The Australian Air Task Group (ATG) has completed its first operational mission in Syria. No weapons were released during the mission, which provided “on-call interdiction and dynamic targeting support”, according to Defence.
The two Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18A Hornets, a E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C platform and a KC-30A tanker transport that were involved in the mission returned to base without incident, Defence said on September 12.
ATG Commander Air Commodore Stu Bellingham said in a statement the Hornets searched points of interest in eastern Syria for ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) activity.
“Daesh controls a large amount of territory in eastern Syria that serves as a source of recruitment and oil revenues, and as a base from which it continues to launch attacks into Iraq”, AIRCMDRE Bellingham said.
“The Hornets were also prepared for any short notice high priority tasking which could include surveillance and weapons release.”
The federal government announced on September 9 that it had decided to extend into eastern Syria airstrikes against ISIL targets carried out by RAAF aircraft.
The ATG deployed in support of Operation OKRA, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the effort to combat ISIL in Iraq, consists of approximately 400 personnel, plus six F/A-18A classic Hornets, the E-7A and KC-30A.
Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, Chief of the Defence Force (CDF), said that although up to eight aircraft have been approved to carry out airstrikes, the size of the ATG is not expected to increase at this stage.
“The rotation will be classic Hornets or Super Hornets, depending on what squadron comes online to do it,” he said. “We are approved for up to eight aircraft at the moment. We do not envisage that I will increase that number from six to eight, although I have the flexibility to do that depending on the tasking, and I can increase that at any time if I need to.”
Operations over Syria are a relatively straightforward extension of the missions over Iraq the ATG has been conducting to date, ACM Binskin said.
“For all intents and purposes they just take a 10-degree left turn when they go on task and end up over Syria, so there is no major change to be able to do these operations over eastern Syria,” CDF said.