis (1948-1949), Malaya civil wars (1950-1958), Korean war (1950-1953), Thai communist clashes (early '60s), Vietnam (1964-1972), the Gulf war (1990-1991) and more recently during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2002). During the last operation, 14 F/A-18A Hornets of 75 sq were deployed under coded-name Operation Falconer to Al Udeid, Qatar. Support was given by three C-130H/J's of 36/37 sqn and the B707 tanker aircraft. Two AP-3C Orions were also deployed. The AAAVN was involved with a couple of CH-47D Chinooks based at Azraq in Jordan while the RAN had a Sea King Mk50 helicopter at the LPA-51 HMAS Kanimbla.

Over the last couple of years the order of battle is quite stable. The only major change took place end 1989/early 1990 when all helicopters were transferred to the Australian Army Aviation Corps. To be able to defend Australia against foreign attacks the RAAF opened several so called bare bases. During the '90s the last one was opened along the northern coast. These bases consist out of a runway, taxi-ways and a limited number of shelters and buildings. Usually no aircraft can be found here except during exercises. On a regular basis the RAAF front line squadrons deploy to the bare bases for weapons training and war games.

Current Situation

Modernisation programs of the RAAF are indicated as "Project Air". Currently several of these projects are underway. Some focus on software or equipment updates for existing aircraft and helicopters. But others have the sole purpose of introducing new types into service. Examples are the recent of the C-130J Hercules, the order for 6 Boeing 737-7ES  Wedgetail AEW&C platforms and the order for 5 Airbus A330MRTT aerial tanker platforms to be delivered in 2008 - 2009.

The current back bone of the RAAF fighter force are the F/A-18 Hornet. The F-111 was retired in 2010 and will be replaced by the JSF in the future. The F/A-18 Hornet is an important part of the RAAF structure. Three fighter squadrons and one OCU are equipped with this capable fighter. The order for 57 F/A-18A and 18 F/A-18B Hornets was placed in October 1981 after almost ten years of research and tenders. The first three Hornets were handed over to the RAAF on May 17th, 1985. Most of the Hornets were either assembled or completely built locally by Government Aircraft Factory (later renamed into Aerospace Technologies of Australia). In 1990 an upgrade program was launched to enable the F/A-18 Hornet to serve well into the 21st century. 

Australian Army Aviation Corps (AAAvn)

During the last years of the '40s army pilots operated with the RAAF owned Auster aircraft. They were detached to the RAAF units since the main task of the light Auster aircraft was artillery support, liaisons and recce for ground troops. In 1951 the 16th Air Observation Post Flight was established. This was a RAAF unit with pilots from the Artillery Corps. To support this unit the 1st Aviation Company was created to train pilots. During these days training took place by using civil light aircraft. The next step towards an independent Army Aviation Corps took place in December 1960 when the 16th AOPF was renamed into 16th Army Light Aviation Squadron. All personnel were drawn from army units except the commanding officer who served with the RAAF. The unit was equipped with Cessna 180s and Bell 47s. 

Finally in 1968 the Australian Army Aviation Corps was established. In that year the PC-6 and Bell 206 were introduced. During the seventies and eighties the AAAvn worked closely with several RAAF squadrons: 5sq (UH-1H), 9sq (UH-1H and S-70A), 12sq (CH-47C) and 35sq (UH-1H). During the war in Vietnam it became clear that this construction sometimes resulted into problems since two separate services are involved. This was not solved until end 1989/early 1990 when it was finally decided to hand over the UH-1H and S-70A fleet to the Army. Also the newly ordered CH-47D Chinooks for the RAAF were added to the AAAvn when they were delivered in 1995. 

Just like the RAAF the AAAvn has several projects to modernise their equipment (also called Project Air). The most important one is Project Air 87 which result in an order for 22 Eurocopter Tiger's being procured, which will replace both the Kiowas and UH-1H gunships in the reconnaissance and gunship roles respectively.  The last 18 will be locally built. The UH-1H will be used in a support role till 2007, the Kiowa's will be phased out. Next to this, an order was placed for 12 MRH90 transport helicopters to replace the S-70A Blackhawks in 2007 - 2008. The S-70A's will transfer to the Anti-terror Brigade.

Just like in the United Kingdom there is a joint helicopter pilot school. The Australian Defence Force Helicopter School was the former RAAF 5sq and operates with the AS-350B Squirrel.

Royal Australian Navy

On June 2nd, 1947 the Australian government decided to establish a naval air arm. This took actually place on July 3rd in the same year. Experiments however were already conducted since 1915 with aircraft operating from ships. During the two world wars the Australian Navy operated a Sea Plan Carrier (HMAS Albatross). The aircraft deployed from this vessel were owned and operated by the RAAF. 

During the Second World War aircraft carriers proved to be a formidable weapon and the RAN decided to built their own fleet. Construction started in 1944 but the project was soon cancelled. Two year later a second attempt was made by finishing three of the already half produced carriers out of the first project. HMAS Terrible was taken on charge on February 5th, 1949 followed by HMAS Sydney in May 1949. This last ship was used during the Korean war from September 1951 up until January 1952. 

The third and last carrier was taken on charge in October 1955. This was HMAS Melbourne and the reason for this long delay was that during it's construction it was decided to remodel the carrier so jet fighters could operate off it's deck. As a gab filler the RAN borrowed a carrier from the British Royal Navy (HMAS Vengeance, November 1952 until October 1955). The first jets which operated on HMAS Melbourne were Sea Venoms. They were supplemented by Gannet anti-submarine aircraft. Later they were replaced by A-4 Skyhawks and S-2 Trackers. The Australian carrier operations lasted until 1983 when economic reasons forced the RAN to retire HMAS Melbourne. 

Since 1983 the RAN only operates with helicopters and some liaisons/transport aircraft. All RAN units are located at one airbase, being RAN Albatross near the town of Nowra. The back bone is formed by a squadron S-70 Seahawks and a squadron Sea King helicopters. Recent modernisation plans have resulted in the purchase of SH-2 Super Sea Sprite helicopters to be stationed at the new ANZAC frigates.

The RAN uses a serial system which is quite similar to that of the RAAF. The only difference is that they choose the prefix "N" for naval. There clearly is a link between both systems. The RAN does not use allocations which are already used by the RAAF for other types (exmple N26 was not used since the RAAF has allocated A26 to the Dassault Falcon 900 fleet). Below is a list with the RAN serial allocations.

Roundel rules

When the Royal Australian Air Force was formed it adopted the existing red, white and blue Roundel of the (British) Royal Air Force to identify its aircraft. However, during World War II, the inner red circle was removed after a No. 11 Squadron Catalina was mistaken for a Japanese aircraft by a US Navy Wildcat.  The current version of the RAAF Roundel was formally adopted on 2 July 1956. The Roundel exists of a white inner circle with a red kangaroo in motion surrounded by a royal blue circle. The kangaroo always faces left, except when used on aircraft or vehicles, when the kangaroo should always face the front.

Lease Aircraft

All three services use small numbers of leased aircraft ranging from S-76A+ rescue helicopters for the RAAF, to fixed wing liaisons aircraft like the Be-300 and Dhc-6 for the AAAVN and support aircraft like the Learjets for the RAN. In the future more of these lease aircraft can be expected to replace military registered and operated aircraft in support and training roles.

Serial System

The Australians use a very clear serial system. Each type is allocated with a number with the prefix "A". Individual numbers are than allocated to each aircraft. These individual numbers can be in sequel like with the F/A-18 Hornet (A21-1, A21-2, A21-3 etc.). A second possibility is that the individual number is based on the construction number. And finally it can also be based on a former serial like with the P-3 Orion (A9-201, A9-291, A9-292 etc.). Currently the RAAF is using it's third serie of allocations.