In early March at the Avalon International Airshow, the Royal Australian Air Force publicly unveiled two of its newest and most advanced aircraft.
The purchase of the F-35 Lightning II and EA-18G Growler is a monumental step forward in the RAAFs ability to project power and defend Australia. The F-35, of which Australia has purchased at least 72, is a 5th generation stealth fighter much maligned due to cost overruns, delays, questions about structural issues and whether it can still meet its mission objectives. Despite these high profile issues within the media, the F-35 is Australia’s only available option for a viable stealth fighter. Furthermore, critics often overlook the F-35’s advancements in its sensor array, battles-pace integration and pilot awareness, all of which make the F-35 an immensely impressive asset for the Australian Defence Force and a unique fighter aircraft.
The other major purchase by the RAAF is the EA-18G Growler. The Growler is an electronic warfare aircraft based on the F/A-18F Super Hornet airframe. Previously, electronic attack aircraft were attached to bulkier and less agile airframes like the C-130 Hercules. It, like the F-35, is a unique aircraft in the West’s inventory. The Growler will provide the RAAF with the ability to jam, mislead and confuse the radar of enemy aircraft and ground installations. This provides other ADF assets the cover they need during an attack and it also supplements the F-35’s stealth capability by complicating enemy radar efforts to locate it. The RAAF is just the second nation to own and operate the Growler and the Australian Government has committed $250 million to research upgrades for the Growler in cooperation with the United States Navy.
These two new aircraft are a part of a system over a decade in the making. The RAAF has been procuring various aircraft and systems to modernise its fleet for years. The aim of this modernisation has been to create a resilient, agile and integrated air force that can quickly respond to a variety of threats and maintain air power over a long period of time. The C-17A was introduced in 2006 as a strategic heavy lift aircraft; The E-7A Wedgetail was acquired by the RAAF in 2009 as an airborne command centre; the Super Hornet in 2011; the KC-30 in 2011 as an aerial refueling aircraft and troop transport and the P-8A Poseidon in 2016 as maritime patrol aircraft. The combination of these aircraft along with the F-35, Growler and the future purchases of Triton unmanned aircraft and the signals intelligence G550 aircraft will make the RAAF one of the most potent small air forces in the world.
The RAAF ought to be commended for its forward thinking in purchasing these aircraft and creating a highly modernised 5th generation air force.
Jack Kimberely is a 3rd year Arts/Law student at Monash University