As the last switch was thrown, the final engine shut down and silence finally spread across the base once again, it was time to reflect on the fact that we had just had the privilege of watching history in the making for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
In the crisp early morning of Friday 31st of May, wave after wave of aircraft roared low over RAAF Base Williamtown, just north of Newcastle in NSW, as they returned at the conclusion of the biennial “Dawn Strike” mission which, this year, marks the culmination of the 2019 Air Warfare Instructors Course (AWIC2019).
Previously known as the Fighter Combat Instructor’s course (FCI) conducted by 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2 OCU), which saw the best of the best fighter pilots trained to become the leaders and teachers of the RAAF’s air combat capability; as the Air Force’s roles and technologies have expanded to encompass a wider range of air combat elements in recent times, so has the need to integrate these aspects into an overall and cohesive doctrine of battle-space management.
The six month long course has been conducted in conjunction with the “Diamond” series of exercises, such as Diamond Shield back in March which saw the F-16s of the 18th Aggressor Squadron, Alaska, deploy to Williamtown for a few weeks (see that article HERE) and has culminated with the large Diamond Storm exercise held across Australia’s north in recent weeks.
During an interview in Darwin recently, while exercise Diamond Storm was underway, Commanding Officer of 2 OCU, Wing Commander Scott “Woody” Woodland explained; “Diamond Storm is the culmination of the Air Warfare Instructors Course that is being run at the moment. Traditionally, previously it was known as the Fighter Instructors Course which involved the Classic Hornets and F-111’s to begin with and then involved the Super Hornet later on.”
“Now the AWIC construct has brought all domains together, so we have the fast jet community as well as the E-7A (Wedgetail), AP-3C (Orion), C-130J (Hercules), C-17A (Globemaster III) and control based elements from both ground and air Intelligence, all working together in a high end training exercise, to exercise all components of the Air Force together, integrating them to effect the maximum effect against a notional enemy force.”
For an excellent look at the history and development of the FCI/AWIC program, as well as operations as part of exercise Diamond Storm in recent weeks; Check out this great article by ASO’s Sid Mitchell: HERE.
In this final element of the course, Classic and Super Hornets, EF-18G Growlers, F-35 JSFs a C-130J and an E-7 Wedgetail from 2 OCU, 1, 2, 3, 6, 37 and 77 squadrons took part in a mock-attack towards (and from) RAAF Williamtown with various elements tasked as either offensive or counter-offensive forces.
At the crack of Dawn, Hornets tasked with defending the base departed with their afterburners blazing in the dim, early light, along with a pair of F-35s from 3 Squadron, to do battle with the AWIC students as they made their way towards Williamtown.
At the conclusion of the battle (as was the tradition during the former FCI course), all the participating aircraft recover to Williamtown in a series of low level, high speed approaches, just as the sun crept over the horizon, including a very impressive pass by the C-130J from 37 Squadron and an E-7 from 2 Squadron.
The historic aspect of this year’s Dawn Strike was that, after 34 years and 15 FCI courses, it marks the last time that 2 OCU will conduct an FCI / AWIC on the venerable F/A-18 Classic Hornet. It was also the last time we are ever likely to see so many RAAF Classic Hornets in the air together.
In Darwin, WGCDR Woodland said; “This will be the last AWIC 2OCU conducts, we will have Classic Hornets participating in 2021 as 75Sqn still operates them at that stage. As for 2OCU, we have run FCI from 1954 until now and to retire the Classic Hornet is bitter-sweet as she’s a great jet [which has] served very well. Takes a bit more maintenance than she used to but our team has been achieving really good results up here. We’re just maximising the capabilities of the jet when integrated with other assets. That’s where we still have a big role to play; we’ve integrated with the Super Hornets, Growler, E7, and other capabilities that we’ve got, so she’s still going strong.”
When asked about the F- 35’s role in future AWICs, WGCDR Woodland offered; “So at this stage the F-35 is currently planned for 2025 AWIC, however post 2019 exercise and depending on the progression of the current 35’s at 3 Squadron etc, there will be a decision made as to whether they will be integrated into the 2021 AWIC as well, be that potentially as a Red Air role or participating with Blue Air with students from the course as well. As I said, that’s yet to be confirmed or decided”
While a fantastic chance for those of us on the ground to get a rare glimpse of the RAAF in action as well as to see so many Classic Hornets in full flight for one of the last times, this was really about the people involved and the culmination of several months of the most intense study and stress that they have probably ever experienced, in order to become the future of Australia’s air combat capability. Our sincere congratulations to all the Graduates of the 2019 Air Warfare Instructor’s Course and our thanks to the Royal Australian Air Force for allowing us to cover it for you.
For additional reading (and great images) from the recent Diamond Storm exercise, check out Sid Mitchells other articles;
‘Iron Butterfly’ – a tour through a B-52H Stratofortress at Exercise Diamond Storm 2019
Exercise Diamond Storm – training the best in 2019 Pt1
Diamond Storm 2019 Red Air – RAAF Base Tindal
RAAF Base Tindal – Airside Launches during Diamond Storm 2019
USAF 194th FS F-15C Eagles – Air Superiority over the Top End