Australian Air Force Chief Sees Opportunities for More Integration with U.S. Navy, Air Force
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The ongoing modernization of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is creating a momentum toward increased integration within the service, with the other Australian military services and with Australia’s allies, particularly the United States, the RAAF chief of staff said.
“We aim to be the first fully fifth-generation force,” Air Marshall Leo Davies, chief of staff of the RAAF, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “By 2025, we will possess no legacy platforms. Our oldest aircraft will be our J-model C-130s. Such sweeping transformation naturally provides us with tremendous opportunities but does, of course, pose a few challenges.
“Our most immediate challenge highlights integration within the ADF [Australian Defence Force], in particular our earlier-generation systems,” Davies said. “Equally, we must examine how [our] Air Force will operate with our principal ally, the United States. And, finally, we need to understand how we will function at a force level, with regional partners developing their force structure and the countries who do not possess the generational capabilities of Australian or American forces.”
Davies, who served as a navigator of U.S.-built P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and F-111 strike fighters, noted that the RAAF’s “fighting elements will forces largely comprise systems common to the United States Navy and the United States Air Force,” with the RAAF operating now or in the near future the F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF), F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighter, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicles, which will match the capabilities set of the U.S. Navy.
“This presents obvious options for collaboration,” he said. “Therefore, our Air Force sits in a compelling position, straddling different force elements of our greatest ally and strategic partner. Our modern air force offers the potential to explore how we can operate together in a maritime environment bordered by sea and land capabilities.
“Our development of a fifth-generation Air Force has been fostered by paying very close attention at all levels and with all U.S. services over a number of decades,” he said.
Davies noted the close cooperation of the RAAF F/A-18s, E-7 Wedgetail radar warning aircraft, and KC-30 tankers with U.S. aircraft in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“Whether through friendship or institutional arrangement, our combined joint capability now means we can prosecute our shared interests together more decisively and, where necessary, we possess the means to do so more forcefully,” he said.
Davies said the F-35 has crystalized a debate between the Australian military services, forcing them to think about network capabilities that will integrate the three services from design through operational delivery.
“This aircraft has redefined ‘joint,’” he said. “JSF also means that with the U.S. we are more than just friends and allies. We are technology partners whose capability brings us shared futures. fifth-generation systems were conceived with that purpose in mind from the very outset.”
He noted that RAAF F-35As will be fully networked and interoperable with U.S. Air Force F-35As. U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs and U.S. Navy F-35Cs, “an airborne team of teams. Our pilots draw from common intelligence mission data, common threat libraries, from common target acceptance and validation. They are supported by a network of nationally agnostic command-and-control systems and electronic warfare assets. They accept airborne early warning and control systems and aerial refueling, all drawn from a common combined force. They have trained together. Indeed, many of them have fought together. … Software and hardware combine to make this team one of the most lethal and versatile air combat capabilities available to allied and coalition forces.”
Davies also noted than the RAAF F-35s will be interoperable with those of regional allies and partners.