• Credit: Nigel Pittaway
    Credit: Nigel Pittaway

The skies over the Top End are once again reverberating to the sound of combat aircraft as Exercise Diamond Storm draws to its conclusion.

The exercise, involving multiple fighter aircraft from the RAAF’s Air Combat Group, C-130J Hercules from the Air Mobility Group and a P-8A Poseidon from Surveillance and Response Group, will graduate the latest generation of Air Warfare instructors who will then go on to be subject matter experts back in their parent units.

Diamond Storm is the culmination of a six-month Air Warfare Instructors Course (AWIC 22), which has seen the sharpest candidates from across the Air Force hone their skills through a series of training events and exercises, known as Force Level Integration Events.

AWIC 22 is the result of 18 months of development and planning undertaken by 88 Squadron within the RAAF’s Air Warfare Centre and is the third in the biennial series, which replaces on from the previous Fighter Combat Instructor (FCI) course. 

“What we’re striving to do is generate tactical experts, who are critical thinkers and who will go on to become the key integrators across all of the platforms, systems and capabilities we have, explained Wing Commander Andrew Hagstrom, Commanding Officer of 88 Sqn.

“We set a complex problem, with a scenario design such that we provide them the right environment to be able to integrate all those platforms, to solve the tactical problem as part of that integration remit. We will have missions in Diamond Storm where it is all platforms operating together to solve the tactical problem, but we have other elements where it doesn’t make sense to do that

“It’s a very well-integrated set of events to make sure that we have the right platforms integrating with the right elements across the course. More is not always better, so it’s more – or the right platforms integrating in the right way to solve the right tactical problem.” 

For the first time, there are nine different elements to the course, comprising Fighter Combat Instructor (F-35 & F/A-18F), Growler Tactics Instructor (EA-18G), Fighter Combat Controller (Air Battle Manager), AEW&C Combat Instructor (E-7A), Maritime Combat Instructor (P-8A), Combat Control Instructor (JTAC), Mobility Tactics Instructor (C-130J), and Intelligence Combat Instructor courses.

As such, there is also a ground element in the course to qualify the Combat Control Instructor candidates.

Once the candidates have graduated, they will return to their parent units and become the force integration specialists within the organisation. 

“They will be the tactical leader in the squadron and across multiple units when it comes to integration outcomes, so they have a pretty large sphere of influence when they go back,” WGCDR Hagstrom explained. They will be those key experts in each of the individual platforms that, if they then need to integrate, know exactly who the right people across the other platforms and systems in Air Force to talk to.” 

AWIC 22 is also the first that has attempted to integrate the 5th generation F-35 and planning the exercise has leveraged expertise within 81 Wing to maximise the benefits of its capability.

“81 Wing has done a mountain of work in understanding the platform and then understanding what they need from a technical mastery standpoint. What we have had to digest is, how F-35 works with the other platforms and then from an integration standpoint, understand what scenario do we need to set up? How complex does it need to be? What training aids need to be out there to deliver that integration?

“That’s been the focus of our scenario design – and it’s the same with P-8 and our Combat Control Instructor capability - it’s about appreciating what they require for their own technical mastery and then how we design a scenario that enables them to then take that technical mastery and integrate it across the platforms.” 

As Exercise Diamond Storm heads into its last week and the six-month AWIC22 draws to an end, WGCDR Hagstrom is happy with the way the complex task of course design and development is delivering the required outcomes.

“We’ve had 81 Wing experts embedded with 88 Sqn when it comes to scenario design [for F-35A]. So far, we’ve been pretty on the mark and we’re reasonably happy with where we are. We’ve had a lot of support from our Tactics and Training Directorate within the AWC in regard to scenario design,” WGCDR Hagstrom declared. 

“We’re getting good feedback across all the communities, from the richness of the scenarios that we’re delivering all the way down to the facilities that we’ve developed and delivered to ensure we can run the course in the manner that’s required.” 

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