Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Royal Australian Air Force
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is Australia's air force. It is part of the Australian Defence Force. The RAAF began in March 1914 as the Australian Flying Corps and became a fully independent air force in March 1921.
- 71 F/A-18 Hornet fighters, built in Australia under license from McDonnell Douglas. The F/A-18 fleet has been the subject of various upgrades since it entered service in the 1980s and remains capable, but fatigue issues may mean that it will not remain a viable front-line air defence option until the planned retirement date of 2015.
- 35 General Dynamics F-111 bombers, a mixture of the original long-range F-111C type, RF-111 reconnaissance variants, and ex-USAF F-111G attrition replacements.
- 24 Lockheed Martin C-130H and C-130J Hercules transports.
- 67 Pilatus PC-9 advanced trainers.
- 50 PAC CT/4 basic trainers - better known as the "Plastic Parrot", owned and operated by BAe Systems.
- 5 Boeing 707s: four are dual role tanker/transports, one a pure transport. Because of the electoral cost of spending public funds on new VIP transports for politicians, the 707 fleet remained on VIP duties long after the high ongoing maintenance costs made it uneconomic. At one stage, Australian ambassadors had to make a practice of requesting special waivers of the usual aircraft noise regulations from foreign governments prior to official visits. Since the long-term lease of two Boeing 737s, the elderly 707s are now used for military purposes only.
- 3 Bombardier Challenger 604 VIP transports.
- 2 Boeing BBJ VIP transports.
This list include aircraft on order or a requirement which has been identified.
- In June 2002, the Australian government announced that committed to the F-35, an announcement which came as a surprise to the other companies tendering for Australia's Air 6000 specification, intended to replace the RAAF's F-111s and F/A-18s. Eurofighter International was offering its Typhoon and Dassault put forward the Rafale. The unsuccessful bidders' appeals tended to rest on the extent of Australian companies' involvement in manufacture of the planes, which it was said would have exceeded any share of JSF contracts. However, Australia has been pushing to be the site for a Asia-Pacific service centre for the F-35. In addition the quality of the Typhoon and Rafale compared to the F-35 has been called into question by evaluation outside Australia. For more details see: Comparison of 21st century fighter aircraft.
- 6 Boeing Project Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft, with the option for 1 more.
- 5 Airbus A330 MRTTs — to replace the ageing 707s in aerial refueling and strategic transport roles.
- Strategic transport — An aircraft in either the Airbus A400M or Boeing C-17 Globemaster III classes is required to improve strategic airlift capabilites.
- Maritime patrol aircraft to replace AP-3C Orions
Involvement in hostilities
Soon after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Australian Flying Corps sent aircraft to assist in capturing German colonies in what is now north-west New Guinea. These colonies surrendered quickly however, before the planes were even unpacked. The first operational flights did not occur until May 27, 1915, when the Mesopotamian Half Flight was called upon to assist the Indian Army in protecting British oil interests in what is now Iraq. The Corps later saw action in Egypt, Palestine and on the Western Front throughout the remainder of World War I. By the end of the war, four squadrons had seen active service.
In 1939, just after the start of World War II, Australia joined the Empire Air Training Scheme, under which flight crews received basic training in Australia before travelling to Canada for advanced training. A total of 19 RAAF bomber, fighter, reconnaisance and other squadrons served initially in the Britain, and/or with the Desert Air Force, in North Africa and the Mediterranean. With British manufacturing targetted by the Luftwaffe, the Australian government created the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP) to supply Commonwealth air forces and the RAAF was eventually provided with large numbers of locally-built versions of British designs like the DAP Beaufort.
In the European Theatre, RAAF personnel were especially notable in RAF Bomber Command: they represented two percent of all RAAF personnel during the war, but accounted for 23% of the total number killed in action. This statistic is further illustrated by the fact that No. 460 Squadron RAAF, mostly flying Avro Lancasters, had an official establishment of about 200 aircrew and yet had 1,018 combat deaths. The squadron was therefore effectively wiped out five times over.
The beginning of the Pacific War — and the rapid advance of Japanese forces — threatened the Australian mainland for the first time. The RAAF was quite unprepared for the emergency, and initially had neglible forces available for service in the Pacific. The devastating air raids on Darwin on February 19 1942 drove the point home. Shortages of fighter and ground attack planes led to the acquisition of US-built P-40 Kittyhawks and the manufacture of small numbers of the Australian-designed CAC Boomerang. Some RAAF squadrons were transferred from the northern hemisphere — although a substantial number remained there until the end of the war — and the RAAF came to play a crucial role in the New Guinea and Solomon Islands campaigns, especially in operations like the Battle of Milne Bay and the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. The heavy bomber requirement in the Pacific was met by 287 B-24 Liberators.
By late 1945, Australia had acquired, ordered and/or manufactured about 500 P-51 Mustangs. The RAAF's main operational formation, the First Tactical Air Force , comprised more than 18,000 personnel and 20 squadrons; it had taken part in the Philippines and Borneo campaigns and was scheduled to participate in the invasion of the Japanese mainland, Operation Downfall. So too were the RAAF bomber squadrons in Europe, as part of the proposed Tiger Force . However, the war was brought to a sudden end by the US nuclear attacks on Japan. As a result of the Empire Air Training Scheme, about 20,000 Australian personnel had served with other Commonwealth air forces in Europe during World War II. A total of 216,900 men and women served in the RAAF, of whom 11,061 were killed in action.
In the Korean War, P-51s from No. 77 Squadron (77 Sqn), stationed in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, were among the first United Nations aircraft to be deployed, in ground support, combat air patrol, and escort missions. When the UN planes were confronted by MiG-15 jet fighters, 77 Sqn acquired Gloster Meteors, which enabled some success against the Soviet pilots flying for North Korea. However the MiGs were superior aircraft and the Meteors were relegated to ground support missions, as the North Koreans gained experience. The air force also operated transport aircraft during the conflict.
During the Vietnam War, from 1966-72, the RAAF contributed squadrons of UH-1 Iroquois helicopters and English Electric Canberra bombers. The Canberras flew a large number of bombing sorties. Two were lost, one to a surface to air missile, although both crews were rescued. RAAF transport aircraft also supported anti-communist ground forces.
Military airlifts were conducted for a number of purposes in the intervening decades, such as the peacekeeping operations in East Timor from 1999. Australia's combat aircraft were not used again in anger until the Iraq War in 2003, when F/A-18's were used in bombing missions, as well as combat air patrol missions. A veil of secrecy surrounds the details of their actions during this conflict, with some commentators complaining that this is politically-motivated. (See Operation Falconer for more details.)
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