Networking RAAF combat operations

For evidence of the Royal Australian Air Force’s commitment to transforming its combat assets a fully network-capable force, last year’s Pitch Black air combat exercise is a good example. While the ‘Classic’ F/A-18A Hornets have been capable of communicating via Link 16 datalink for some time now – thanks to the Hornet Upgrade, or HUG, programme – Pitch Black 12 was the first large-scale fusion of other network-capable assets such as ‘Wedgetail’ Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft, Super Hornets and a KC-30A tanker.

Underpinning this was the Vigilare integrated air defence Command and Control system at the Eastern Region Operations Centre (EROC) at RAAF Williamtown, which had completed operational testing last April. Furthermore, the exercise demonstrated the ability of the RAAF to fuse together an air picture from multiple sources, including ground radars, fighters from the United States and Singapore and other assets, without the use of voice communications being necessary.

All these components have exercised together in the recent past, but Pitch Black brought them together in Australia on a large scale and the experience was an important step towards the networked future of air warfare, which will see the introduction of ocean spanning unmanned vehicles, Airborne Electronic Warfare aircraft, stealthy fighters and further Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets.

The 2012 Pitch Black exercise represented the first large scale use of Australia’s Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters and E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C assets and, in a limited role, the Airbus Military KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT).

Also participating were ‘Classic’ Hornets from the RAAF and United States Marine Corps, Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons from Singapore and Thailand and Sukhoi Su-27/30 Flankers from the Indonesian Air Force. Singapore also brought along its new Gulfstream 550 AEW&C aircraft, making its debut at an Australian exercise.

Such was the level of data fusion and information sharing demonstrated at Pitch Black 2012, it allowed three different C² assets, separated by large distances, to seamlessly control the exercise.

During the exercise, Wedgetail performed Airborne Surveillance, Airborne Battle Management roles and also and control of Defensive Counter Air (DCA) and Offensive Counter Air (OCA)/Strike assets. It also conducted Force Marshal duties and fully integrated with the participating coalition partners.

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