RAAF at 90

Air Marshal Mark Binskin, Chief of Air Force

The Royal Australian Air Force celebrates its 90th anniversary in March, although military flying in Australia dates back closer to 100 years following the formation of the Central Flying School (CFS) in October 1912.

Then in 1914 the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was established as a corps of the Australian Imperial Force, with its first eight squadrons seeing action in the Mid-dle East and France as subordinate units to the British Flying Corps.

Although the AFC was disbanded in 1919 following the end of WW1, the CFS continued to operate at Point Cook until the Australian Air Force was formed on March 21 1921 (with the ‘Royal’ prefix subsequently given by King George V that June).

After the UK’s Royal Air Force, which was formed in June 1918, the RAAF is the second oldest air force in the world today.

Australian Aviation last interviewed Chief of Air Force (CAF) Air Marshal Mark Binskin in late 2008, not long after he assumed the role.

‘Binny’s’ leadership qualities and balance of ‘Canberra time’ and recent operational experience had already -candidate for CAF, but some observers thought he may have been leapfrogged into the role over one or two arguably more ap-parent possibilities.

“Last year the future arrived. We introduced five new systems – Super Hornet, Wedgetail, King Air, Heron and Vigilare.

” But those who knew Binskin said he rep-resented a generational change in Air Force leadership.

And those who didn’t know him quickly realised he was the ideal person to build upon the previous leadership’s planning, to oversee the introduction of a plethora of new and emerging capabilities, and to help mould a new culture which would re-affirm the RAAF’s standing as the “best small air force in the world”.

“When I was tapped for the job it did come as a bit of a surprise,” he said at the –port from everyone. ”


LIFT OFF The C-17 and the Battle Field Airlifter Caribou replacement will be the large and the small “pegs in the sand” heading into the late 2020s, with a
decision to be made on what best fills the gap in between. (Dept of Defence)

But in the current atmosphere of post-global financial crisis nervousness, con-strained budgets, and political instability with five different Defence and associated junior portfolio minsters in two years, has AIRMSHL Binskin’s strategy or vision for -“No, the vision hasn’t changed over that time,” CAF told Australian Aviation in -has been, when we talked two years ago we talked a lot about the future, about the ca-pabilities coming onboard.

What happened last year was that the future arrived.

We introduced five new systems – Super Hor-net, Wedgetail, King Air, Heron, and the Vigilare system.

That was pretty impressive over a 12 month period to do that.

And the reason we could do it is the last four or five years of planning that we put into it meant that we had a lot of the issues resolved, -got on with it.

Also, we didn’t decrease any operational tempo, or any of the training or -But while it’s been busy introduc-ing new capabilities and building a new culture, the RAAF has also had to imple-ment its share of the $20 billion dollar Strategic Reform Process, or SRP.

Under SRP, government is calling for $20 billion of savings across the three services and the -it says will be re-invested into the acquisi-tion of Defence capabilities.

“The Air Force Improvement process had us well ahead of the game as SRP came along,” Binskin explained.

“What -Air Force Improvement program is part of that.

It’s all aligned, and it all flows into it pretty well at the moment.

What it allowed us to do is to hit the ground run -ning.

Importantly, while we got to a point with some of our trials with Air Force Im- provement, we realised very quickly that while Air Force might want to improve in certain areas, unless all of Defence was willing to look at better ways of doing business, then very quickly we were going to run into a brick wall.

SRP means that all of Defence is focused on improvement, which means we can continue to improve along at the pace we had planned.

So that’s helped us a lot.

”have shown the direction in which the Air Force is headed.

“2010 began with two pilot projects to test how we should approach reforms, these being the C-130 and Wide Area Surveillance (JORN Over The Horizon -tablished with bigger picture goals in mind Indeed, a couple of pilot SRP projects es Radar) reforms,” said Binskin.

“Through the efforts of all involved from Air Force and DMO, some positive results have been achieved including C-130 deeper mainte-nance contract savings of $22.

83 million between 09/10 and 12/13 financial years, and improved aircraft availability in the Middle East to 95 per cent.

Improvements were also achieved through the Wide Area Surveillance reform, with $61 million in cost reduction opportunities identified.

In addition, many valuable lessons have been learnt and applied to the way we set up for and conduct reform.

” Binskin says there’s been little resistance to the SRP from the RAAF rank and file, despite several previous reform efforts com-ing and going over the past few decades.

“You might get some crusty ‘olds and bolds’ out there who will look at it that way, but I think very rapidly they are overtaken by a lot of the younger crowd or those who are willing to look at better ways of doing,” he said.

“The very small percentage that were the naysayers, I think are being over -whelmed by those who understand there are a lot of ways we can do things better -“The major thing is actually channel-ling people, and everyone’s got ideas on how to do things better, which is fantastic.

The real challenge has been focusing that down into bite-sized chunks of what we can do now, what we can’t do right now, and what we won’t do.

We’re looking at targets across Defence in the billions, and people say, ‘that’s a big target to make’, but when you break it down to unit level, what you’re really looking for is savings in the thousands and tens of thousands, and then the hundreds of thousands and millions at the wing.

So by the time you actually add it up, it’s achievable.”


The professionalism of Air Force per-sonnel is key to their willingness to both embrace the SRP and to allow the RAAF to be the world’s “best small air force”.

“If you look at what makes a good Air Force person, it’s someone with the drive; it’s someone who’s in the Air Force because they want to be in the Air Force.

You don’t have to be in the Air Force – you’re in it because you choose to be in it and you choose to stay in it,” CAF said.

-have got individual drive and individual initiative, and they want to do the best that they can, and sometimes that creates prob–back the tempo a little bit to give people a break, but when we wind it back, and take a few tasks away from them, they’re that driven that they’ve filled it again … because they want to do the best that they can.

And I see that across the board, whether it’s in the support areas, the flying areas or wherever, everyone wants to do the best that they can.

So being Chief of Air Force is easy in some ways, because I don’t have to put the drive into people – they want to do it.

What you do is you channel all that energy into the best direction.

” -Force chief before him in a generation, RAAF personnel retention rates are high -around five per cent per year), even at a time of high operational tempo.

“People put improved retention down to the global financial crisis and all that, but in fact if you look at the trend it was already heading that way long before then.

I put it down to just a simple thing – I think we’re basically a good outfit to be in, and people enjoy being a part of it.

-from a remuneration point of view.

The challenges are there for the workforce.

So it doesn’t matter where you are, there’s chal-lenges to work towards, but at the end of the day, it’s a good outfit.

I might be a bit -It is a “good outfit” with a new profes- sionalism at its core.

“It is a professional Air Force.

All you’ve got to do is look at the ribbons and the medals on the junior personnel out there, whether they be aircrew, or maintainers, or logisticians, or intel analysts.

Junior people out there, young people who have been to Afghanistan or the Middle East, and some of them a number of times – that in itself tends to focus the organisation to that operational focus, and that has worked very well for us.

” small air force”.

With new capabilities entering service and more to come, the RAAF is entering a new era with fewer obsolescence issues to contend with.

Gone are the 707s, Cari – Capability is the other key element in being a “good outfit” and the world’s “best


NEW SKILLS The RAAF’s 5 Flight now has two Herons operating out of Kandahar in Afghanistan, and will
base a third in Australia for training purposes. (Dept of Defence)

bous and F-111s, and in their place will be technologically superior platforms and workforces to take the service forward.

But with a possible change in direction for the Air 8000 transport aircraft program and delays to the JSF program shrinking any padding Air Force may have had in its planned introduction schedule, there are still risks and potential capability gaps looming.

Air 8000 is a prime example, with the Caribou now retired and with no decision on a new battlefield airlifter (BFA) likely any time soon, the RAAF has moved to an interim light transport capability in the leased King Air B350s for Townsville based 38SQN.

These aircraft are really only capa-ble of carrying passengers in the transport role, but they are providing much needed capacity to the RAAF’s multi-engined crew training schedule, and have freed up maintenance and support personnel to work on other, more advanced types than the geriatric but much loved Caribou.

“Retiring the Caribou allowed the freeing up of much of the workforce and reskilling them on some of the newer and more advanced platforms that we’ve got,” Binskin explained.

“And it has also allowed us to place a number of maintainers with -forces as well.

We’ve currently got 15 to 20 maintainers placed with each service working on helicopters, and we even had a few Air Force guys detach to a ship’s flight recently for a deployment.

IN CONTROL CAF flies a Heron UAV while visiting the RAAF’s Heron Detachment in Kandahar, Afghanistan,
last year. (Dept of Defence)

” Australian Aviation also understands there are moves to possibly deviate away from the DCP’s stated plan to acquire two additional C-130Js for 37SQN, and instead buy one or two additional Boeing C-17s, which are much larger and more flexible, if more expensive, although CAF wouldn’t be drawn on this.

“For project Air 8000, we’re still just running to the DCP,” he offered.

“There are discussions out there of some options – in this game you never close out your -what we’re doing.

We’re still committed to a three tiered approach – C-17, C-130, and BFA, and all the studies show that’s the way to go.

But I’m also looking at the shape of the future force now, 2025-30 onwards when the C-130 is retired and what we do then.

Do we end up with another C-130? Do we want something slightly larger like an A400M or similar? By the end of this decade we will have -and the small (BFA), and then we need to have a look at what load sizes we’re carry-ing and if a C-130 is big enough – will we -the smaller ones? What sits in the middle – that will be the question.

” “The King Air is doing a fantastic job running people around,” he added.

“It has been a great win for us in a capability sense.

But not just airframes and cockpits – the King Air’s Pro-line 21’s system is a fantastic FMS [flight management sys- tem], and the aircraft has decent perform-ance – so the performance combined with that FMS system is really building the -And Binskin was adamant the Caribou wasn’t missed during the recent flood -operation during that period where the Caribou’s short landing capability was needed.

The King Airs and numerous Army, Navy and civil helicopters tasked to the effort did the job well.

Meanwhile, the recent restructure of the F-35 JSF program saw the troublesome STOVL F-35B model pushed to the back of the development queue and decoupled – ing schedule slips and cost blowouts, others see it as a positive for those F-35A CTOL customers, including Australia.

“I thought it was good, and there are no major concerns for me,” Binskin said.

“I While many observers have seen this as more trouble for a program already sufferfrom the development of its stablemates.

think it will put a focus on the JPO (JSF Project Office) bringing in the A model first.

So I think it’s good for us, and we’ve still got the buffer that we need.

US Air Force IOC is still slated for 2016, and we’re still looking at going operational in 2017 and for IOC in 2018, so I’m confident.

” The RAAF plans to stand up an F-35 transition team later this year, the core of which will be drawn from the New Air Combat Capability (NACC) office.

That team will be grown to be able to oper-ate and maintain the first 14 F-35As the RAAF is due to take delivery of from late 2014.

But buffer or no buffer, the current plan means the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B ‘clas-sic’ Hornets will need to remain in service not only for another decade, but also re- main operationally viable against increasing regional threats.

“With the technology that they’ve got in the F/A-18As and Bs now, the Link 16, the helmet cueing system, the new EW system that is coming onboard – that’s a pretty impressive aircraft,” he noted.

“And it’s a very impressive weapon system with the AMRAAM, the ASRAAM, the new -JASSM soon – it really is a state-of-the-art fighter, even though it’s over 25 years old.

And it’s now positioned to be able to take us through to 2020, which is the planned withdrawal date.

” The F/A-18A/B classics will begin to phase out shortly before the first F-35As phase in, with the recently delivered Super Hornets ‘bridging’ any potential dip in capability during that phased process.

Binskin strongly refuted claims by some elements of the media and other com- mentators that the F-111 had been retired prematurely, and that he and other defence leaders had been swayed by industry busi-ness development ‘salesmen’ on decisions -which were made without a formal compe-tition with possible alternatives.

“We do more than just look at Power- Point slides,” CAF explained.

“We’ve got people embedded in the JSF program and is built on an F-22 legacy, so they’ve learnt a lot at Lockheed and in the US Air Force – they’ve put a lot of systems development and knowledge into the JSF.

And we’ve we’ve got DSTO scientists who have been a part of the project for a while.

If you only put the pure fighter pilot approach on it, –able, and it’s not a true multirole aircraft – the JSF is.

The F/A-18 is still a damn fine multirole aircraft that can hold its own in — tirole aircraft in this country, and the JSF is the best aircraft available to fill our needs – there isn’t another option.

We have a really good knowledge of what the aircraft will be able to provide for us.

“And with the Super Hornets coming on now and the JSFs later, with the tankers, with the Wedgetail, with the networked systems that we’ve put into the classics, we’ve got a capability package that’s going somewhere,” he added.

“The Super Hor–because all aircraft are BVR [beyond visual range] air-to-air shooters, regardless of -So if you’re a defending threat, you’re not sure if any aircraft coming at you now is an air-to-air player or not which puts you on a different footing when you’re defending.

So our future air combat force is highly capa-ble, in an offensive and defensive role.

” Of the F-111 which was retired last December, Binskin says the RAAF retired -with some capability left in it, but also observed that the F-111’s strategic deter-rence value had waned in that it required a fighter escort, and that its chances of mis–was diminishing.

“The F-111 would operate in an environ -ment where it had to have fighter cover to defend it as it went through to the target.

Situational awareness-wise, it didn’t have any of the major systems.

And even though its speed and range allowed it to sidestep some threats, part of the disadvantage of sidestepping is you don’t have the range anymore.

It was a fantastic aeroplane in its day, but its day was done.

“The F-111 was quite a change, it was a quantum leap in overall capability of the force,” he added.

“The next quantum leap will be as we bring the JSF to the fore as a true fifth generation aircraft.

But the potential threats aircraft that are out there haven’t sat still either.

If you look -capable adversary aircraft and surface-to-air systems out there, and they’re continuing to grow.

You’ll have seen the Chinese fifth generation aircraft (J-XX or J-20), and the –ers (PAK FA) coming on.

I don’t see them being operational before 2018.

TIP OF THE SPEAR Networked packages of Super and classic Hornets will all be air-to-air and air-toground
capable, making defending a target much harder. (Dept of Defence)

“We need a multirole aircraft in this country, and the JSF is the best aircraft that fills our needs out there – there isn’t another option.”

But the JSF aircraft, these are their first fifth generation aircraft, so they’re going to have issues as they develop those.

” The RAAF has retained its confidence in the JSF despite the development issues and the emergence of these and other threats has had over the last couple of years.

If you look at Russia and China developing their noted any issues quite openly that the JSF in recent years.

“The practical discussion says, ‘if not JSF, what else?’,” Binskin said.

“There’s no other option out there, so that’s the first point.

But the second point is, I do get all the classified briefings on JSF, and if I wasn’t confident that it would perform the way it needed to perform, to deliver what we need for air power, then I would be putting my hand up and saying so.

” The RAAF will also be introducing new capabilities in the Intelligence, Surveil-lance and Reconnaissance (ISR) arena in the coming decade and a half to more fully exploit its new networked mind-set.

This will be particularly apparent in the replacement of the AP-3C Orion maritime reconnaissance fleet which is operated by SRG (Surveillance and Re- sponse Group), and the RAAF has already taken its first tentative steps in this field with the standing up of 5 Flight within Air Combat Group (ACG) to operate the Heron UAV in Afghanistan in a lease ar- rangement with Canadian firm, MDA.

ON THE LOOKOUT The professionalism of its
people helps make the RAAF the ‘best small air force
in the world’. (Dept of Defence)
FIGHTING ON After its extensive upgrades, CAF describes the classic F/A-18 as “still a damn fine multirole aircraft that can hold its own in the air-to-air
environment”. (Dept of Defence)

“The Herons are being operated by Air Combat Group, not by SRG for a couple -is operating in the direct support of land forces.

We also had a look at where we had capacity as well, but while ACG has the lead, they’re not the only ones operating it.

We’re pulling in people from around the Air Force to be able to operate it.

It’s doing a fantastic job in a fierce environment, and we’ve just ramped up with the addition of another aircraft.

We leveraged off Canadian training and the Canadian operations to do that, but Canada is withdrawing this year so we need to set up our training systems so it’s a robust capability for us.

” With the wind down of the Canadian effort, part of that new training require-ment will see a Heron brought to Australia so ground forces can train with it before -Heron will likely be based at Woomera, it will have the ability to deploy anywhere in Australia for major exercises.

In the meantime, the first element of the AP-3C replacement program will be the introduction of a new manned platform, likely to be the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, under project Air 7000 Phase 2 from 2015, and this will be followed by a multi-mis –as the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk under Air 7000 Phase 1B, currently slated for the early 2020s.

The Heron lease arrangement with -acquisitions, and may open up the possibil -ity to bring forward the timing of Phase 1B, previously thought problematic due to a lack of capacity within SRG to introduce two new platforms almost simultaneously.

Obviously there is a lot more to operat-ing a UAS than the actual flying – ca -pacity would have to be found for the large back end of the processes with the maintenance and support of the air ve-hicles, sensors and ground environments, and ISR analysis and training has to be -contract with MDA, much of this capacity can be provided by industry and transi- tioned to Air Force over time if required.

But this of course would also be de-pendant on government funding and the availability of the specialist Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) version of -development for the US Navy.

“I don’t know that (going to a lease solution) will give us the capacity sooner,” Binskin offered.

“Heron is giving us a lot of knowledge, but you must remember that Heron is op-erating in a space that’s completely differ- ent to what the Global Hawk or that type of capability would be in.

The issue we had with Air 7000 and our transition to those future platforms was, no matter how we looked at it we couldn’t maintain the P-3s that were flying, introduce the P-8, and introduce the Global Hawk simultaneously.

“We will look during the next White Paper process at the exact timing for BAMS which currently sits around the 2020 timeframe, and if there’s a way we could re-jig the DCP and maybe bring it forward a little bit, that would be more comfortable.

But if you look at the growing submarine threat around the region in the coming decade and focus on that, that was why we went with the decision to go with -unmanned platform.

” “It would be something we’d have to look and lease the support services?

Heritage, Ownership & Pride

Binskin has followed the actions started by his predecessor, AIRMSHL Geoff Shepherd (ret), in developing greater recognition of the RAAF’s heritage and the he continued.

“How do you do it? Do you buy or lease, or do you buy the platform at as we get into the project development,” pride members feel in the units they have been a part of through their careers.

“You are going to see it more and I still stick to my statement, ‘If you want to know where you’re going you’ve got to know where you’ve been,’ ” he said.

LOOK BACK TO MOVE FORWARD CAF is aware of the RAAF’s need to recognise its heritage in order
to instill a sense of identity into its squadrons and wings, and supports stronger ties to flying and static
museums (Dept of Defence).

“The Air Force has a proud heritage, it really does, and I reckon we should be able to educate, not only the Air Force, but all people on the impact and the influence we’ve had in Australia and globally in the 90 years that we’ve been in operation.

While Air Force isn’t 100 until 2021, our Air Force heritage started around the 1914/15 period as a part of the First World War.

So of the eight and a half squadrons that flew in the First World War, six of them are still represented in our order of battle today, and you’ll start to see a fair bit of activity in recognising our heritage from those units in the next decade as we lead up to our 100th.

” Part of that recognition has also seen the RAAF re-form in 2010 some of the WW2 era 400-series squadrons which distin-guished themselves so well in that conflict.

“It’s important to have an identity for some of these organisations,” CAF said.

“460SQN is currently embedded in DIGO (the Defence Imagery and -a chance to have that Air Force identity in there.

I can tell you now that it’s fantastic; they’ve really taken on that role very well.

We’ve also got 452 and 453 – they’re very important squadrons for us as well.

It makes life easier for units to focus when they’ve got an identity.

” No doubt Binskin is also conscious of the fact that pride in a unit’s heritage can usually flow uphill and be translated into pride in the parent wing, the owning group, and the Air Force as a whole.

A greater emphasis is also being placed on establish -ing and supporting small heritage centres at various bases around the country.

The recent allocation of retired F-111s to Am–RAAF Museum at Point Cook are a good start, and aircraft currently on operations such as C-130s, AP-3Cs, and even Hornets from the 2003 deployment to Iraq, have been earmarked for future displays after they’re retired.

But in the meantime, speculation sur-rounding Binskin’s retirement or next job role has been rampant in recent weeks, -of Defence Force and service chief heads mid year.

While the obvious solution would seem to be another tour as CAF in order to see the cultural transition, new capabilities -move to Vice Chief of Defence Force has also been rumoured.

“It will be up to the Minister and gov-ernment when they would like to make a decision and when they’d like to announce it, and we’ll see when that is.

Obviously it would be nice to have a little bit of time to plan for it.

In the meantime, the biggest issues in my inbox are still SRP and the transition to our future force making sure that we get it right, making sure that we can maintain the current level operations -In closing, Binskin made an interesting observation about the type of culture he is -T-shirt on a motorbike rider saying, ‘Ride it like you stole it.

’ I’ve turned that around to say, ‘Ride it like you own it.

ANSWERING THE CALL Queensland Health personnel prepare to load patients from Cairns Hospital onto a
RAAF C-130J for precautionary evacuation to Brisbane ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Yasi. (Dept of Defence)

“You are going to see it more and I still stick to the statement, ‘If you want to know where you’re going you’ve got to know where you’ve been.’ ”

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