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Australia’s long-serving F-111s were retired late last year, but some of their veteran aircrews are turning their strike experience to creating the first two squadrons of the 24-aircraft, F/A-18F Super Hornet force.The F-model Super Hornet has a two-person crew, like the F-111, and a portion of the latter’s navigator-bombardiers are being retrained as weapons systems officer (WSO) cadres and aircrews for the F/A-18F. WSOs will be a sub-specialty within the larger, RAAF category of Air Combat Officer which was instituted about five years ago. If Australia decides, as planned, to turn 12 of the F-model aircraft into EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, another ACO specialty will be added for electronic warfare officers.The second F/A-18F unit is standing up as No. 6 Sqdn. which will serve as the RAAF’s primary Super Hornet operational training unit.“We take the crews – pilots and WSOs – and turn them into functioning crews before feeding them into No.1 Sqdn,” says Wing Commander Terence Deeth, No. 6 Sqdn.’s commander. Deeth is a former F-111 WSO who was part of the first two crews to go through the new aircrew training program. “With retirement of the F-111, there’s only one place for WSOs to go. The [training process for Super Hornet] is in its infancy. At the moment, we’re doing the same sorts of things as [those training for the older] classic F/A-18s. We have the capacity to do it a little bit better.”That understates the advanced capabilities of the Super Hornet which comes equipped with a Raytheon-made, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that can pull small targets out of ground clutter for precision strike attacks. It also serves as an air-to-air radar with more than twice the range of a conventional radar and the ability to find low-observable cruise missiles, for example. The design of AESA radars cuts maintenance by about 90% and the need for support personnel. Radars are expected to last the lifetime of the aircraft without replacement or removal.“There are many more capabilities available from the F-model within the fast-jet force air combat group than there ever was the the F-111,” Deeth agrees. “We’re looking to exploit those [data transfer] capabilities. It’s all about network-centric warfare.Aircrew candidates go through pilot and WSO training and are then screened based on the RAAF’s requirements and personal assessments of their skills and aptitude. A key determinant is interaction in a crew environment. Once they finish the F-model transition course, they go to No. 2 Sqdn.“The difference between what the U.S. Navy does and what we are doing here is that we are training from the first day as a crew and they go all the way through that way,” Deeth say. “That comes from our experiences with the F-111.”So far, WSOs have come from the F-111 force which offered a pool of experienced, fast-jet crewmen. A two-crew class started training in Jan., and the first new WSOs also begin training early this year. Classes will provide crews for both 1 and 6 sqdns.
ar99, RAAF, F/A-18F
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