Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chief of Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin have announced the commitment of ADF assets to an international coalition to fight the Islamic State forces in Iraq.
Speaking to media in Canberra on September 14, the Prime Minister said an official request to join the coalition had been made by the US on September 13, and that government’s National Security Committee had agreed to support the effort.
The ADF will commit up to eight F/A-18F Super Hornets from the Amberley-based 1SQN, an E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft from 2SQN at Williamtown, and a KC-30A air-to-air refuelling tanker from Amberley’s 33SQN, along with an element of about 200 Army special forces soldiers to provide training to anti-IS forces.
“The Government’s decision responds to a formal request from the Government of the United States to contribute specific Australian Defence Force capabilities to the international coalition,” Prime Minister Abbott said in a statement. “In recent days, I have discussed the situation with President Barack Obama, with Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zaiyed of the United Arab Emirates.”
The Australian forces will be based at the Al Minhad Air Base in the UAE, from which Super Hornet air strikes, and Wedgetail and KC-30 missions could be launched.
“The decision to prepare Australian Defence Force personnel for deployment has not been taken lightly,” added ACM Binskin. “This is a highly complex operating environment which continues to evolve and we now have a significant amount of detailed planning work to undertake as we prepare for this deployment. That will include careful mission planning, force preparation, intelligence gathering, and force protection measures.”
Al Minhad is some 1,500 kilometres south-east of Baghdad. With most of the operations against IS expected to be conducted taking place north and west of the Iraqi capital, if they are committed to operations missions of five or more hours for the Super Hornet crews will be common.
The F/A-18F Super Hornet achieved full operational capability with the RAAF in December 2012 after being acquired in 2010 as a bridging capability between the retirement of the F-111C and the service entry of the F-35A JSF. The aircraft are common to the US Navy Block II F/A-18Fs complete with the APG-79 AESA radar, ATFLIR targeting pods, advanced crew cockpit, ALR-67(V)3 radar warning receiver, and a full array of advanced precision weapons.
Meanwhile, the Wedgetail will likely be employed in a command and control role for which it is ideally suited, while its considerable electronic intelligence capability will likely also be brought to bear.
And despite advances in the certification effort of its Advanced Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) in recent months, the KC-30 will remain limited to being able to refuel UK and US Navy-style probe equipped aircraft including the Super Hornets with its wing-mounted hose and drogue system, as the improvements to the boom are not expected to be declared operational until 2015.
No further information about a possible deployment date or any pre-deployment work-up or exercises has been provided.