Part 4: RAAF BASE Curtain- and yes, RHINO is in it!

RAAF BASE CURTAIN Western Australia: 1600 hours 21/12/ 2020

RAAF Base Curtain was situated in the North west Corner of Western Australia in an area called “The Kimberley’s”, known for the Aboriginal land holders, magnificent ranges and the underlying brutality of the outback towards anybody who took it for granted. The Kimberley’s was also known for its weather, 5 months of the year the vast dry landscape was subject to tropical storms, the “wet” as the locals knew it. During these periods, roads and rivers were flooded making access or military operations extremely difficult, certainly anybody wanting to do sinister military work would not in their right mind plan for it to happen during the wet season.  And with the seasons closing arriving, the ADF like all other military was awakening to operations.

The RAAF Airbase had for years been a ‘READY’ base with barebones services, able to be activated at short notice into a fully-fledged operational RAAF base in 24 hours,  two north south runways and a car taker grouping of personnel was typically all that occupied the base year round, but all that had changed.

As the ADF upgraded its technology, systems and equipment to meet the growing Northern threat from China, the rapid expansion of surface and in particular subsurface combatants in the region, so too had the base changed, over the 10 years that the current Liberal government had been in office and the long Sitting PM Mr Turnbull the ADF had been the beneficiary of a doubling in the Defence budget in that time, with particular emphasis on drones and remote war fighting technology. This leap in technological operation utilisation has seen the ADF take a fourfold or multigenerational leap over its neighbours in the Pacific and made the operational liaison and intelligence sharing with its Project Light Blue colleagues, Britain and the US along with the  Defence agreement in the MPA ( Mutual Protection Act  ) with Singapore and Malaysia become a reality. The ADF was the lead partner in ‘Light Blue’, a RAN / DSTO initiated force multiplier and the benefits were only now becoming realised.

Some parts of the very advanced Blue Ring SOSUS underwater detection system were well know, its full capability and also its operationally lethal attachments were not and it seemed that was about to become public.

“ Sheeeit” said the watch corporal in a long drawn out tone in the control Tower, which in peace time acted as the operations centre, “ we have a scramble signal from Manta Ray Sir for a Kestrel and also a status update on the remaining birds Sir, ASuW through to Alert Cap units”

Jesus thought the young corporal, the evening was really starting to go to custard, it had been months since a Kestrel had been launched and that was at the height of the last standoff between China and the Vietnamese Navy, the latter of which had come off with a rather bloody nose and minus two ships, plus about 300 sailors lighter, all of which now were at the bottom of the South China sea creating new coral reefs. Before the confrontation had become the fracas that it was now being described, the RAN and the RAAF had watched quite closely and monitored what was taking place, if for no other reason than to learn the other side capabilities and it had proved to be a virtual data and capability gold mine for the ADF and its Allies. And some of the capabilities discovered had sent shock waves through the USN and RAN upper echelons.

It hadn’t taken long for things to get exciting at RAAF Curtin with the Tower operations Technician pushing the alert button and then placing a call to the base Commander,

“ Well get fucking too it, call the O Group in Ten, I want all staff at their alert stations in 15 and a full status on all birds by then as well ……………….and make sure we have availability of the Dreamers, I’ve a feeling we might need them.” Shouted the Lt Colonel Commanding RAAF Curtin clearly not pleased with the alert or the status of the base reporting..

RAAF ADGIES or Air defence Guards were saddling up in the Modified Huawei ground assault Vehicles, they had the mod 2 version which was re-armoured, the normal ballistic steel panels now replaced with Kevlar composite units and shedding a whole 600 kilos off the crafts  waste line. The Huawei’s pronounced Huey like the old gunship helicopters accelerated like a sports car, just that they had 50 calibre and automatic grenade launchers mounted front and rear, some even spotting improved Javelins in twin pack launchers as well.

As the Adgies sped past the ballistic shelters of the flight line, crews were swarming over various aircraft, Kestrel ASW drones, capable of 6 hours endurance with two Archer high speed ASW torpedoes on board, nominal; range of 100 kilometres were being worked on, safety tags for arming pins being checked and pins removed. A big C5 Galaxy was waiting to take off, sitting patiently as the RAAF’s first of three AC130M gunships lumbered down Curtains main north south runway.

 

Right next door to these sleek looking units were the RAAF’s latest drone units, the Dreamers, essentially a highly modified Kestrel turbojet powered drone, save for the twin turbojets; it’s very high subsonic transit speeds, full stealth design and bulging weapons bay clearly evident

. The Dreamers were all weather capable with some serious self-protection and initiating defensive countermeasures computer programming behind it. Designed from the outset to spoof or draw away multiple ASM’s from the fleet, the unit was quickly picked up by the RAAF. Jamming pods on board, radar reflectors, IR, HF, VHF, UHF and ELF jammers and IR decoys, all deployable as mini drones the size of a saucepan lid. The RAAF had never operated all the Dreamers countermeasures at once except for two live tests over the missile range at Woomera in South Australia, mainly to keep the full capability of the dreamer’s secret. But when they did, they shut down all radio transmissions for 40 kilometres, computers, radar systems and even the RAAF’s AEWC Wedge tail radar aircraft had trouble with their electronics, the dreamers worked a treat and were a serious capability enhancer for the ADF.

Each Dreamer carried 32 individual units and when set loose on a land or sea target would result in radar clutter and missile strike misses the likes have never before been seen. It was during the initial testing phase, that one of the technicians noted the incoming missiles were behaving like they were in a dream with all the countermeasures overloading their tiny processors and so, the Dreamer attack drone was born.

The RAAF like all services was competitive and when the opportunity presented itself to test the Dreamers against a US Carrier battle group exercising with the ADF, they jumped at the chance and the result,  3 dreamers shut down or confused over half the CBG and the wash up suggested that the Carrier and her major escorts would be at the bottom of the Indian Ocean and getting close to it. Washington went ape shit and it didn’t take long before Darpra and the DSTO were swapping specifications…….. it was followed by an order for 500 units from the ADF, the yanks were impressed!

It was just a pity the F35 was not such a success, 100m meters down from the drone revetments was the main beasts of RAAF Curtin, 2 full squadrons of JSF F-35 attack planes were able to be housed here, today there was just 7, that’s all of the units single full squadron the was mission serviceable at present, the rest were bent, or called unserviceable, but if you were a crew chief, they were tits up useless.

Flight Line RAAF Curtain:

Strolling down the flight line surveying the aircraft was Master Crew Chief David Sphinx, not an overly tall man, but at 120 kilos with his 6 ft. height he was not to be trifled with, what many might call a front rower in rugby terms. Scanning the line The Master Chief shook his head, Jesus” he thought,

“ If only the brass had listened to the technicians early, we wouldn’t be in this fkn mess

What the  chief was referring to was the Joint Strike Fighter and is subsequent issues, the largest of which was wholesale cancellation of orders, post a very brief but brutal encounter with some borrowed flankers at REDFLAG exercises in Nevada. The scuttlebutt initially coming out was simply that the Flanker aggressors had scored some kills against the F35’s, both the STOL and VTOL versions, but the release of gun tape footage and audio onto the net from various aircraft involved broke the issue wide open.  The F35 was a pig in anything but BVR engagements.

Congress went nuts, the coalition of partners purchasing the F35 went just as nuts and the shares for   Lockheed Martin building the F35 went down quicker than Bill Clintons “ we did not have sexual relations friend” , whilst the emails  demanding answers and a increasing numbers of cancellations started piling up in e/mail IN boxes. Whilst this was taking place senior commanders inside the Pentagon and across the globe in the partner countries were scrambling to find out just exactly what took place.

What had happened? A small number of  SU-35S Flankers had been acquired to perform the adversary roles and the US pilots trained in their use. It was suspected that the units had come from Malaysia but it was not confirmed. They were gen 4.5 units , with Thrust vectoring, multimode radar and stealth enhancements  and they had achieved a 2 to 1 kill ratio against the F35 in nearly all aspects of the flight envelope, except for BVR engagements when the F35 was clean or stealthy with NO external missiles………. and it went downhill from there.

 

The chief stopped at the second row of shelters, these like the ones housing the F35’s were not designed just to keep bombs off the aircraft and contain a miss hap to one parking revetment, they also had IR and Visual overhead cover, plus they kept the boiling  Western Australian sun of the airframes. But these hangars were twice as big as they ones beside them, sitting inside the shadowed hangers was a large procession of dark slightly familiar airframes for the casual observer. The actual number here was 24, but Australian now fielded 4 full squadrons of the them, they were classified as F111’s and these were the newest ‘S’ model  or ‘super pig’.

“Babe” thought the chief as he strode up to the First F111S-

“aint you  a sexy piece of kit” he said ,as he slowly and graceful swept his hand across the modified nose cone of the aircraft.

“Hey Chief” Someone called out from behind him as he heard boots running up from the other side of the aircraft.

As David spun around to the front of the aircraft and watched as first the boots and then flight suit appeared between the ground and the airframe, then, as the now puffing aviator appeared from around the nose he was not surprised the squadrons Chief pilot, Lt Colonel Rodger Rhino Ross, puffing somewhat as he filled out the…..neat fitting flight suit stopped doubled over. Rhino’s hand was waving kind of wildly at the Chief and he figured he knew what he wanted whilst he was sucking in great lungful’s of air.

It took about 20 seconds, but Rhino righted himself, now composed but with kind of puffy flushed red cheeks he spoke with the chief.

“Chief, we have an alert warning from Holt, they want a Kestrel ASAP for the Lombok straight and also a status on all other birds here at the base, which I would gather includes piloted aircraft as well! And…. The CO has issued a full base Alert”

The Chief had watched all the Adgies and aircraft mechanics disperse and start swarming over the drones, he’d not given much thought to the bases piloted aircraft up until this point. Reaching down for his radio he called back to base ops.

“ Base Op’s this is Spanner 1, is the duty officer present , over” releasing the hand piece the chief looked at Rhino.

“ well Rhino, get ya fkn arse in the Cockpit man….Jesus, where is your Nav?” he asked, just as he heard the Huawei Assault Vehicle tyres squeak to a halt at the front of the aircraft and the Pigs Navigator, Major Carley Simone bailed out of the backseat before the Huawei shot across to the next aircraft shelter disgorging its next set of aircrew.

The F111 S or Super Pig was a direct result of the F35’s technical and capability failures and it  had come at a cost. Whilst the RAAF decided to reduce its total order of F35’s, deciding that they would try and utilise the Lightening as a fighter only and pair it with less capable aircraft, it still left the RAAF short. The legacy Hornets had long since been retired and the Super Hornets were being left to do most of the work, the resultant airframe hours skyrocketing and placing some tough decisions on the RAAF.

Unfortunately the issues with the F35 were not just Australian, it was the whole consortium who bought into the F35 debacle that were now trying to secure other aircraft as fast as possible to fill the capability gap and extend other airframes life, and this….very quickly created an aircraft shortfall with plane prices shooting through the roof almost overnight.

The RAAF internally starting looking at options and what force mixes they could use, one Commander suggested they dust off the F111 upgrade program and see if they could secure birds from the bone yard in the US, after all the Commander said, we have the technical expertise here, Qantas can support the units and we look at securing back the staff / support personnel. The Pig will cut back on Hornet time and if we do the full upgrade we will secure some very unique additional benefits.

The Brass were not convinced, but the PM got wind of it and requested a full briefing from the RAAF and its proposer, bending a lot of senior noses out of shape in the process. The briefing had been interesting, at the end of the session the PM it was said, had stood up and looked straight at the Chief of the Defence force and said “ Make it happen” no buts, no histrionics, just get it done, and so the RAAF and the DSTO embarked on what all said was the most bizarre , tax payer funded money wasting exercise that the ADF had ever partaken in…… but they were wrong or so the chief thought.

The chief continued his walk around the aircraft’s topping here and there to more closely inspect it, wings, leading edge slats, landing gear and final now having checked all the normal operational equipment he was ready for the weapons check, looking up at the cockpit the chief could see both the Pilot and Nav were in their seat.

“Ready for weapons check Rhino, confirm Radar and pods are in standby please “ the chief called.

He figured that the pair were still busy getting their own collective shit sorted out, but not to bust protocol and commence the weapons stations checks the chief allowed himself another look back over his plane as he thought of it, mentally remembering just how hard it was to get this bird into service and what radical changes had been made to the base G model pig to bring her up to this…..one of the slipperiest aircraft available that could deliver some serious load of steel on target. And that was the end game wasn’t it.

From where he was now standing at the front left side of the aircraft, nearly all the significant mods were visible, although she had received serious internal upgrades, the performance enhancing ones could be seen by the trained eye, all over the airframe…and even that was partly new as well.

The F111’s was a super cruising low level penetrator now with the RCS of a large bird, capable of carrying  12 AMRAAMS, or a similar number of SSM’s, she was lengthened, had thrust vectoring nozzles with composite Kevlar / carbon fibre wings, larger fuel tanks, upgrades electronics now all fully digitised, link 17, AESA radar with full TFR, FLIR and IRSTS and helmet mounted queuing. In all, she could do everything the JSF could and couldn’t, plus do it farther away and faster.

 

 

 

 

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