About the Royal Australian Air Force

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The deployment of F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter aircraft to the Middle East in October 2013, with No 1 Squadron, demonstrated clearly how quickly threat situations can change and why Air Power has to keep pace with technological change – and maintaining a force in being made up of platforms and people.

The RAAF employs about 13,500 men and women, supported by 2,800 Air Force Reservists and 900 civilian public servants, at 11 major bases and a host of offices across Australia. Air Force Headquarters is located in Canberra.

The Air Force Vision is to maintain a fighting force that “will be a balanced expeditionary air force capable of achieving the Australian Government’s objectives through swift and decisive application of air and space power in joint operations or as a part of a larger coalition force”.

The strategic objective is for RAAF to deliver highly capable air power capability within the Asia Pacific region, and to integrate with allied forces in coalition when required. Its motto is the Latin phrase Per Ardua ad Astra, translated as “Through Struggle to the Stars”, from Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s novel The People of the Mist.

Rank designations within the RAAF officer and other ranks are derived from the Royal Air Force. Rank is worn on slip-on rank epaulettes on the shoulders of the Service uniform. On the Disruptive Pattern Combat Uniform (also called Auscam or DPCU) rank is worn centred on the front of the Auscam shirt/jacket.

The current version of the RAAF Roundel was formally adopted in 1956. Its design is a white inner circle with a Red Kangaroo surrounded by a Royal Blue circle. The kangaroo faces left, except when used on aircraft or vehicles, when the kangaroo should always face the front. Originally, the Air Force used the existing red, white and blue Roundel of the Royal Air Force. However, during World War II, the inner red circle was removed after an 11 Squadron Catalina was mistaken for a Japanese aircraft by a US Navy Wildcat in the Pacific Theatre.

The RAAF badge was accepted by the Chester Herald in 1939. It is composed of the Imperial Crown mounted on a circle featuring the words Royal Australian Air Force, beneath which scroll work displays the Latin motto Per Ardua Ad Astra. Surmounting the badge is a wedgetailed eagle.

The Air Force Today and Tomorrow

In an authoritative publication on Air Power, ‘The Australian Experience of Air Power’, Australia’s security policy changes are described as going from a strategy in the 1950s of forward defence, with provision for expeditionary operations, to one of defence of Australia in the wake of the Vietnam War. As late as 1987, this defensive stance persisted with a policy of defending the sea-air gap across northern Australia, even though the RAAF force structure was offensive in nature, especially with the F-111 (now withdrawn from service), F/A-18 and the AP-3C Orion.

This need to defend in the sea-air gap led to the establishment of bare bases across Australia’s north, including RAAF Scherger on Cape York, RAAF Curtin near Derby WA and RAAF Tindal near Katherine NT (now a permanent base for F/A-18 Hornet fighters). These bases would be needed to launch aircraft into the sea-air gap if a threat emerged.

This attitude changed in the mid-1990s, with the Government stating that the defence of Australia required the ADF to structure towards ‘defending Australian regional interests’. While this did not mean a return to ‘forward defence’ policy it did mean the ADF would become more capable in expeditionary operations.

Importantly, this led to the formation of Combat Support Group –a world first in providing organic support for air and other operations from a forward bare or permanent base. This became the task of Expeditionary Support Squadrons across Australia: to deploy to a forward operating base, secure the base and establish facilities. This enabled secure air operations to be conducted and maintained.

A defining moment in Australian air power came in 2000 with the release of the Defence 2000 White Paper, with a doctrinal change to an expeditionary approach – acknowledging less likelihood of the ADF having to defend sovereign territory against attack.

The RAAF needed to structure and organise as “an agile and versatile force, prepared to conduct and sustain a range of expeditionary operations, from those in our region to coalition operations much further afield.”

One problem in meeting the expeditionary commitments, potentially to different locations, centres on the reduction in personnel numbers over the past decade. However, with a force of around 13,500 the RAAF has continued to support a number of operations and missions overseas, which has resulted in a continuing high operational tempo.

This led to an ongoing program of ‘rebalancing’ the RAAF, aimed at distributing personnel and assets to where they are most needed – especially in the introduction of new technologies and weapon systems.

These new capabilities include Global Airlift with the C-17A Globemaster III, Air Defence and Ground Attack with the F/A-18F Super Hornet and potentially the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft with the E-7A Wedgetail, and Multi-Role Tanker Transport with the KC-30A.

The RAAF is also serious about introducing a high altitude UAV capability to supplement the manned aircraft capability with the AP-3C Orion, and its replacement. Contenders for the UAV include the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk or the General Atomics Mariner.

The future of the RAAF will be shaped by a number of factors: its history in times of war and peace, lessons drawn from more recent operations as part of larger coalition expeditionary forces, emerging threats globally and regionally, and the prevailing doctrine in response to Government policies on the safeguarding Australia’s security.

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