Visiting the Wedgetail Squadron at Williamtown RAAF Base, Australia
03/06/2014: Second Line of Defense visited the Wedgetail squadron on March 6, 2014 and discussed the standup of the Wedgetail squadron and its initial roll out and path towards changes in the RAAF capabilities over time.
A report on the discussion along with the key themes generated from that discussion will be published in due course.
The Wedgetail is a new capability for Australia. It is an air battle management system, which provides the AWACS functions for Aussie forces as well.
As an article Frank Colucci put it in 2011:
Highly automated, multi-sensor integration and decision support systems combine multiple tracks for the same target to show Air Combat Officers a de-cluttered battlespace on workstation displays.
Ten identical workstations connected on a Local Area Network enable cabin operators to share workload and can be programmed to accommodate mixed specialists for specific missions.
The cockpit crew, meanwhile, has a filterable, scalable tactical monitor that shows the big picture and relevant threat warnings from the aircraft self-protection suite.
The key to the system is its Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar which is a whole different animal from the legacy AWACS radar system.
It is part of the evolving 21st century air systems 360-degree area coverage in a rapidly evolving combat environment.
As the designer of the system, Northrop Grumman, has put it about the MESA radar:
Legacy AEW systems have higher drag antenna configurations and are limited by mechanical scan rates of 10 to 12 seconds. In contrast, the MESA radar has variable scan rates and instantaneous target revisit rates to satisfy diverse mission priorities. Battle managers can assign multiple emphasis sectors with extended range and update rates while maintaining a 360-degree background surveillance picture.
MESA’s radar/IFF system is powered by 288 high-power T/R (transmit/receive) modules driving two side arrays and a “top hat” array. Each array has a large aperture for high gain and directivity of the radar and IFF beams. The “top hat” provides fore/aft coverage for full 360-degree surveillance coverage. This configuration provides radar target tracks through aircraft turns and maneuvers.
MESA is designed to operate with graceful degradation, extending available operating hours for both radar and IFF. MESA’s reliability is higher than AEW systems with separate IFF and radar systems due to fewer parts and shared system hardware between functions.
Operating at L-band enables long-range air and maritime search/track and IFF — all in one multifunction aperture system. IFF responses can exceed radar detections, providing cooperative target detections and situational assessments before targets penetrate radar surveillance coverage. Additionally, L-band provides better detection in rain than higher frequency AEW radars as well as longer range detection of smaller targets.
MESA provides wide area surveillance of greater than 340,000 square miles at rates exceeding 30,000 square miles per second for a typical 10-second scan rate. Since scan rates are variable and sectors selectable, other coverage rates, ranges and priorities are programmable by mission commanders. Four-dimensional processing, with monopulse angle processing, provides accurate range, azimuth and elevation locations. Doppler processing resolves closely spaced targets in formations.
Wedgetail is operating now and is in the words of its squadron commander during the interview “on the books and ready to go.”
It has just returned from a Red Flag Nellis exercise where it played a major C2 airborne role at both day and night as a key element for the coalition forces.
According to PACAF Commander, “Hawk” Carlisle, “I have been on the aircraft and it has just recently participated in Red Flag 2014 It is a very capable aircraft, but when it first showed up at an allied exercise in 2010 it has serious challenges with regard to interoperability. There have been huge strides with regard to its capable to be interoperable.”
There are two dynamics at work with regard to the shift.
The first was “the working relationship between the Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the USAF in focusing upon better integration of our various air battle management systems.”
The second is simply that the Wedgetail is a new generation of software upgradeable aircraft.
The ability to evolve the capability of a software upgradeable aircraft (the F-35 is one as well) was highlighted during the interview in the following terms: “There will never be a final operational capability for the aircraft until it is retired.”
The ability to translate Aussie working relationships with allies into software code is part of the process of enhancing capability over time.
The No. 2 Squadron for the RAAF, which operates the Wedgetail, is a highly decorated squadron with a distinguished combat history.
The Wedgetail in the hands of warfighters with such a distinguished heritage will be a key contributor to providing for Aussie and Pacific defense.
The second squadron of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was formed, as 68 (Australian) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (RFC), at Kantara in Egypt on 20 Sep 1916. Its initial personnel were soon supplemented by volunteers from the light horse regiments and extra mechanics from Australia. The squadron was deployed to the Western Front in Sep 1917.
Equipped initially with DH-5 aircraft, the squadron was a ‘scout’ unit, mainly escorting larger, slower aircraft, and seeking out and destroying enemy aircraft, as well as providing support for ground troops. In France, notable engagements were the third battle of Ypres, and the battle of Cambrai (20 Nov – 7 Dec 1917).
On the first day of the battle the squadron lost seven of its eighteen aircraft either destroyed or badly damaged; on each day of the battle, losses among the ground attack squadrons averaged 30 per cent. Six Military Crosses were awarded to 67 Squadron personnel for their actions above the Cambrai battlefield. In Dec 1917, 67 Squadron was re-equipped with SE-5 aircraft but its operations throughout the winter of 1917–18 were hampered by bad weather.
The squadron was re-designated 2 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, on 4 Jan 1918. 0n 21 Jun 1918, 2 Squadron along with 4 Squadron, AFC, and 46 and 103 Squadrons of the RAF, became part of the newly formed 80th Wing. 2 Squadron was active throughout the Allied counter-offensive.
It was almost as mobile on the ground as it was in the air, relocating on several occasions to ensure it was best placed to support the Allied advance. The squadron’s last major operation of the war was flown on 9 Nov 1918, finally disbanded with disembarkation of last members in Sydney on 18 Jun 1919.
World War I decorations: 6 x Military Cross (1 bar) ; 7 x Distinguished Flying Cross (2 bars) ; 4 x Military Medal ; 1 x Meritorious Service Medal.World War II . 2 Squadron was reformed at Laverton, Victoria on 10 Jan 1937. At the outbreak of the Second World War the unit searched for enemy vessels in Australian waters using Anson aircraft. After being re-equipped with Hudson aircraft, the squadron moved to Darwin in April 1941 to perform anti-submarine activities and general reconnaissance.
A detachment of four aircraft was sent to Koepang on 7 Dec 1941 and then to Penfoei on 11 Dec 1941. The detachment provided cover to Australian troops moving within the islands and attacked Japanese shipping at Menado and Kema early the following year. A Japanese bombing raid on the Koepang base on 16 Jan 1942 damaged a number of planes.
Further losses of aircraft, equipment, and men saw the detachment withdrawn to Darwin on 20 Jan 1942 and to Daly Waters on 18 Feb. A total of 13 crew members were lost during 1942, the squadron’s most active period of operations. Between May and October 2 Squadron attacked Japanese positions and shipping at Ambon, Timor, Koepang, and other islands in the Banda Sea. For this work the Squadron was awarded the US Presidential Unit Citation for ‘outstanding performance of duty in action’.
In 1943, as the Allies gained control of the sky, 2 Squadron made daily attacks on Koepang, Lautem, Penfoei, and Dili. Training on Beaufort bombers commenced late in the year. Working in concert with other units, the squadron opened the new year with attacks on enemy shipping and villages in Timor used by the Japanese and native informers.
A combined attack on a Japanese convoy on 6 Apr saw a cruiser and several other vessels seriously damaged. Between May and June 1944 the squadron was withdrawn from operations and re-equipped with Mitchell aircraft, commencing its first operations on targets in Lautem West on Timor Island on 27 Jun 1944. The end of 1944 was spent targeting enemy barges and freighters, now relied upon to supply their outer garrisons.
In early 1945 these tasks were continued in conjunction with 18 Squadron. 2 Squadron moved to Borneo shortly after the end of the war and played an important role in locating prisoner-of-war camps and dropping supplies to camps in the Celebes. The squadron assumed transport operations until it moved to Laverton in December, when it was reduced to a cadre basis and eventually disbanded on 15 May 1946. Over the period of the war the squadron suffered 176 casualties.
World War II decorations: US Presidential Unit Citation ; 2 x Order of the British Empire ; 21 x Distinguished Flying Cross (1 bar) ; 7 x Distinguished Flying Medal ; 1 x Air Force Medal ; 2 x Mentioned In Dispatches ; 2 x British Empire Medal.
When eight Canberra jet bombers of 2 Squadron landed at Phan Rang Air Base in South Vietnam in Apr 1967, the squadron had already been serving in south-east Asia for nine years. In Jul 1958 it had been sent to Butterworth, Malaya, to relive 1 Squadron, as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve. The squadron remained at Butterworth during the Indonesian Confrontation. Phan Rang Air Base was home to the United States Air Force’s 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, which 2 squadron integrated into. The first of the squadron’s Canberra bombers landed at Phan Rang on 19 Apr and flew their first mission on 23 Apr 1967. For the next four years the squadron flew an average of eight missions a day, seven days a week.
For the first few months the squadron mostly few ‘combat sky spot’ missions, where aircraft were guided by ground radar to a target and told when to drop their bombs. Most of the flights were flown at night and tended to be routine and boring. In September the squadron began low-level daylight bombing, hitting targets from low altitude, between 370 and 915 metres. The squadron had conducted similar bombing missions in Malaya but refined its accuracy in Vietnam to such an extent it consistently out-performed all other units of the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing.
This high proficiency was not limited to just aircrew, but applied to the ground crew as well. The maintenance staff worked 24 hours a day on a two-shift roster, achieving the noteworthy rate of 97 per cent serviceability. The squadron hit targets from the demilitarised zone in the north, the border between North and South Vietnam, and the Mekong Delta in the south. This included enemy concentrations around Hue, the siege of Khe Sanh in 1968, and the South Vietnamese attack into Laos in 1971. In total, the squadron flew over 11 900 combat missions. It also lost only two aircraft during the conflict. After serving four years and two months in Vietnam, 2 Squadron returned to Australia in Jun 1971.
Vietnam War decorations: The Cross of Gallantry with Palm, from the Republic of Vietnam; United States Air Force Outstanding Unit Award ; 3 x Distinguished Service Order ; 2 x Member of the British Empire ; 8 x Distinguished Flying Cross (1 bar) ; 1 x Military Medal ; 1 x British Empire Medal ; 35 x Mentioned in Dispatches.
The photos were shot during the visit on February 6, 2014 and show a Wedgetail being worked on in a maintenance hanger.
The engines have proven so reliable that there is an old F-111 engine in the hanger to give the new engine maintainers enough work for their qualifications.