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Australia's quest to become a network-centric force is shifting from a focus on working out the kinks in new technologies to fielding a number of operational elements.Three advances of note are the fielding of a squadron of Wedgetail command and control aircraft, standing up the first two squadrons of F/A-18F Super Hornets and completing the Vigilare theater surveillance integration system – all designed as the backbone of a small, highly-responsive force.However, this cutting edge force was envisioned somewhat differently only five years ago. The Wedgetail had a 2006 delivery date and the F-35 was slated to replace the Royal Australian Air Force’s classic F-18 Hornets as soon as they were available.Instead, the Wedgetail’s radar was hit by a two-year delay for hardware and software redesign that has stretched into more than four years. The massive task of integrating many sources, services and sensor types caused a dragging out of Vigilare’s operational introduction. Finally, the U.S. slowed the F-35 program and drove up its cost which injected uncertainty into Australia’s budgeting.These delays and a change in Canberra’s government have created big political and financial pressures for the Australian military. But it now appears that no matter how monumental the problems of the last four years have been, they are small compared to what would have happened without the slowdown in programs, improvements in technology and reshuffling of priorities.Because the RAAF’s Hornets are aging, Canberra approved purchase of the Super Hornets as an interim aircraft between the Hornets and F-35. Aerospace industry and military officials contend that without the Super Hornet to make the task of integration incremental, the shift from Hornet to F-35 would likely have become a nightmare of increased cost, complexity and schedule overruns.The delay of two key nodes, Wedgetail and the Vigilare air defense ground environment, rippled through the high-tech aspirations of the RAAF. It meant they were not going to be in place for the workup of a network centric force that could digest the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s futuristic capabilities. To battle that delay, the RAAF acquired the Super Hornet with its inherent network centric capabilities to begin the integration process.The Wedgetail radar delay allowed the performance of the MESA long-range, 360-degree radar to mature and new missions to emerge. The radar, instead of making a uniform sweep at a given range as originally planned, can stuff the power output of the radar into limited sectors to markedly increase it range and the ability to detect small objects.Researchers contend they will make full use of the electromagnetic spectrum. With Wedgetail, we will see a slice of that growth. L-band radar with its lower frequency range is good for scouting for a couple of hundred miles. You can see a long way through weather and other conditions.Finer-grained images, like people and individual targets, requires higher frequencies like the X-band radars carried by Super Hornets and Growler electronic attack aircraft. Even higher in the spectrum, visual identification of a person at short ranges is possible. Moreover, disparate sensors can be fused to create a combined picture.Wedgetail, Super Hornet and Vigilare lay the ground work for an even more impressive force that is envisioned, if not funded, to include:The modification of 12 Super Hornets to EA-18G Growler configuration that can deliver standoff electronic attacks to include jamming and anti-electronics attack..The acquisition of an undetermined number of P-8 Poseidon jet-powered maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft to supplement and then replace the P-3 turboprops.Perhaps another two squadrons of Super Hornets for precision, standoff kinetic attack.As many as 75 F-35-type stealth aircraft, which could be introduced in 2025, for penetrating some distance into quickly modernizing surface-to-air missile defenses with advanced, longer-range, low-frequency radars that can detect small cruise missiles and stealthy aircraft.And, far in the distance, perhaps 25 penetrating, high-performance unmanned platforms that can deliver bombs or anti-electronic weapons into even the most fearsome defenses.All the airborne platforms will be equipped with active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radars that have 2-3 times the range and perhaps one-fiftieth the maintenance of conventional radars plus the ability to locate very small objects and conduct electronic jamming. The Wedgetail covers L-band (good for detecting stealthy designs and cruise missiles) and the fighters carry X-band AESAs for precision targeting.Also waiting in the wings with be the U.S. Navy’s Next Generation Jammer, an AESA-based electronic jamming and anti-electronics package designed for carriage in pods by the Super Hornet, Growler and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
ar99, RAAF, Australia, Wedgetail, SuperHornet
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