report by: René Vallée
The frontline elements of Australia’s air combat capability, in this year 2010; comprise various weapons platforms, missiles, bombs, tanker aircraft and ground-based radar, control and reporting elements. The principal weapons platforms are the F-111 bomber (in service since 1971) and the FA-18 Hornet fighter (in service since 1985), although the Hawk-127 lead- in fighter-trainer (in service since 2001) has some tactical utility for close air support of ground and maritime forces. The New Air Combat Capability (NACC) project is currently based on a plan to retire the F-111 fleet in 2010 and use some updated Hornets as an interim strike capability until the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is scheduled to enter squadron service in the 2014-2018 period (but probably later).
Finally, to cover the likely widening gap between the present retirement of the F-111s and an operational JSF capability later the following decade, the government is apparently considering an interim option. This interim option is based on the lease or purchase of 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets and cancellation or scaling back of the Hornet upgrade program. The Super Hornet (a late third-generation aircraft with some early fourth-generation capabilities) is already in service with the US Navy and still in production. A number of USN Super Hornets have apparently already been earmarked for Australia under US contingency plans, with the resultant USN shortfalls to be backfilled from an extended production run. It should also be noted that the USAF does not consider the F/A-18F, or indeed the F-35, to be replacement aircraft in the strategic strike role. Purchased during the sixties and delivered during the mid seventies, the F-111C carried an analogue nav-attack system and for the period a capable defensive package. During the eighties the aircraft were further modified to accommodate the then state of the art podded AVQ-26 Pave Tack thermal imaging laser equipment, for the delivery of laser guided and dumb bombs, form all altitudes. This upgrade also saw the capable Harpoon ASCM integrated on the aircraft.
The RAAF has committed to the Israeli designed Rafael AGM-142 Popeye (formerly Raptor) rocket propelled inertial/imaging/datalink guided standoff missile. The AGM-142 is in the initial phases of integration with the aircraft. The AGM-142 outranged almost all area defence SAMs and is a highly accurate and lethal weapon, carrying either a unitary blast fragmentation warhead or a hardened case penetrator. The AGM-142 was used for attack on heavily defended point targets, for lethal SEAD and as a heavyweight supplement to the Harpoon in maritime operations. The AUP offensive avionic system is built around a dual redundant pair of AP-102A mission computers, a pair of AN/ASN-41 Ring Laser Gyro Inertial Navigation Systems supplemented by a MAG-R GPS receiver, includes a pair of digital cockpit displays, and a digital Stores Management System (SMS) common to the F/A-18. The core offensive avionic upgrade was supplemented by incremental upgrades to the existing AN/APQ-165 real beam mapping analogue attack radar (ARS) and the vital AN/APQ-128 Terrain Following Radar (TFR), bringing them up to the AN/APQ-169 and AN/APQ-171 configurations respectively.
. The RAAF refitted its fleet of aircraft with the TF-30-P-109 engines used previously in the F-111D and EF-111A, for the F-111C this is an almost “drop-in” replacement, for the F-111G this produced a hybrid engine using the P-109 fitted with the “straight” tailpipe of the FB-111A/F-111G P-107 engine. The P-109 engines provided a slightly higher level of thrust for improved combat and takeoff performance, and arguably some improvement in reliability since they will not be “driven” as hard as the older engines to meet currently required aircraft performance. The use of a common engine across the C and G models saved money in supporting the type, indeed this was the primary driving argument behind the upgrade.
All those technical aspects did not changed the Australian Government décision to withdral the wonderfull F-111. Globlairpower had the chance to participate to the official ceremony held in RAAF Amberley . An unforgetable moment for every poeple present to this event. The author would like to thank all the RAAF Amberley staff for their assistance in completing this article.