The RAAF Airpower Conference 2018: The Way Ahead for Airpower in a Disrupted World


By Robbin Laird

When I attended the 2016 RAAF Airpower Conference, the main focus was upon the newly released White Paper and related documents announcing the government’s ways ahead on defense modernization.

The Conference highlighted key elements for the modernization of the Australian Defence Force and the importance of shaping as integrated a force going forward as possible.

Indeed, the Williams Foundation seminars since that time have highlighted various aspects of integration, air-sea integration, air-land integration and the challenge of designing an integrated force.

This year’s RAAF airpower conference and indeed the Williams Foundation seminars are moving from that foundation to focusing on dealing effectively with the challenges of the evolving strategic environment.

How best to shape effective approaches, technologies and modernization strategies for the decade or more ahead?

The RAAF Airpower Conference is entitled “Air Power in a Disruptive World”and is providing an overview on how the RAAF and ADF leadership are looking at the challenges as well as various specialist presentations of technologies which may well drive significant change in the period ahead.

I will focus primarily on the policy side of the way ahead and how key speakers looked on Day 1 of the Conference at the broader parameters of change and shaping a way ahead.

But for non-Australians it is important to highlight the quite rapid path the RAAF has taken to modernization.

A decade ago the force was defined by its Hornets and C-130s and the range and effects which such a force could achieve.

Then the Super Hornets, Wedgetail, the KC-30A, and the C-17 were procured and the force went from being a territorial or regional force to one able t project globally.

The coming of age of this capability really was the Middle East Operation, called by the Australians Operation Okra.

Here a significant airpower package has been deployed from Australia to the Middle East and the skill sets developed to support an advanced air battle management system, an advanced tanker and a data rich combat aircraft, the Super Hornet.

With the coming of the F-35 and the Growler, the RAAF is about to take its next steps into the tron warfare domain and shaping a broader fifth generation warfare approach informing and empowered by transformation of the ground and maritime forces as well.

It is the coming of this force which is emerging into the changing world of the period ahead which is the backdrop to the discussions at both the RAAF and Williams Foundation Conferences.

Our interviews last week and this week with the RAAF and the Navy will highlight several aspects of the dynamics of change within the force itself.

But the RAAF conference provided a good look at the perceived dynamics of change in the broader global environment and within the ongoing technological revolution reshaping the demand side of both the use and development of modern airpower and the ADF more generally.

The conference was opened by Air Marshal Leo Davies, Chief of the RAAF.

He highlighted the growth in the breadth and depth of the challenges facing airpower as well as the growth in demands to operate in the gray zone.

Among the key dynamics he highlighted were the following: the dispersal of global influence and the diversity of power centers; the shift in the center of global power from the North Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific region, the elevated strategic impact of China and North Korea; the shifts in US national strategy from focusing primarily on counter-terrorism to great power challenges.

These dynamics were leading to the need to invest in higher end military capabilities and to seek innovative solutions to ensure that the liberal democracies had credible deterrent capabilities.

He underscored the core significance for the RAAF of evolving the skill sets to deal with these challenges which he characterized as shaping skill sets which could move beyond a narrow definition of mission performance to deal with the distributed battlespace and its more strategic demand set.

The Australian Defense Minister then followed with an overview of how she saw the evolving global situation and its impact on the ADF.

She noted at the outset that although it was only two years since she addressed the 2016 airpower conference, it seemed almost an age ago compared to the world of 2018.

The changes in Europe, the United States, and Asia have created significant pull in the strategic environment and shifting demand sets as well.

She underscored the core shift in how Air Forces receive and use information and with the coming of both Growler and F-35 this would be accelerated as well.

She underscored the important role which Australia played in the region and growing expectations of partners in the region for that role to remain central as well.

She reinforced the core message from Air Marshal Davies concerning the need to shape a 21st century workforce in Australia to support the ADF as well going forward, given the pace and scope of technological change in the commercial and defense domains.

Other key ADF speakers throughout the day added key points to the challenge agenda facing the ADF in the period ahead.

Chief of Navy, Admiral Tim Barrett, highlighted the significance of the digital transition for navy both in terms of what it means to shape an integrated digital force as well as building out a new shipbuilding capability built around a digital design and manufacturing process.

The key role of software upgradeable systems and digital manufacturing has been a theme for some time for Second Line of Defense, but there is still a broader lack of understanding in the defense community of how significant this shift is for force development and generation.

This clearly is not the case for Chief of Navy who underscored that the standing up the workforce and infrastructure to build the new navy platforms was designed not simply to build a new ship, but to be crafted in such a way that the “frigate or destroyer after next was already being shaped in the design and manufacturing process.”

Major General Toohey, Head of Land Capability, provided an Army perspective which focused on what she called the “post digital army,” although she was really focusing on how the digital transition was shaping a new approach to the man-machine relationship in which technology could extend the reach and impact of the combat elements in the ground maneuver force.

Vice Air Marshal Warren McDonald underscored the importance of building more effective security into a digitally enabled force.

His focus was less on new technologies to provide for enhanced protection, than upon the organization becoming more aware of how to avoid leaving seams within the organization through which adversaries could penetrate and influence the ADF decision making.

He highlighted a key element of the transition from the land wars to higher tempo operations in terms of the ADF and other allied forces getting too complacent about the environment in which digital tools have been used in the Middle East as the forces shift to dealing with cyber armed adversaries conducing information war on a regular basis.

He highlighted the strategic significance of resilience and building out resilient organizations to deal with new threat environment associated with IW.

The Chief of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston, highlighted how he saw the impact of the evolving environment on the ADF and what he thought was the key to being successful in this environment moving forward.

As he put it, he had a five-year perspective as the Joint Force Commander, but frankly that makes a great deal of sense in terms of what the ADF is introducing in the next five years and how one then builds from that shift to the next round of innovations.

His perspective is very reminiscent of the ACC Commander whose own focus is quite similar.

He underscored that the geographical spread and diversity of threats has grown and the speed of response has been elevated as an operational requirement.

And the ADF is doing this in a very visible world characterized by the spread of social media and the proliferation of information war.

He also seconded McDonald’s remarks as well: “We have gotten used to operate in a non-contested EW environment, and those habits are a threat to our force going forward.”

The ADF faced the challenge of task diversity when deploying a force, but the new platforms, and the focus on acquiring multi-mission platforms provides an advantage.

Indeed, integrated force design and performance is a increasingly key discriminator going forward.

A broader geo political perspective was provided during the conference, led off by the keynote address by Bilahari Kausikan Ambassador at Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore.

This was a remarkable address given its breadth and pungent insights on the region, on the United States, on China and on the ASEAN countries.

He drove home the point that there is too much binary thinking in addressing the region, notably with regard to the US-Chinese competition. Developments and competition in the region is rarely zero sum; it is really a multiple-sum competition.

He started by addressing the significant analytical failures in the media and in the broader analytical community to grasp the reality of the Trump Administration.

Although his style leaves something to be desired, when one looks at the realities, the Administration has moved beyond failures of the Bush and Obama Administration to address some fundamental aspects of change globally.

He was concerned that the strategic achievements of the Administration militarily could be undercut by the Administration’s trade policy perspective, but at the end of the day there was significant continuity and the US was not going away.

He then focused on China and the consolidation of power by the Chinese leaders.

He saw the Chinese as trying to work an economic transition which will be difficult and the leadership will be focused on domestic challenges in the period ahead.

The leadership clearly would like to keep the current global system in place as they have more to gain than to lose from the current state of affairs but this is not at all clear will be the outcome.

Clearly, China would like to see its new status globally to be recognized and to shape a new china centric order with all roads leading to Beijing.

He saw the ASEAN states as seeking ways to leverage Chinese economic growth but at the same time protecting their autonomy.  A challenge but a necessity as well for the smaller states in the region.

He predicated that the period ahead would see significant great power competition and uncertainty but felt that although the Chinese are pursuing the path of persuading others that their rise was inevitable and the decline of the US equally inevitable, US allies in the region would work with the US to deflect such an outcome.

Another geopolitical presentation which focused on Australia was that of John Blackburn. 

His focus was on energy security and the absence of a policy in Australia looking at global realities that make security of energy in Australia a question mark, not a reality.

Obviously, military conflict in the region would lead to disruption of energy supplies, and disruption of energy would significantly impact Australian society and military operations.

Blackburn argued that not only should a comprehensive energy security policy be put in place but he argued for a “fifth generation” approach.

What he means by that is shaping an integrated approach which looks not simply at sources of fuel supply but how to integrated ways to supply demand with ways to reshaped demand in a crisis as well.

The first day was concluded by Peter Jennings, the Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, who provided an overview on ways to reform the Australian policy system to better prepare Australian for meeting the challenges ahead.

He focused on ways the Australian system could build in better strategic decision making, ranging from changes in the terms of government, to Senate electoral reform to holding periodic cabinet meetings to address longer term strategy.

In short, the RAAF has undergone and is undergoing significant modernization.

But rather than sitting on their successes or focusing on the next platform, the RAAF is generating a broader look at the evolving strategic environment for the ADF and seeking to understand how that environment might drive the next round of modernization.











The RAAF At Red Flag 2018


Prior to its deployment to Nellis, the RAAF issued this article on its participation on RF 2018-1.

From 29 January–16 February 2018 around 340 Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel will deploy to Nevada to train in the world’s most complex air combat environment during Exercise Red Flag 18-1.

The RAAF personnel will support and participate in missions during the premier air combat exercise alongside counterparts from the United States and the United Kingdom, reconstructing a modern and complex battlespace.

Four EA-18G Growler’s, an AP-3C Orion, and a E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft will also participate in Red Flag, along with a Control and Reporting Centre from 41 Wing to support airborne personnel and aircraft.

During the exercise, participants will practice planning and executing day- and night-time missions, using large numbers of aircraft and ground systems, coordinated to overcome a considerable simulated adversary.

This includes a range of air power roles for RAAF personnel, from Air Superiority and Strike; and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance to Electronic Warfare – providing a comprehensive training environment for aircrew, maintenance and support personnel alike.

Established in 1980 by the US Air Force, Exercise Red Flag provides personnel with an opportunity to experience a complex, modern and dynamic combat landscape.

During its time at Red Flag, one of the RAAF Growlers had a two engine failure as the plane was preparing for take off.

A January 28, 2018, Australian Aviation piece focused on the incident.

An apparent engine failure has seen an RAAF EA-18G Growler catch fire after an aborted takeoff from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada on Saturday morning US time.

“Defence can confirm an incident involving an EA-18G Growler at Nellis Air Force Base during Exercise Red Flag.

 Royal Australian Air Force personnel are safe and no serious injuries have been sustained,” a Department of Defence statement released shortly before midday on Sunday (Australian time) confirmed.

 “Defence is currently working with the United States Air Force to investigate and will provide an update with further details once known.”

 The Growler’s crew, comprising a pilot and an electronic warfare officer, were able to exit the jet on the ground without ejecting…..

 Australia has taken delivery of 12 EA-18G Growlers, with the RAAF the only operator outside the US Navy to have the advanced electronic warfare platform in service.

The first aircraft were accepted into RAAF service in 2016 and all 12 jets were delivered to RAAF Base Amberley in mid-2017.

This is the RAAF Growler’s first Red Flag appearance.

The photos in the slideshow are credited to the RAAF and include RAAF as well as allied aircraft involved in RF 2018-1.


Australian Army to Procure New CRVs

Project LAND 400 Phase 2 will acquire 225 Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (CRV) to replace the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle (ASLAV).

The Phase 2 fleet will include seven variants. On 28 July 2016, Defence announced that BAE Systems Australia and Rheinmetall had been shortlisted to participate in the Risk Mitigation Activity, which is the second stage of the tender evaluation process.

Rheinmetall has offered the Boxer Multi Role Armoured Vehicle integrated with the Rheinmetall Lance turret.

Australian Department of Defence

March 14, 2018

New Vehicles for Australian Army from on Vimeo.

In an article by Matt Young, published on about the selection of the new combat vehicle, a number of details were highlighted.

THE Australian Army is set for a massive overhaul of fighting vehicles in a “discrete” $200 billion reequipment megaproject to inject more power into Australia’s ageing fleet of armed forces — and this is only the beginning.

Australia’s top political military figures have announced the largest purchase in the history of the Australian Army which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said was based on “lethality and survivability”.

The Turnbull Government plans to use the new Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV), known as “The Boxer”, to replace the Army’s current crop of substandard products, the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle, or ASLAV for short.

“We’ve put them in the heat, we’ve put them in the cold, we’ve put them in the wet, we’ve put them in the dry, we’ve shot at them, we’ve tried to blow them up,” Defence Minister Marise Payne said.

The move follows the Army being left forced to use substandard products in combat, threatening the lives of Australian soldiers by using older products not suited to modern day warfare, a security expert has told

“This is a large step up in terms of size and capability from the vehicle they are replacing,” Marcus Hellyer, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said.

“You could technically say that defence has undercapitalised its armoured vehicle fleet for decades.

“The Army got to the point where they couldn’t take ASLAVs any more to Afghanistan because they couldn’t withstand the blast of an improvised explosive device (IED).

“The kinds of vehicles that the Army currently has, the ASLAV, and M113, are just not capable of surviving on a modern battlefield, they can’t survive even in lower threat environments such as Afghanistan.

“We had ASLAVs blown up in Afghanistan and soldiers killed to the point where Army chose not to deploy any more. It didn’t even deploy its M113s to Afghanistan at all.

“The M113 is really a vehicle with a 1950s pedigree, and we still have M113s in the Army today that went to Vietnam. They are a much older technology.

“The Boxer will provide protection against those IEDs as well as rocket propelled grenades.”


Exercise Ocean Explorer 2018: An Update on the Australian Navy


The Second Line of Defense team has been in Australia for the past two weeks conducting interviews and will provide highlights from the Airpower Conference being held this week in Canberra as well as updates and a final report for the Williams Foundation Conference on the shift from the land wars to high intensity warfare.

And later today, we will have a chance to meet with the Chief of the Royal Australian Navy and provide an update from his perspective on the way ahead.

Currently, the Australian Navy is conducting Exercise Ocean Explorer 2018.

According to the Australian Department of Defence:

Two submarines, 12 ships and embarked aircraft are taking part in one of the largest fleet concentration activities, Exercise OCEAN EXPLORER 2018. OCEAN EXPLORER will be carried out over a three-week period off the east coast of Australia, including the Bass Straight, Jervis Bay, Maitland Bay and adjacent sea and air spaces.

Exercuse Ocean Explorer from on Vimeo.

The exercise – designed to develop maritime warfare skills including the operation of sea control task groups – will feature anti-air and anti-submarine warfare, maritime strike and interdiction, maritime advance force operations and command and control.

Australian Department of Defence

March 15, 2018

Last Fall at the Australian Seapower Conference held in October, the Chief of the Royal Australian Navy laid out his thinking about the future of the Navy going forward.

3 October 2017

Chief of Navy Address at Sea Power Conference 2017, Sydney – Service Chief Session

Welcome all to Navy’s Seapower Conference 2017.

For some of you it is welcome back, for others this is a first opportunity to attend this biennial gathering. To friends old and new, some of whom have come from far away to be with us, I welcome your participation in this international naval and maritime forum.

I warmly welcome my international counterparts and their representatives. We operate in partnership with our friends and allies in this region and I look forward to hearing from all of the speakers who can provide insight drawn from their national experiences.

I welcome members of the academic community, those from trade and industry, and those who will be reporting and recording what we say here over the coming days. Your presence ensures that we who are in uniform are not just talking to ourselves, rather, we are engaging with the whole spectrum of maritime knowledge, opinion and wisdom.

I extend a welcome to my fellow service chief, Air Marshal Leo Davies, Chief of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnston and the Chief of Army’s representative, Head of Land Capability, Major General Kathryn Toohey.

The fact that we have all three services and Joint Operations Command represented in this opening session is a reminder that the Navy is an integrated part of the Australian Defence Force and we are increasingly operationally interdependent.

For those of us in uniform, this conference is also a rare opportunity to stop and reflect upon our profession.

Over the next few days we can learn from national and international experts and from our peers, and remind ourselves of the context and rationale for the sea services in which we serve.

So…In this opening session I would like to provide context for the future discussions. In doing so, I need to explain where the RAN is going and what progress has been made in keeping with the Australian governments intent.

When I spoke at the last Sea Power Conference in 2015, Navy was on the cusp of a strategic rebuilding and expansion that with the initial announcement of the government’s commitment to a national, continuous shipbuilding strategy.

Since then there has been clarity about how the Navy is to be rebuilt and expanded and much has been achieved. In early 2016 the Australian Government released a Defence White Paper and this year it followed with a companion Naval Shipbuilding Plan.

These documents outline the government’s vision for Australia’s future naval capability.

As important, they also give fidelity to the shipbuilding and ship sustainment industry by providing a commitment to a permanent naval shipbuilding industry through three distinct lines of investment.

These are:

(1) the investment in the rolling acquisition of new submarines, continuous build of future frigates and minor naval vessels;

(2) the investment in modern shipyard infrastructure, across the two construction shipyards in South Australia and Western Australia; and

(3) the investment in naval shipbuilding workforce growth and skilling initiatives; together with new generation technology and innovation hubs.

As a consequence of these decisions, the government announced that Naval Group will be our international partner to design the 12 Future Submarines. Already, we have formal government to government agreements in place; a functioning design centre has been built in Cherbourg (by Australian trades-people with Australian materials) and the Australian project team is in filling rapidly there.

Meanwhile, the construction site in Osbourne is being secured and yard design is in progress. The project is meeting its milestones.

Concurrently, Navy’s two new tankers have been selected and work will soon commence on their construction – the first ship is expected to be delivered in 2019 and the second in 2020.

Much work has been done on progressing the acquisition of 12 new Offshore Patrol Vessels.

These vessels will provide us with an advanced capability to undertake constabulary missions and be the primary ADF asset for maritime patrol and response duties.

Tender evaluation is complete and a decision expected from Government later this year. Construction of the first two vessels will begin in 2018.

We have also made significant progress on the acquisition of nine Future Frigates. These frigates will be able to conduct a range of missions, with a particular focus on anti-submarine warfare and will incorporate the Australian-developed CEA Phased-Array Radar. We are on schedule to commence construction in 2020.

All of the Seahawk Romeo Helicopters have entered service and are undertaking operations, deployed in ships in the region and beyond.

Both LHDs HMA Ships Adelaide and Canberra have been commissioned and are already proving their utility and versatility with participation in major exercises and deployments this year.

And just last week we commissioned HMAS Hobart – one of the most sophisticated warships ever to be operated by the RAN. She is Aegis fitted, the first in her class with two more to follow and the first destroyer for the RAN since HMAS Brisbane was decommissioned 16 years ago.

The delivery of such new capability has allowed the RAN to revert to its practice of complex Task Group operations. This practice offers strategic utility to government by delivering the agility and responsiveness that is at the heart of our approach to maritime warfare and enables more effects to be achieved against an ever‐growing set of threat scenarios.

This year the Australian Defence Force has successfully completed Talisman Sabre 2017 – it provided us with invaluable task group operational experience and improved our training, readiness and interoperability. It also provided us the opportunity to test and prove the readiness of the LHD HMAS Canberra.

And as we speak the other LHD, HMAS Adelaide is currently leading the Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 Task Group deployed into the South East Asia region.

This deployment will demonstrate the ADF’s Humanitarian and Disaster Relief regional response capability as well as further supporting security and stability in Australia’s near region through bilateral and multilateral engagement, training and capacity building.

Whilst this is not the first such deployment by the RAN in South East Asia it will be the largest coordinated Task Group operation since the early 1980s. And these deployments will become a regular part of the ADFs ongoing commitment to regional security.

Indeed, it is important to note that beyond a commitment to new capability, the Defence White Paper also foreshadows a significant increase in investment in regional engagement – with plans to contribute to maritime security in several ways.

Firstly, with programs like the Pacific Maritime Surveillance Program which will deliver up to 21 patrol boats with long term sustainment to our South West Pacific neighbours to improve maritime awareness in that region.

And secondly, with increased funds for Defence cooperation in the vast array of maritime security fora and exercises that exist to provide stability within the region through the deliberate and disciplined approach to problem solving and by reducing the chance of miscalculation.

But the generation and deployment of self-supporting and sustainable maritime task groups capable of accomplishing the full spectrum of maritime security operations calls for more than just an equipment list.

There are fundamental attributes that a credible fleet needs to demonstrate to allow this to occur.

Over the last few years the Navy has taken great steps forward in the regulated management of seaworthiness within the Fleet. This follows a similar path to the improvement in airworthiness of the aviation force.

We are better managing and sustaining our platforms, infrastructure, communications and information systems, intelligence, and other mission and support systems for our current capabilities. That’s not to say we have it all right but the lessons learned are being applied to the projects that will introduce the future fleet.

We are working to have an integrated, diverse, resilient and deployable workforce that has the skills and competencies to deliver Navy’s warfighting effects.

We are also improving our culture to ensure that it supports an agile, resilient and innovative Navy that actively seeks ways to better deliver our warfighting effects.

As a result, we are participating more regularly in multinational exercises and through expanding our cultural understanding and language capabilities, to understand how we can make more effective and meaningful contributions during those exercises.

This progress gives me great confidence that we are on track to achieve the long term objectives that we have set ourselves to ensure that Navy is seen as a fighting system which is part of a joint warfighting organisation and as a national enterprise.

As you can see we are building a capable, lethal and agile Navy able to fulfil the tasks required of it now and into the future.

A Navy that has the ability to deliver targeted and decisive lethality if government so requires.

A Navy that has the ability to take decisions quickly, to manoeuvre naval force with speed and flexibility, and to enhance survivability by ensuring that our warfighters are able to adapt doctrine and tactics to meet the needs of the moment.

A Navy that can adapt to the ever-changing strategic environment.

Even since the last Sea Power Conference in 2015 there have been unpredictable shifts in our strategic environment.

The unprecedented missile and nuclear weapons testing conducted by North Korea, the impact of the South China Sea Arbitration and the increased possibly for miscalculations which could result in armed confrontations at sea.

The shifting of old alliances; the rapid rise in global terrorist networks in South East Asia; changes in migration patterns; the increased activities of international criminal syndicates whether it be from co-ordinated illegal fishing enterprises to smuggling illegal migrants.

These are just a few.

And so we seek a Navy that has the ability to maintain our sovereignty, defend our territorial integrity, and protect our national interests wherever they may be threatened – regionally and indeed globally from the Middle East across the Indian Ocean, through the South China Sea, and in the Pacific.

And because we know that no country can truly expect to act alone to solve the dynamic maritime challenges which are faced in our region, we seek to build a Navy that can work with and support our neighbours, friends and allies.

It is working with our neighbours to maintain and advance the internationally-recognised, rules-based global order that has been so conducive to ensuring maritime stability, and open and reliable maritime trade in our region.

We all have a vested interest in regional peace and stability, unimpeded trade, and freedom of navigation and overflight in our region.

Sea Power Conference 2017 affords us the opportunity to reflect on the work that has been done over the past two years: to consider if our current thinking about what the Navy of the future needs to be is accurate; and to develop the ideas and concepts that inform our future thinking and planning all while meeting the current and future challenges of the dynamic regional environment in which we operate.


Green Knights and USS Wasp on Patrol




Video by Petty Officer 3rd Class Levingston M Lewis
Commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet

An F-35B lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) as part of a routine patrol in the Indo-Pacific region.

Pilots with the “Green Knights” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, are scheduled to conduct a series of qualification flights on Wasp over a multi-day period.

The Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group is conducting a regional patrol meant to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capabilities and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept.

And in a story written by Ben Werner and published by USNI News on March 8, 2018, the perspective of Commandant Neller regarding the new amphibious capability was highlighted.

The head of the Marine Corps said introducing the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to American’s amphibious forces is key to the service’s future fights from the sea.

Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said the Marine F-35B variant will prove invaluable as the service shifts away from the ground-based conflicts in Iraq and land-locked Afghanistan back to its traditional role as a sea fighting force.

The fighter’s extended range and data collection capabilities can provide targeting information from far beyond the current range of amphibious warships and give Marines better eyes on the battlefield.

“We have to be able to survive, as part of sea control, sea denial,” Neller said.

“We’re a part of the fleet, we’re always going to need protection, but it will be good if we can protect ourselves.”

Neller was speaking Thursday at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 2018 Expeditionary Warfare Division annual meeting. His comments capped a week of testimony Neller and members of Marine Corps leadership team made on Capitol Hill.

On Monday, the first F-35 fighters deployed aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp(LHD-1). The patrol is the first step to a future of not just supporting Marines ashore, but also more fully integrating into operations at sea, Neller said.

Speaking of the current F-35 deployment on Wasp, and hinting at the aircraft’s potential, Neller said, “A lot of people are watching, a lot of people are paying attention to this.”

The reason Neller considers this deployment historic is because the F-35 has the potential to answer a key strategic and persistent question sea forces always face.

“What is the amphibious ready group going to do to see beyond the horizon?” Neller asked. “How are we going to see them and not let them see us?”

The full capabilities of the F-35 working with warships have not yet been developed. But when linked, the F-35 has the potential to send targeting data and other intelligence to ships far off in the distance. Neller suggested industry members in the NDIA audience could possibly provide solutions to improve aviation platform communications….

For example, in an internal research and development test Lockheed Martin used the sensors from an F-35 to prove the fighter could provide targeting information to a ship-launched Raytheon Standard Missile 6.



An Update on the CH-53K: March 2018


Recently, Deputy Commandant of Aviation, Lt. General “Stick” Rudder testified before the Congress on the coming of the CH-53K and its importance to the USMC and its approach to combat operations.

“This aircraft is mechanically and technologically amazing. It fits directly into the National Defense Strategy as far as heavy lift for distributed operations in whatever theater you’re talking about.

“We’ve got about 800 hours on the airplane right now in the test sequence and we are working through all the reliability issues early on.

“We have frontloaded reliability and spares of this airplane. It is meeting quite — when I say it gets the Marine and naval force off our amphibious ships or wherever you are in a manner which cannot be accomplished by any other aircraft in DOD.

“We have KPP for 110 nautical miles lifting up 27,000 pounds. We’ve met that. As a matter of fact, we just lifted 36,000 pounds with this airplane the other day. That’s the highest.

“Now, I won’t want to argue with our Russian counterparts because they’ve got a helicopter that might have lifted more than that, but in the free world that’s the largest lift of any helicopter that we’ve done.

“So it is performing to that level that allows us as we look at the things that we are buying like the JLTV, and we just lifted one the other day that was 19,000 pounds. We’re able to lift that with ease.

“We’re able to dual lift Humvees, full up armored Humvees. So that capability allows maneuver on the battlefield.

“I think another thing I’ll say just for the logistics experts in here is we built that thing to be able to slide in 463L pallets. Those are the standard DOD pallets, so you can park a C-17, C-130, no tail-to-tail with this thing.

“You just roll pallets off right into the back of this helicopter and you can’t do that with any other system….

“It’s composite. It is fly by wire. It is one of those helicopters you can fly hands off and it’s really going to help us in another area that we have challenges with over the years.

“That’s a degraded visual environment zero visual conditions in the desert. So that stability, that helicopter will help us greatly in that environment.”

A recent press release from Lockheed Martin highlighted the CH-53K and its capabilities as well.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., March 7, 2018

 The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion completed an external lift of a 36,000-pound payload at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center, achieving a maximum weight on the single center point cargo hook.

This milestone marks completion of critical flight envelope expansion activities for the CH-53K as Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company prepares to deliver the first aircraft to the U.S. Marine Corps this year.

The CH-53K lifted the external load of 36,000 lbs. into a hover followed by flight demonstrating satisfactory handling qualities and structural margins.  The gross weight of the aircraft topped out at just over 91,000 lbs., making this the heaviest helicopter ever flown by Sikorsky.

“The successful completion of these last critical envelope expansion tests further demonstrates the maturity of the CH-53K aircraft,” said Dr. Michael Torok, Sikorsky Vice President, Marine Corps Systems. “We look forward to bringing this unique and exceptional heavy lift capability to the United States Marine Corps and our international customers.”

 Prior to the 36,000-lb. lift, the CH-53K lifted various external payloads up to 27,000 lbs. including a Joint Light Tacticle Vehicle (JLTV).

The CH-53K can carry a 27,000 lb. external load over 110 nautical miles in high/hot conditions, which is more than triple the external load carrying capacity of the legacy CH-53E aircraft.

CH-53K Heavy Lift Capability from on Vimeo.

Other flight envelope accomplishments include tethered hover demonstrating flight speeds to 200 knots, angle of bank to 60 degrees, takeoffs and landings from sloped surfaces up to 12 degrees, external load auto-jettison, and gunfire testing.

 “The payload capability of this helicopter is unmatched, triple that of its predecessor and better than any other heavy lift helicopter in production,” said Col. Hank Vanderborght, U.S. Marine Corps Program Manager for the Naval Air Systems Command’s Heavy Lift Helicopters Program.

“The CH-53K program continues on pace to deploy this incredible heavy lift capability to our warfighters.”

 The CH-53K is also garnering international interest. Rheinmetall and Sikorsky recently signed a strategic teaming agreement to offer the CH-53K for Germany’s new heavy lift helicopter competition.

Additional teammates will be announced in the coming weeks leading up to the aircraft’s debut at the ILA Berlin Air Show in April.  

In the Fall of 2017, we interviewed the government’s chief test pilot and got his perspective on what the coming of the CH-53K means for the USMC:

The CH-53K is in the final phase of getting ready to enter into service.

The final phase of preparation includes the wrap up of testing at West Palm Beach, the conclusion of testing at Pax River, and the validation of maintenance procedures at the base, which will first receive the new aircraft, New River…..

In a discussion with LtCol Jonathan Morel, USMC, the CH-53K Government Chief Test Pilot and the first Marine to fly the CH-53K, during a visit to West Palm Beach on October 26, 2017, we discussed how the test process was readying the aircraft for its operational role.

In particular, we discussed the involvement of VMX-1, formerly VMX-22, in the process.

VMX-22 was set up to prepare the Osprey for its first combat engagements and has been a key player in the evolution of that aircraft. VMX-22 was based at New River, where I visited it several times, including flying on the Osprey with them as well.

The unit has been relocated to Yuma Marine Corps Air Station where they work closely with other key elements, such as MAWTS (Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One) to work not only the evolution of the new air assets but their integration into the evolution of the MAGTF.

LtCol Morel highlighted that the Integrated Test Team has included Sikorsky, the US Government, notably NAVAIR, and VMX-22 and then VMX-1.

This meant that the approach to preparation of the aircraft for service has built into it greater confidence in the aircraft not just meeting the test requirements set by the buyer, but the operational requirements of the user.

This means as well that the aircraft getting ready to join the operational force is not a prototype but a combat ready asset.

“We have already done the first operational assessment last year and this assessment fed into the milestone C decision. This operational assessment was done by VMX-1.

“We have been focused not simply on meeting the government set requirements but assessing whether we are on track to meet all our Key Performance Parameters (KPPs) as well.

“We flew the aircraft with an all government crew which included an operational test pilot from VMX-1 and myself to treat it more or less like an operational aircraft within any known constraints as part of the input to the Milestone C decision.

“We’re already doing the operational testers job to a large degree. And so, we actually end up with a lot of overlap on that regard with the operational testers and delivering a more combat ready aircraft.”

Milestone A is the process of initiating technology maturation and risk reduction.

Milestone B initiates engineering and manufacturing development.

Milestone C initiates production and deployment of a program.

LtCol Morel added that “everything that we’ve done for years, everything that we evaluate on the aircraft and looked at the aircraft, has been through the lens of, how is the aircraft going to work for us?

“If I were to leave this job and go back to the operational squadron with this aircraft, how is it going to help do the things that we need to do and how is it going to help us do them better?”

I then asked him to answer his own question.

And his answer underscored how the core function of heavy lift, which is to deliver Marines to the fight and to sustain them in the fight and to move them out of the fight, was going to improve with this aircraft.

The mission of a heavy lift helicopter for a ground force is pretty straightforward – it is to move people, equipment and supplies to where they need to be.

“I have to be able to get people and materiel to the area of interest in a timely manner and then I have to get them in safely and extract them when the time comes safely and securely as well.”

Reliability and availability of aircraft is a key consideration, and one which is a serious problem for the legacy fleet.

The K will be a much more reliable aircraft with the new maintainability built in as well as being built with modern systems and materials.

The engines and digital management systems onboard the aircraft will allow the Marines to operate the aircraft in extreme heat and altitude environments and carry up to three times as much usable payload with the aircraft.

“We’ll be able to go faster, we’ll be able to get there more reliably because of the avionic systems that are helping us get from point A to point B.

“But at the end of the day, we’re carrying more stuff.

“That means we’re using fewer aircraft to get there, I have a smaller footprint, I can act more distributed, I don’t need six aircraft in order to move this amount of stuff. I can do it with a section of two aircraft.

“Or I have to make fewer round trips back to the ship. I can minimize exposure, and build up combat power faster. To me, that’s what payload and speed give us.”

The safety aspect was underscored throughout the discussion.

LtCol Morel emphasized that with the E to perform safely required hundreds of hours of training and deploying the right people to get the job done.

“But that is not a recipe for predictable success.

“The fly by wire system delivers levels of automation and control, which provide for much great built in safety performance capabilities.

“The aircraft enables us to do the mission properly as opposed to waving off, taking several chances to get in, not being able to land where I wanted to because there is too much of a dust cloud and I have to land over there and the troops are scattered throughout the area of interest.

“With this aircraft, I can deliver the load the exact spot required, safely, and every single time.

“And that’s because of the fly by wire system of the aircraft.

“We can be in quickly and out.

“Quite honestly, other than getting aircraft out of the hanger and onto the flight line ready to launch, the hardest thing we do is land our cargo and troops in the desired location under any conditions.”

He was asked: What was your single most pleasant surprise operating the aircraft?

“How well the aircraft flies itself.

“We say that in the simulator, but what you get in the sim is what we are seeing as we test and operate the aircraft.

“The position-hold capability of the aircraft is amazing.

“It’s unbelievable to me how perfectly still the aircraft sits on a normal ambient, normal weather day outside in the hover mode.

“There’s not a pilot out there who can actually hover better than what the aircraft’s doing by itself right now.

“The aircraft can hover over a spot, just perfectly still.

“The guys are hooking up the load, giving you the thumbs up. It’s really unbelievable.

“This means that the tasks which we need to do that requires a steady platform, whether it’s taking off or landing on the ship, coming in to pick up external cargo and dropping off cargo in tight spaces or simply stabilizing the aircraft and getting on the ground quickly to drop the ramp instead of wasting time trying to stabilize, all of these tasks will be enhanced by the capabilities of the K.”