When I first started at ADM, my first big trade show was an Avalon Air Show. The endlessly long flightline, huge marquees in a paddock and typical Melbourne-like weather of part swamp and part heat wave depending on the time of day. I got to fly in an Alenia C-27J Spartan at sunset, flying over the 12 Apostles with the back cargo bay door open. ‘I could get used to this’ I thought to myself! Still new in the job, climbing the Defence aviation learning curve was daunting but delightful.
Air Force at that time was at the beginning of a transition journey. The phrase of replacing 80 per cent of fleet in less than a decade was common, and remained so for years. We’re now at the point where most of that transition is in place or taking its early crawling moves of the ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach. The F-35, PC-21 and C-27J Spartan are crawling, P-8s and Super Hornets/Growlers are walking and the C-17, Hercules and Classic Hornets are very much running. Platforms still in gestation include the Triton and Reaper unmanned vehicles and the MC-55A Peregrine ISREW G550 aircraft.
The fact that at this Avalon we will be able to see our first two JSFs to be permanently based here, and not just visiting, is a significant milestone for the ADF which will be celebrated with much fanfare at Avalon.
Air Force has been able to shape a long running coherent narrative along their capabilities (platforms, people, technology) based on a 5th Generation theme. Everything is integrated, connected and capable. Even Army and Navy have begun to pick up the Air Force language around technology concepts. Given the size and scope of the RAAF and the ADF, Five Eyes nations have been watching the Plan Jericho/5th Generation journey with interest with regard to their own thinking.
The succession plan of leadership has all been on the same journey in that regard, with Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies on the path that his predecessors set.
“I like lots of things about the Air Force,” he said me to as part of our From the Source interview this month (see P130). “Our Air Force values are on target, which is something that I’ve built on from previous CAFs. We have less dills, we have fewer silly things happening, we have fewer people issues.”
That is not to say that the path has been entirely smooth. News that Air 6500 has taken an 18-24 month schedule hit is not unexpected, given the amorphous task it has been set. The mission to make the lightning bolts of connectivity on a PowerPoint slide real is huge. And it is more than an Air program, perhaps requiring it to become a Joint program to really get the art of the possible translated into reality. This is a true system of systems program that will require a ‘Joint-by-design’ approach at every step. A delay at this point to get your ducks in a row is not a bad thing, providing it saves heartache (and dollars) down the line.
Air 5428 is finally up and running, another program that has had a difficult gestation and birth (see P68 and From the Source). In essence, the ‘easy’ part of the program with the platform is ticking over but the associated courseware required more work from both parties.
New air traffic management arrangements under OneSky have been taken off the Projects of Concern list but Defence’s $560 million contribution to the joint program with Air Services Australia was never going to be easy. Defence has pushed back its expected timeline, forecasting that initial operational capability could be achieved by November 2022, and final operational capability by October 2025. When the project commenced in 2010, both agencies thought the system would reach final operational capability in 2017-18.
While OneSky will miss the centenary of Air Force celebration at Avalon in 2021, the fact that there are ‘less dills and silly things’ in the system is to be applauded.
This article first appeared in the February 2019 edition of ADM.