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RAAF/Army Relations - History

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RAAF/Army Relations - History

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Old 19th Jul 2010, 03:46
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RAAF/Army Relations - History

Another thread touched on RAAF/Army relations so I thought I'd put this up by way of enlightening, and perhaps generating civil discussion, among the audience. I think overall it's an even handed view. The Mods may wish to kick it into the History/Nostalgia forum.

The following is a paper written by Wing Commander Martin Sharp who was commissioned at RAF College Cranwell in 1980, and, following navigator training was posted to F4 Phantoms in 23 Squadron at RAF Wattisham.

He subsequently transferred to helicopters and was posted to 18 Squadron flying Chinooks at RAF Gutersloh in Germany, where he served on a number of detachments, including two tours in the Falkland Islands.

His next posting was to the Tactics and Trials Flight at RAF Odiham where he flew both Chinook and Puma helicopters. On promotion to Squadron Leader, he was posted back to 18 Squadron in Germany. During the 1991 Gulf War, he served with the Special Forces, flying a number of operational missions into Iraq, for which he received a Mentioned In Dispatches.

Following his tour as a Flight Commander on 18 Squadron, he was posted to the Ministry of Defence where he served as the desk officer responsible for the reintroduction of the Chinook HC Mk2 into operational service following its midlife upgrade programme.

In 1996 he was a student at the Royal Australian Air Force Command and Staff College in Canberra, and was subsequently awarded a fellowship at the Royal Australian Air Force Air Power Studies Centre, studying command and control arrangements for battlefield helicopters.

He was posted to command the UK support helicopter force supporting NATO operations in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia before assuming command of No. 7 Squadron operating Chinooks from RAF Odiham.

INTRODUCTION


The structure of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has much in common with that of the UK armed forces, albeit on a smaller scale. Moreover, Australia shares many aspects of its military heritage with Britain, having fought as an ally in both World Wars and during a number of regional campaigns. Close links have been maintained between the armed forces of both countries through mechanisms such as the American, British, Canadian, Australian (ABCA) Standardisation Programme, and officer exchange programmes. It is not surprising, therefore, that the development of helicopter forces in Australia is similar to that in the UK. However, a significant departure was made in 1986 when the Australian Government decided to transfer control of battlefield helicopters from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to the Army. The process of transfer could be seen as a precedent for the UK’s battlefield helicopters and there may be much to learn from the experience.

Accordingly, this chapter traces the development of the helicopter forces in the ADF, highlighting factors leading to the decision to transfer ownership. To set the scene, early developments of aviation in Australia are first outlined, followed by an overview of the introduction of helicopters to service. Developments in the helicopter forces of both Army Aviation and the RAAF are then explored, before highlighting some of the key issues that emerged with their operational employment in the Vietnam War. Factors leading to the decision to transfer the helicopters from the RAAF and the process of transfer are then analysed, before looking at some recent developments. Finally, the current structure of Army Aviation is described, along with proposals for its future development.

EARLY DEVELOPMENTS


Inter-Service Relations


Military aviation in Australia can trace its roots to the establishment of the Central Flying School and Aviation Corps at Point Cook in Victoria before World War I. Both units formed part of the Army. During the War, units of the Australian Flying Corps operated with the Imperial Forces of the British Empire in the role of army cooperation. Many Australians also served with notable distinction in the (British) Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). After the War, the Minister for Defence appointed a committee under the chairmanship the Hon G. Swinburne to report on the needs of military aviation in Australia, no doubt mindful of the formation of the RAF as an independent air force in the UK in 1918. The Swinburne Committee recommended the establishment of a single Australian Air Corps, to be administered by an Air Board (comprised of members of the Naval and Military Boards), but with the wings of the Corps allotted to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the Army. Significantly, one of the key committee members, Major General Legge, who was also the Chief of the General Staff (CGS) at the time, dissented from the committee’s recommendation, contending that ‘unified control of naval and military aviation was unsuitable for Australia’. He argued that a joint Service arrangement would be unworkable and that Australia should have two separate air branches, one each under the control of the Army and RAN. However, Legge’s views did not prevail and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was established in 1921. However, during the early years of its existence, the RAAF was explicitly subservient to the Navy and the Army.

From 1921 until 1948, the RAAF remained the major supplier of Australian air power, albeit as a junior partner to the other two Services. During World War II, joint operations between the RAAF and both the Army and the RAN proved to be highly effective, especially in the South-West Pacific Theatre. Nonetheless, there were tensions between the Services, especially over the control of air power. However, as air power entered the nuclear and jet age in the post-war era, the RAAF enjoyed new status and was no longer subservient to the other two Services. Perhaps inevitably, its focus tended towards developing capabilities to conduct independent air operations, almost to the exclusion of roles in support of the Army and the RAN. The RAAF’s lack of attention to the battlefield support role was a considerable frustration to the Army, and led to tensions in Army/Air Force relations over command and control of battlefield aircraft. Later, these tensions came to the fore in arguments over the command and control of battlefield helicopters.

Introduction of Helicopters


The Australian defence department first considered using helicopters for military applications in 1943. The Army stated a requirement for 25 helicopters to be used in the South-West Pacific Theatre in situations where ordinary aircraft could not operate. The tasks for helicopters envisaged by the Army included delivering urgent supplies, transporting personnel to forward positions and evacuating wounded. It was agreed that the Air Board would develop helicopter requirements based on Army and Navy needs, and then manage helicopter production and introduction to service. In due course, the Air Board arranged to acquire six Sikorsky R-5 helicopters from the US under lend-lease arrangements, but the war ended before the helicopters were delivered and so the order was cancelled. Nonetheless, the RAAF recognised that there might still be a place for helicopters, and in 1946 an order was placed for an American built Sikorsky S-51, principally to investigate the use of helicopters in civil emergencies. However, the Air Board also wished to evaluate the suitability of helicopters in support of mobile land warfare and maritime operations. The first S-51 arrived in Australia in 1947 and entered Service with the RAAF, soon proving its value in activities such as medical evacuation, bushfire fighting, forestry patrols and search and rescue. Two more S-51s were purchased in 1951, but plans to form a larger helicopter force and develop other roles for the helicopter became moribund for many years, perhaps reflecting the low priority afforded to these roles by the RAAF.

Meanwhile, the Army continued to feel frustrated by the lack of air support provided by the RAAF, and sought to gain control of its own air arm. In doing so, it was no doubt encouraged by developments in the RAN, which formed its own Fleet Air Arm in 1948 to operate the fixed-wing aircraft aboard its recently acquired aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney. To provide the personnel for its air arm, the RAN employed ex-Royal Naval aircrews and began training its own navy pilots, rejecting an offer from the RAAF to provide the aircrew. Meanwhile, RAAF arguments concerning the benefits of centralisation of air assets, maintenance facilities and training were rejected in favour of naval aviation being wholly staffed and controlled by ‘navy men’. By the time the RAN took delivery of a second carrier (HMAS Melbourne), Australia was operating two air forces. The establishment of Australia’s third air force was a more incremental process.

The first step came in 1951 when the Air Force agreed that Army pilots should fly light aircraft on Air Observation Post (Air OP) duties. At the time, the RAAF considered that the skills of its highly trained and specialised pilots would be ‘wasted’ on light aircraft. It was also agreed that it would be more effective to teach Army pilots to fly light aircraft than to train RAAF pilots in the intricacies of land warfare. The policy statement on Army aircraft stipulated that the RAAF would continue to be responsible for acquiring and maintaining the aircraft, and that the Army would not establish its own aviation organisation. Accordingly, the RAAF formed an Air OP Flight equipped with six Austers to support Army tasks and to train Army pilots. However, the unit, which had only very limited resources, was hard pressed to meet its commitments and the Army considered the level of support it provided to be totally inadequate.

The Air Board acknowledged that the Army had a legitimate requirement for 18 Air OP aircraft and that the Austers were obsolete, but refused to fund more than eight Cessna 180 aircraft as replacements, despite their relatively insignificant cost. Subsequent requests from the Army to supplement the new aircraft with helicopters were simply ignored. The RAAF’s apparent indifference to the Army’s needs no doubt added to the Army’s determination to wrest full responsibility for these aircraft from the Air Force. In the meantime, to supplement the support provided by the Air OP Flight, the Army established the 1st Aviation Company in 1957, operating chartered civil aircraft to be flown by its own pilots.

In 1957, the Army presented a case for assuming full responsibility for its own light aircraft support. It was argued that light aircraft were essential to the functioning of the Army, and that, consequently, the Army should be responsible for the ‘procurement, operation and maintenance of such fixed wing and rotary-wing aircraft as required’. The Army cited precedents in the US, where the army had operated organic light aircraft for many years, and the UK, where responsibility for Air OP and light liaison aircraft had recently been transferred from the RAAF to the Army. Clearly, the Army felt that it could do a better job of meeting the requirement than the Air Force; given the failure of the Air Force to respond to the Army’s needs at the time, this conclusion was perhaps justifiable. In some respects, it may have suited the RAAF to be relieved of the responsibility of providing this type of support, but as the Minister for Air, Athol Townley, pointed out, the real issue should have been whether the duplication of air effort was appropriate for Australia. Moreover, the creation of yet another air arm ran contrary to the Air Force doctrinal principles of ‘unity’ and ‘centralisation’. However, it would appear that the Air Force leadership did not pursue these arguments.

Army Aviation Formed

Following the precedents set in the US and UK, approval was given for the Army to own and operate light aircraft up to 4,000 pounds all-up-weight and in limited roles. These criteria were intended to prevent the Army expanding into other air power roles such as troop transport, resupply and armed close air support.

In December 1960 the Army established No. 16 Army Light Aircraft Squadron to fulfil its new roles. The unit was formed at RAAF Amberley in Queensland from the nucleus of the Air OP Flight, and was equipped with Cessna 180 aircraft and Bell 47 Sioux helicopters. At the time, the Army lacked experience in flying supervision and technical expertise in aircraft maintenance, and therefore remained dependent on RAAF support in these areas. The RAAF also retained responsibility for a number of other specialised activities such as procuring aircraft, maintenance standards, technical publications, flying safety, accident investigation, meteorological services and air traffic control. Although this arrangement was brought on by necessity, it was also highly efficient since it avoided the need for the Army to duplicate these functions, thus saving the attendant overhead costs. However, the RAAF was not willing to support this arrangement indefinitely and sought to ‘get [its] technical people back onto RAAF tasks’. Lacking confidence in the Air Force’s willingness to meet its needs, the Army was also keen to assume full responsibility for its air arm. Consequently, it was agreed that the RAAF would train sufficient Army technicians to enable them to take over RAAF functions, and from 1964, the RAAF began to extricate its personnel from Army Aviation. Nevertheless, the RAAF retained responsibility for airworthiness, engineering standards, aviation supplies and flight safety management.

Army aviation continued to grow, and in 1966, the Army established the 1 st Aviation Regiment, which comprised three aviation squadrons. Two years later the Army Aviation Corps was formed, and in 1969 a new Army Aviation Centre was established at Oakey, a former RAAF station about 100 kilometres from RAAF Amberley. The Centre was intended to be the hub of Army aviation, where soldier pilots could be trained to ‘think and appreciate situations in an Army manner’. The move marked a symbolic split of Army Aviation from RAAF influence, but inevitably involved considerable overhead costs. The fact that the Army found it necessary to indulge in this additional expenditure is perhaps an indication of the divergence of doctrine between the RAAF and the Army at the time. It certainly seems clear that the Army considered the ethos of the Air Force to be incompatible with its own needs.

Another distinction between the Army and the Air Force at the time was in their approach to the selection of pilots. Central to the RAAF’s ethos is that professional mastery of the air environment demands that pilots be employed as full-time professionals. This is considered necessary to enable aviators to acquire the depth of expertise needed for planning, directing and executing the application of air power. Conversely, the Army considered that a background in traditional Army disciplines was essential for aircrew involved in air/land warfare and that aviation skills could be acquired as a secondary skill. Consequently, the Army selected most of its pilots from other corps to serve for a limited time in flying duties before resuming their mainstream careers.

Later though, the high cost of training pilots made this policy unsustainable, and the Army began recruiting pilots directly into the Aviation Corps on short service commissions. This change of policy also tacitly acknowledged the advantages of employing pilots as full-time professional aviators; moreover, since helicopters pilots were now recruited directly into flying appointments, it undermined claims that helicopter pilots required a professional army background.

RAAF Helicopters


In 1959, the RAAF raised a requirement for helicopters in the search and rescue role with casualty evacuation and light liaison considered secondary tasks; evidently, Army support was not paramount in the RAAF’s considerations for these aircraft. However, when the Government approved the purchase of eight Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters for the RAAF, their role was changed to search and rescue and Army support. Nonetheless, when No. 9 Squadron was reformed in 1962 to operate the Iroquois, it was designated as a search and rescue squadron by the RAAF, but it soon became apparent that Army support would be the main role of the Iroquois. A second Iroquois squadron was established in 1964, deploying to RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia later that year.

In addition to the Iroquois, the Army sought larger helicopters to improve its tactical mobility. In 1962, the Cabinet approved the purchase of eight heavy lift helicopters; however, following several delays in the procurement process, it was many years before these aircraft were actually delivered. Initially, the Army’s requirement for heavy lift helicopters was based on the need to support dispersed units in its new Pentropic structure. The Pentropic structure, which had been designed for jungle war fighting in the tropical regions to Australia’s north, was introduced to the Australian Army following the development of the Pentomic structure in the US Army in the early 1960s. One of the requirements of the Pentropic structure was to increase the mobility of ground troops, and it was thought that this requirement could best be met by large helicopters. Consequently, helicopters came to be seen by the Army as fundamental to its conduct of land operations. However, the RAAF, which was responsible for introducing these aircraft into service, had other priorities. At the time, the RAAF faced the significant challenge of introducing several new fixed-wing aircraft into service, including the F-111, Mirage, P-3 Orion and C-130 Hercules. Consequently, it probably did not relish the added complication of introducing large and potentially complex helicopters to its fleet. As procurement of the heavy lift helicopters was repeatedly set back, the Army accused the Air Force of dragging its feet over the procurement and no doubt felt that the RAAF was again failing to meet its legitimate needs. However, the difference of opinion over the priority for helicopter procurement was probably indicative of a more fundamental failure to establish a joint approach to requirements.

Nevertheless, as the RAAF Historian has noted, the RAAF should have strived to support the Army in the way the Army wanted, not the way the RAAF found least troublesome. It was against this background of poor inter-Service relations that the first RAAF helicopters deployed to Vietnam War in 1966.

Vietnam

In 1966, eight Iroquois from No. 9 Squadron were deployed to Vung Tau in South Vietnam to support the 1st Australian Task Force (ATF) operating throughout Phuoc Tuy Province. The RAAF appear to have been reluctant to deploy the helicopters, which were ill prepared for the task facing them, lacking armoured seats, door gun mounts and body armour for the crews. Moreover, it appears that the RAAF hierarchy did not fully appreciate the seriousness of the task faced by ground forces in Vietnam, a view given credence by the terms under which the RAAF helicopters deployed. When the RAAF helicopters were deployed, senior Air Staff in Canberra were keen to see that they were not put to undue risk and issued a directive placing strict limitations on their employment. For example, RAAF helicopters were authorised to lift troops only ‘from a secure staging area to a landing zone that is relatively secure and where enemy resistance is not expected’, and ‘from an area of operation to a secure staging area when enemy resistance is anticipated only on the last lift from the landing zone’.

When Australian Army troops found themselves in difficulty requiring helicopter support, the RAAF helicopter squadron commander was placed in the invidious position of trying to meet the legitimate demands of local Army commanders without compromising his orders from the Air Staff. In a wider sense, instances of blurred lines of command and micro-management by remote authorities came to typify the Vietnam War, and may have been a factor in the ultimate failure of American intervention.

The Army also operated its own aircraft in Vietnam, including six Bell 47 Sioux helicopters and Cessna 180 fixed-wing aircraft from 161 Reconnaissance Flight. Army aircraft were fully integrated into the operations of 1ATF and based at Nui Dat alongside 1ATF headquarters. The Flight had a number of RAAF personnel on its strength, but some of them seemed less than happy to be serving with an Army unit; an RAAF officer who visited the airmen noted: ‘the reaction of the airmen to field conditions has at the outset been disappointing.’ It seems that the airmen were ill prepared for their task and their reaction to the conditions probably did little to engender the RAAF to the Army.

Relations between 9 Squadron and the task force during the first three months of operations in Vietnam have been described as bitter, with the task force commander claiming that the RAAF seemed to lack urgency in their conduct of operations and failed to act appropriately to orders. Some went further, describing the relationship between the RAAF and Army as one of ‘conflict, friction, antagonism, ill will and lack of cooperation’ and as ‘very, very bad’. One issue typifying the difference of outlook was the location of 9 Squadron. The task force commander wanted the Squadron based forward at Nui Dat alongside the task force headquarters, but the RAAF refused to move from Vung Tau. The RAAF’s reluctance to move may have been partially motivated by the difficulty of servicing the helicopters at night at Nui Dat, where it was forbidden to use lights because of the threat of enemy fire. However, the fact that RAAF personnel enjoyed relatively comfortable accommodation at Vung Tau probably fuelled perceptions in the Army that the RAAF was reluctant to become fully engaged in the ground war.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 03:49
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Since Army helicopters operated at Nui Dat, apparently without difficulty, the RAAF’s case may have seemed unconvincing to some. Whatever the merits of the RAAF’s case, it should have been up to the operational commander to make such decisions and the failure of the RAAF to respond to the Army’s requirements did not help its case for retaining control of the helicopters.

To improve liaison with the task force, the senior RAAF officer from Vung Tau, Group Captain Raw, relocated to the task force headquarters and established an air transport operations centre. However, Group Captain Raw was inexperienced in air/land operations and his relationship with the commander of the ATF was strained. In contrast to the poor relations at headquarters level, however, 9 Squadron established strong rapport with a number of Army units and, despite an inauspicious start, gained a high reputation for its helicopter operations during the war. In particular, relations between 9 Squadron and members of the Australian Special Air Service (SAS) have been described as especially close. The courage and bravery of the RAAF helicopter pilots was widely recognised, notably during the Battle of Long Tan, when they flew urgent supplies to beleaguered Australian Army troops in appalling weather conditions and in the midst of an intense small-arms battle. It is notable that this action, which may have been vital to the success of the battle, was in clear contravention of the Air Staff directive. Nonetheless, damaging rumours about the failure of the RAAF helicopters to support the Army persisted and became accepted as conventional Army wisdom. This could be explained by the environment of strained inter-Service relations, in which any isolated incidents of inadequate support by the RAAF could be taken out of context and used by the Army as leverage in wider political battles.

To meet the demands of the war, the RAAF acquired more helicopters and the number of Iroquois on 9 Squadron was doubled. The rapid expansion of the RAAF’s helicopter fleet required a significant increase in the number of pilots and technicians to support the increased flying effort. As a relatively large air organisation, the RAAF was well placed to absorb the expansion by drawing on other parts of the Service; nonetheless, it had to rely on the supply of pilots from the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the RAN for a short time. In fact, the RAN had already established a helicopter flight in Vietnam, operating with the US Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company.

Many ATF operations were also supported by US Army helicopter units and inevitably comparisons were sometimes drawn between the RAAF and the US Army. With a huge fleet of helicopters at its disposal, the US Army was willing to endure losses at a rate that could not have been sustained by a relatively small military force like that of Australia; indeed, many professional airmen considered the US Army’s use of helicopters in Vietnam to be profligate. Nonetheless, the US Army’s wholesale exploitation of helicopters no doubt encouraged some in the Australian Army that there was much to be gained by taking full ownership of the helicopters. Not all comparisons were in the US Army’s favour however. One soldier contrasted the difference between flying in US Army helicopters, flown by young warrant officer pilots, and RAAF helicopters:

There was a remarkable difference in flying US air as opposed to RAAF air. The RAAF had officer pilots and the aircraft looked reasonably serviceable. The choppers we clambered into [US Army] looked tatty and well worn. There were no seats and we sat on the floor of the Iroquois, linking our arms together and praying we wouldn’t fall out where there was normally a door.

Another issue that created friction between the Services was the arming of helicopters. RAAF helicopter operations were sometimes supported by US Army gunship helicopters (modified UH-1 Iroquois), but coordination of gunship missions was difficult and the arrangement was not always entirely satisfactory. Pending acquisition of an Australian helicopter gunship capability, 9 Squadron instituted local modification of its helicopters to provide an interim capability. Suitable armaments, including forward-firing mini-guns, rocket launchers and door-mounted machine guns, were ‘borrowed’ from the US Army and successfully installed on the Iroquois by RAAF technicians. The modifications were very successful and increased the capability of 9 Squadron, but the Army and some members of the RAAF sought a more potent gunship capability in the form of the Bell AH-1 Cobra. The Army presented a cogent case in favour of the Cobra, but the Air Staff insisted that the modified Iroquois were satisfactory. The RAAF’s willingness to accept a second rate solution for its helicopter requirements was in stark contrast to its attitude towards fixed-wing aircraft, where the need to always acquire leading edge technology had been firmly established. Although the gunship order was later cancelled, the RAAF’s attitude towards Army requirements no doubt added to the Army’s dissatisfaction with helicopter support from the RAAF.

The 1970s and 80s

By the mid-1970s, the RAAF’s fleet of helicopters had grown to two and a half squadrons of UH-1 Iroquois and a squadron of 12 Boeing CH-47 Chinooks, all designated primarily in Army support roles. However, although helicopters formed a significant force within the RAAF, expertise in helicopter operations tended to become diluted in the RAAF’s broader command structure, with no centralised agency to coordinate the operation of helicopters or develop operational doctrine. During normal operations, command and control was exercised through the Air Officer Commanding Operational Command (later Air Command) and through air base commanders, who usually had a background in fast-jet operations and little personal experience of helicopter operations. Moreover, because helicopters were relatively new to the RAAF, there was no depth of experience in helicopter operations among senior RAAF officers at the time. Consequently, the helicopter force failed to gain significant advocacy at senior levels in the RAAF. Command and control was improved later when the helicopters became part of the Tactical Transport Group (TTG) within Air Command when the RAAF was restructured to form Force Element Groups (FEGs). However, it is notable that while all other FEGs were commanded by an Air Commodore (‘One Star’ commander), the TTG was commanded by a Group Captain, reinforcing the perception that the RAAF afforded a lower status to helicopters within its organisation.

Peacetime arrangements for command and control of RAAF helicopters was similar to those for other forms of tactical air support. Army units requiring helicopter support would bid through the Army chain of command to Land Command, which would then submit requests for helicopter support to Air Command, which in turn tasked the helicopter squadrons. Liaison was arranged through RAAF air liaison officers established at brigade and divisional level in the Army, and through Army ground liaison officers at command and squadron level in the RAAF. During operations, it was envisaged that helicopters would be assigned to the commander of the Joint Operational Deployment Force, with Operational Control exercised through the commander of the Tactical Air Support Force, an appointment filled by the officer commanding the Tactical Transport Group. Some Army officers felt that they lacked adequate control of the battlefield helicopters and it may be that the RAAF did not always vest sufficient control in the operational commander. Post exercise reports criticised the bureaucratic processes for arranging air support and the remoteness of air headquarters. Commenting on the control of air power generally, one Chief of the Air Staff later conceded:

Too often in the past, the Air Force has been reluctant to grant the level of command the operational situation and the commander’s directives required. Such reluctance has no place in the ADF; in military operations, blurred or cross-lines of command too often culminate in disasters. … Decentralising execution means a devolution of responsibility and authority to a level of the operating elements .

On occasions, the attitude of RAAF pilots may also have caused frustration for Army commanders. Army officers often cite instances where, at the end of a day’s training in the field, RAAF pilots would fly to a motel for the night rather than stay in an Army tent. RAAF claims that such accommodation was necessary to provide ‘mandatory aircrew rest conditions’ were undermined when pilots regularly appeared the next morning suffering the effects of a heavy night out. Moreover, the RAAF’s tendency to support its own requirements (rations, transport, accommodation etc) during deployments may also have antagonised Army opinion and created an impression that RAAF ‘didn’t know how to operate in the field’. There were also shortcomings in the training of RAAF helicopter pilots, who were not provided formal instruction in Army concepts of land warfare; however, once on the squadron, regular training exercises with the Army ensured that helicopter pilots soon acquired the necessary level of knowledge. Indeed, it has been claimed that RAAF helicopter pilots who spent a major portion of their career in the Army support role became the ADF’s experts in airmobile operations.

By the 1980s, Army support had become accepted as the primary task for RAAF helicopters, but they were also involved in a wide range of other operations, including assisting in national emergencies and maintaining a detachment in support of the Multi-National Force in the Sinai Desert. By the mid-1980s there was general recognition that a new utility helicopter was needed to meet the Army’s operational requirements for battlefield support. This led to the Department of Defence initiating the procurement of Sikorsky S-70A Blackhawks for the RAAF in 1984, primarily to meet the Army’s requirements for battlefield mobility. As the Service responsible for operating and supporting the aircraft, the RAAF set down most of the detailed specifications for the aircraft, specifying a much higher level of sophistication for the helicopters than the UH-60A Blackhawk then in service with the US Army. However, there were significant shortcomings in the acquisition process, notably in the ordering of spares and the estimation of support costs. Meanwhile, the Army’s fleet of helicopters had increased to include three squadrons of Bell 206 Kiowas (OH-58 in US service), which, along with a number of fixed-wing aircraft, formed the 1st Aviation Regiment. In contrast to RAAF helicopter squadrons, these aircraft were closely integrated with Army field units and were based with the units they were assigned to support. In addition to the 1st Aviation Regiment, Army aviation also included a headquarters, a training school and base support squadron, all based at the Army Aviation Centre in Oakey. The RAAF continued to provide basic flying instruction for Army pilots and much of the engineering support for Army Aviation, including setting the technical, maintenance and safety standards for helicopter operations. The Centre, which had been formed in 1969, provided a focus for Army aviation and had the potential to form the nucleus around which the Army could build a case for assuming ownership of the RAAF helicopters; the opportunity arose in 1986 following a review of Australia’s defence capabilities.

Transfer of Ownership

In 1986, the Minister for Defence, Mr Kim Beazley, announced that control, but not ownership, of battlefield helicopters would be transferred progressively from the RAAF to the Army over the ensuing five years. The decision followed a review of Australia’s defence capabilities commissioned by the Australian Government and carried out by Mr Paul Dibb, a civilian academic. Among its wide-ranging conclusions, Dibb’s report included the following recommendation:

Combat efficiency may be enhanced if ground force tactical helicopters and their crews were operationally part of the Army. The review considers that its recommendation to enhance the helicopter lift capability for the Army provides a suitable opportunity to integrate the helicopter element into the Army structure.

It is not clear what evidence was used to support this conclusion. Earlier, a committee established to investigate the matter had concluded that the transfer could not be justified and recommended that the Air Force should remain responsible for operating troop-lift helicopters. Nonetheless, Dibb’s proposal to transfer the helicopters from the RAAF to the Army was accepted. Air Marshal Evans, a former Chief of the Air Staff, has claimed that move was initiated by the then Chief of the General Staff, with support from the Chief of the Defence Force (also an Army officer at the time). Evans is vitriolic in his condemnation of the decision and accuses the Army chiefs of seriously damaging inter-Service relations. The decision to transfer the helicopters does seem to be have been an extreme reaction to resolving any shortcomings in command and control arrangements, which could have been addressed with far less draconian measures. Moreover, it seems that by the time the decision was made, the RAAF had acquired a high level of expertise in its helicopter operations, and was highly regarded for its support to Army operations. It could be that senior Army officers were driven more by their own experiences some 20 years earlier than by contemporary concerns. Because the transfer coincided with the introduction of a new type of helicopter, it is not possible to assess objectively whether it produced any positive outcomes. However, at the very least, it was likely to have been severely prejudicial to creating an environment of harmonious working relations between the Services. Air Marshal Evans claims that the transfer created an atmosphere of dislike, distrust and disdain between the Services, while the RAAF Historian believes it traumatised some senior levels in the RAAF.

The transfer led to a rapid expansion of Army Aviation, which formed the 5 th Aviation Regiment at RAAF Base Townsville in northern Queensland to take control of the Blackhawks and some of the ex-RAAF Iroquois. The remainder of the Iroquois were transferred to the 1st Aviation Regiment and the School of Army Aviation at Oakey. To cope with its increased role, the School of Army Aviation was also expanded, and in 1990 the RAAF helicopter training squadron was disbanded to form the ADF Helicopter School, operating Aerospatiale AS-350 Squirrel helicopters, responsible for training Army and RAN aircrew.

An apparent inconsistency in the plan to transfer ownership of helicopters was the decision to retain Chinooks in service with the RAAF, thereby maintaining a division between the Services in the operation of battlefield helicopters. In the event, however, in 1989 the Defence department agreed to a RAAF proposal to discontinue operating Chinooks as an economy measure. However, their absence was keenly felt, especially during exercises and it was later decided to return a limited number of Chinooks to service. By the time the Chinooks returned to service, RAAF expertise in their operation had been dissipated and consequently the aircraft were assigned to the Army. Four Chinooks were established as part of 5th Aviation Regiment in 1995, with a further two ordered for delivery in 1998.

The process of transfer created a number of challenges, not least the training of sufficient Army pilots. Although some RAAF aircrew and technicians remained with the Army during the early transition period, few RAAF personnel chose to transfer to the Army, resulting in a loss of valuable experience. To provide sufficient pilots, the Army recruited officers on short service commissions to be employed specifically in flying duties; however, the retention rate of these pilots was not high and continued to present the Army with a significant training burden. Initially, the Army considered employing senior non-commissioned officers and warrant officers as pilots, whom, it was assumed, would be less expensive to employ than officer pilots; however, this plan was soon abandoned on the grounds of impracticability. One of the problems for a relatively small aviation force like that of the Australian Army is that its aircrew operate in a narrow specialisation. Additionally, a small aviation force is less well placed to absorb fluctuations in the availability of suitably trained personnel. In a larger flying organisation such as the RAAF, aircrew are able to move between roles, which encourages the cross pollination of techniques and knowledge. From the RAAF’s perspective, the loss of helicopter pilots from its pool of aviators reduced some of its flexibility to re-role aircrew, a facility that proved useful during the Vietnam War when there was a rapid expansion in the helicopter fleet. In a force the size of the ADF, there would appear to be benefits in considering personnel with specialist skills, such as aircrew and aircraft technicians, as ADF assets, available for employment across the Services.

There were also serious discontinuities in the logistic support arrangements associated with the transfer. The RAAF remained responsible for the provision of logistic support, but there seems to have been inadequate management of the process, with, for example, the spares provisioning not matching the Army’s flying rate. The lack of adequate budgeting arrangements between the RAAF and the Army for Blackhawk spares may have compounded the problem, for while the RAAF was responsible for resourcing and provisioning spares for Army aircraft, the Army had no visibility of the RAAF’s expenditure or control over allocations. Managing logistic support for new aircraft can often be a difficult process, especially across two Services, but the atmosphere of soured inter-Service relations would certainly not have helped matters.

In the harsh Australian conditions, Blackhawks suffered a significant number of technical problems, including airframe cracking and higher than expected component usage. This led to an inadequate inventory of spare parts, some of which required long-lead times for delivery, resulting in prolonged aircraft down times for maintenance. This in turn led to a reduction in aircraft availability, a situation brought to the fore during Exercise Kangaroo ‘95, when only five out of 28 Blackhawks in 5th Aviation Regiment were available. At one stage during 1995, 24 of the Regiment’s Blackhawks were reported to be unserviceable. The shortage of serviceable Blackhawks seriously prejudiced the ability of Army pilots to retain flying currency and complete their operational work-up training. Nevertheless, it appears that despite the difficulties, Army pilots continued to conduct highly demanding training exercises. However, the degree to which this can be attributable to a ‘can do’ spirit in the Army can only be conjecture.

Blackhawk Tragedy. In June 1996 two Army Blackhawks collided during a night training exercise involving the SAS, resulting in the death of 18 soldiers. In addition to the immediate causes of the accident, a Board of Inquiry also identified a number of systemic and equipment issues as contributory factors. In a statement on the accident, the Minister for Defence chose to highlight a lack of flying experience among Blackhawk pilots as a ‘major contributory cause’, although this was identified as only one of 26 contributory causes by the Board. The lack of experience was attributed to a high rate of unserviceability in the two years leading up to the accident, and the high pilot separation rates over a similar period, eroding the bank of experience at the 5th Aviation Regiment. The lack of experience of Blackhawk pilots became the focus of considerable media attention, even though the majority of the pilots involved in the accident were highly experienced and among the most current in the Regiment.

Nonetheless, it also seems fair to question whether senior Army officers had sufficient intimate knowledge of air operations to judge whether the planned exercises were safe. In air forces, air experience and knowledge is a fundamental aspect of command and supervision, right up to very senior positions. In the Army, where aviators fill only a very small proportion of appointments at senior levels, such knowledge can only be largely theoretical. Officers with a non-flying background cannot be expected to appreciate fully the intricacies of the risk associated with aviation, which makes it difficult for them to spot the telltale signs that all may not be well. This places aviation commanders in the invidious position of having to explain to their superiors why the job cannot be done for what might seem like relatively trivial reasons and risk being perceived as lacking the tenacity to ‘get on with the job’. Such an arrangement can be made to work, but depends on the integrity of the subordinate commander and adequate support from the senior commander. In this case, according to media reports at least, aviation commanders did advise their superiors of their concerns regarding the currency and proficiency of their pilots in the weeks preceding the accident. While there has been considerable media speculation as to what action senior Army commanders took in response to these reports, any such action would inevitably have had to have been more dependent on staff advice rather than personal experience.

In the aftermath of the inquiry, a number of measures were taken to reduce the risk of similar accidents, including measures to reduce pilot separation and establishing an overarching Defence Force Flying Safety Authority under the Chief of Air Force. Nonetheless, there remain serious challenges for Australian Army Aviation in maintaining the necessary high level of aviation expertise in a relatively small force.

Army Aviators

All Australian Army pilots are commissioned officers, serving on either general or short-service commissions. Blackhawks, Chinooks and Iroquois are also crewed by two loadmasters, who are usually non-commissioned officers permanently assigned to flying duties, although consideration has been given to employing some aircraft technicians in this role. Non-commissioned officers are also employed as aircrew observers on Kiowas. Officers are commissioned into the Aviation Corps after graduation from basic officer training at the Royal Military College Duntroon or the Australian Defence Force Academy.

An intriguing aspect of the Australian Army corps and regimental system is that general service officers do not select their corps or regiment before joining the Army and are only appointed on completion of their officer training. This reinforces the ‘soldiers first’ ethos, but potential recruits wishing to join the Army for a career as general service officers in the aviation branch must take a gamble on being selected for the aviation corps. Short service officers on the other hand are recruited directly into the Aviation Corps and complete a relatively short course of officer training before undergoing pilot training. Apocryphal evidence suggests that the success rate of short service officers during pilot training is much higher than that of general service officers, creating an imbalance in aviation regiments. Whether or not this is the case, wastage rates in the aviation branch have been high and it has been it has been necessary to offer short service officers extensions to their service. Since short service officers are recruited directly into the Aviation Corps and spend most of their careers in flying appointments, it is difficult to see how these pilots might be expected to have a greater intimate knowledge of land operations than their Air Force counterparts who previously flew helicopters. Perhaps the Australian Army has discovered that the demands of flying are such that it requires professional aviators to conduct it safely and effectively.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 03:52
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CONCLUSION

Differences of opinion over the command and control of air power have been a feature of aviation in Australia since the formation of RAAF in 1921; indeed even the creation of the RAAF as a separate Service was opposed by the then CGS. In its early years, the RAAF was explicitly subservient to the other two Services, but began to emerge as a significant force during World War II. Nonetheless, the RAAF remained the sole supplier of Australian air power until the RAN established its own Fleet Air Arm after the war, operating fixed-wing aircraft from its two aircraft carriers. Frustrated by what it saw as the RAAF’s lack of attention to its requirements, the Army later followed suit, establishing its own air arm in the late 1950s, albeit with continued support from the RAAF.

The first requirements for helicopters were established by the Army during World War II, but the war ended before the helicopters could be delivered and the order was cancelled. Later, the RAAF acquired a few S-51s, but plans to form a larger helicopter force and develop other roles for helicopters did not emerge for many years. It was not until 1962 that the RAAF gained a significant number of helicopters to support the Army, but even then their role was seen by the RAAF as mainly search and rescue. Meanwhile, Army aspirations for larger helicopters to improve its tactical mobility remained unfulfilled for many years, while the RAAF, responsible for their introduction to service at the time, was occupied with introducing sophisticated new fixed-wing aircraft into service. The failure of the RAAF to adequately address the Army’s requirements led to tensions between the Services. As the RAAF Historian has noted, the RAAF should have strived to support the Army in the way the Army wanted, not the way the RAAF found least troublesome. It was against this background that the first RAAF helicopters deployed to support the Army in Vietnam.

The RAAF appear to have been reluctant to deploy its helicopters to Vietnam, which were ill prepared for the task. Moreover, the terms under which the helicopters were to be used were severely circumscribed by the Air Staff, creating difficulties for commanders on the spot in trying to meet local requirements. Inappropriate command and control arrangements, combined with other factors, led to tensions between Army task force commanders and the RAAF, creating significant local difficulties. Nevertheless, despite their limited numbers, RAAF helicopters established a high reputation for their operations in Vietnam, but these achievements may have been overshadowed by shortcomings in command and control. The failure of the RAAF to deal with Army requirements for close air support and specifically its failure to acquire Cobra gunship helicopters also added to friction between the Services.

By the mid-1970s, the RAAF’s fleet of helicopters had grown to include 31 Iroquois and 12 Chinooks, all designated primarily in Army support roles. However, although helicopters formed a significant force within the RAAF, they failed to gain significant advocacy at senior levels. Meanwhile, shortcomings in the command and control of RAAF helicopters deployed to support Army exercises may have added to the frustration felt by Army commanders, a situation not helped by the attitude of some RAAF pilots. Nonetheless, RAAF pilots gained considerable expertise in the operation of helicopters, supporting a wide range of operations in addition to the Army support task.

Meanwhile, Army aviation continued to grow, with establishment of the 1 st Aviation Regiment in 1966, followed by the Army Aviation Corps in 1968 and a new Army Aviation Centre in 1969. Army aircraft were closely integrated with Army field units and were based with the units they were assigned to support. However, the RAAF continued to provide basic flying instruction for Army pilots and much of the engineering support for Army Aviation. In 1984 the Department of Defence initiated procurement of Sikorsky S-70A Blackhawks for the RAAF, primarily to meet the Army’s requirements for battlefield mobility. RAAF specifications called for a high level of sophistication for these helicopters, but there were significant shortcomings in the acquisition process, notably in the ordering of spares and the estimation of support costs.

Following a review of Australia’s defence requirements, in 1986 it was decided to transfer control of Iroquois and the new Blackhawks from the RAAF to the Army, ostensibly to improve combat efficiency. The recommendation ran counter to earlier studies into the transfer of ownership, which found that the costs of moving the helicopters from one Service to another could not be justified. It seems likely that the move was motivated at least in part by earlier shortcomings in the support provided by the RAAF. Nonetheless, it is hard to see how the move might have been expected to improve inter-Service relations and joint cooperation.

Army Aviation expanded rapidly to absorb the new aircraft, establishing a second aviation regiment. Rotary-wing pilot training was also transferred from the RAAF with the establishment of the ADF Helicopter School. Initially, it was intended to retain the Chinooks in the RAAF, but in 1989 they were retired as an economy measure. However, it was soon found necessary to re-establish the capability and in 1995, four Chinooks were returned to service, but this time with the Army. The transfer and expansion of Army Aviation created a number of difficulties, especially in the coordination of logistic support and in the training and retention of Army pilots. Shortages led to a reduction in the availability of Blackhawks, which became most acute during 1995. This led to erosion of experience and skill levels amongst Blackhawk pilots, who were nevertheless required to conduct demanding exercises. Lack of currency was highlighted as a major contributory factor behind the collision of two Army Blackhawks during a night training exercise in 1996, even though this may not have been a significant factor.

Australian experience with the command and control of battlefield helicopters has not been a happy one, marked by bitter inter-service disputes that detracted from the ability of helicopters to achieve their full level of operational capability. Closer integration of the ADF and improved support structures should mitigate these problems in the future. Nevertheless, as a relatively small force, Australian Army Aviation faces significant challenges in maintaining a high level of aviation expertise.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 05:05
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Well that’s the most balanced view on the subject I’ve read to date. I conclude that if the RAAF had not been so dismissive of Army’s needs way back then, perhaps the RAAF would still be operating helicopters in the Army support role today. As an RAAF helicopter pilot I certainly found the role very challenging and worthwhile.
As much as I disliked AM Evans (the 7th floor WOD!), he had a point. IMHO the whole transfer of rotary wing assets from RAAF to Army occurred thanks to a mis-informed and biased Chief of Defence and a RAAF hierarchy that didn’t give a stuff about helicopters. My perception of the attitude of RAAF senior command when the decision was announced was one of indifference.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 06:05
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Three random quotes for those not willing to read all of Brian's three long posts.

It is notable that this action, (the RAAF UH-1 ammunition resupply to the surrounded 'D' company at Long Tan), which may have been vital to the success of the battle, was in clear contravention of the Air Staff directive. Nonetheless, damaging rumours about the failure of the RAAF helicopters to support the Army persisted and became accepted as conventional Army wisdom. This could be explained by the environment of strained inter-Service relations, in which any isolated incidents of inadequate support by the RAAF could be taken out of context and used by the Army as leverage in wider political battles.
One of the problems for a relatively small aviation force like that of the Australian Army is that its aircrew operate in a narrow specialisation. Additionally, a small aviation force is less well placed to absorb fluctuations in the availability of suitably trained personnel. In a larger flying organisation such as the RAAF, aircrew are able to move between roles, which encourages the cross pollination of techniques and knowledge. From the RAAF’s perspective, the loss of helicopter pilots from its pool of aviators reduced some of its flexibility to re-role aircrew, a facility that proved useful during the Vietnam War when there was a rapid expansion in the helicopter fleet. In a force the size of the ADF, there would appear to be benefits in considering personnel with specialist skills, such as aircrew and aircraft technicians, as ADF assets, available for employment across the Services.
Since short service officers are recruited directly into the Aviation Corps and spend most of their careers in flying appointments, it is difficult to see how these pilots might be expected to have a greater intimate knowledge of land operations than their Air Force counterparts who previously flew helicopters. Perhaps the Australian Army has discovered that the demands of flying are such that it requires professional aviators to conduct it safely and effectively.
I know that some respondents will disagree (and some in a less than polite manner), but I believe that, for all the faults that existed (and they did) when the RAAF operated the helicopters, the decision to transfer them to the Army will one day prove to have been one of the biggest mistakes ever made in the Australian Department of Defence's sorry list of major, costly mistakes over the years.




Edited to add, after reading Captain Sand Dune's post, that as another ex-RAAF helicopter pilot, I agree with his comments 100%. The knuck-centric senior ranks of the RAAF always treated the chopper squadrons as poor relations and should shoulder a considerable part of the blame for the transfer.

As for AVM Evans... no comment.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 06:13
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As should a number of very senior (fishhead!) Naval Officers who stood by and watched the future of Naval fixed wing be decided by a very heavily RAAF orientated committee.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 07:01
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Captain Sand Dune,

You are a bit astray regarding balance in the WGCDR Martin Sharp, RAF paper from the Fourays website: Fourays - The Australian Army Aviation Association Inc. There are errors of fact that I will identify later concerning aspects wherein I was involved and some of these perhaps result from his research as a visitor relying on a whole bunch of material in his bibliography that is pretty replete with hearsay and deficient in first party accounts.

You should perhaps review another paper on that website titled: 'The Tactical Air Support Group' by Owen Eather - consider Part 3 in particular. I can inform you more in this regard via a PM if you wish.

Over years, I have endeavoured to counter some of the misinformation in these documents and on that website improperly maligning the RAAF, but Fourays Executives have point blank refused to allow me response in my own words.

More to follow downstream.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 07:27
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MTOW; re your last bit

To be fair; CAS AM Jake Newham, a career fighter pilot, fought hard for the Air Force helo fraternity for which he is still highly respected (we have beers occasionally) and he gives an account of the helicopter transfer decision in RAAF History Conference 1992 - Air Force Chiefs, pages 69-78.
Minister Beazley was deceived through actions by CDF Bennett and CGS Gration, but it is of course history now.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 09:28
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'Bou

Thanks for kicking this off, Brian. I am looking forward to the promised responses.
Although this is a predominantly helo subject, to redress the balance about Army/RAAF relations, it would be interesting to hear how the Army viewed the sterling efforts of the Caribous in Vietnam, especially as the Americans were operating Caribous in the same theatre.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 09:48
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Neptunus, I hope someone from 35 Sqn will provide the stats, but as I recall, 'Wallaby Airlines' uplift/sorties flown figures were so far above any US Caribou unit in theatre that some here will doubt they could be true.

But they are.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 10:32
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I'm not sure why you've posted this, Brian, but having served as a helicopter pilot with both RAAF and Army (and joined at about the same time as the good WGCDR, incidentally), I can appreciate his writing style but not the thrust of a lot of what he says.

It appears that WGCDR Sharp has done a lot of homework in producing this treatise, but although he's included many verifiable facts, he frequently makes highly contestible statements while quoting anecdotal evidence to make his points.

I can't say much about the Vietnam years, but he's putting out duff gen about the post-1980 stuff, either by saying things that are just wrong, or by omission.

An apparent inconsistency in the plan to transfer ownership of helicopters was the decision to retain Chinooks in service with the RAAF, thereby maintaining a division between the Services in the operation of battlefield helicopters.
The Army didn't want the Chinooks - they were already maxed out with what they were getting.

The transfer and expansion of Army Aviation created a number of difficulties, especially in the coordination of logistic support and in the training and retention of Army pilots. Shortages led to a reduction in the availability of Blackhawks, which became most acute during 1995.
Certain Army commanders, in a misguided effort to make it appear things were so much better now the Army was in control of the assets, ignored the maintenance stagger and flew all the Blackhawks into major servicings. Result - lots of aircraft for big 'PR' stunts like company group lifts, then no aircraft.

Army officers often cite instances where, at the end of a day’s training in the field, RAAF pilots would fly to a motel for the night rather than stay in an Army tent.
They well may 'cite instances', but the reality is that from the mid-80's up to the transfer, RAAF helicopter air, maintenance and support crews were deployed in the bush in full support of the Army units they worked for.

However, although helicopters formed a significant force within the RAAF, expertise in helicopter operations tended to become diluted in the RAAF’s broader command structure, with no centralised agency to coordinate the operation of helicopters or develop operational doctrine.
Yes, there were problems with supported Army units tasking their air assets. However, by the mid-80s, RAAF helicopters deployed in support operated effectively and efficiently. There was no great benefit to be gained by transferring ownership of the helicopters at this stage - they were already doing a good job.

The fallacy at the time, I believe, was that if the Army got ownership, the perceived helicopter problems would be over. However, if you have a fixed number of helicopters, they can only work for so many customers at once, no matter who flies them. Also, by service transferring, you force a large disruption in service, loss of corporate knowledge and a massive dip in capability until training claws its way back up.

There's a lot more to contest, but you get the idea.

In summary, I think WGCDR Sharp has produced a paper containing some relevant points, but he's often off track and appears to have been working from pre-conceived ideas and hearsay rather than developing a clear picture from strong evidence.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 10:32
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The following text is an extract from an address to the RAAF History Conference 1992 by Air Marshal Jake Newham, AC, Chief of Air Staff RAAF from 21 May 1985 to 2 July 1987.

AM Newham is a Korean War veteran having spent much of his Air Force career flying fighters and F-111. The first half of this segment gives an enlightening insight into the 'functioning' of the Department of Defence with the latter half detailing how the helicopter transferred decision transpired.

'The RAAF's view – and I know my Army and Navy colleagues supported it – was that the full kit of weaponry across the ADF was applicable in low level contingencies. It doesn't take much thinking to conclude that these capabilities are essential if distance is to be conquered and high casualties avoided. An important feature of these capabilities is their deterrent effect on escalation. I make the point that to run down any one element of the Air Force would open up a window of vulnerability. Dibb's emphasis on low level conflict was later used by FDA (Force Development & Analysis) to forestall development of the F-111, indeed, at one stage, FDA tried to get rid of it; the proposal was that the tactical fighter force would fill the gap. I felt that we really needed to find somebody to preach the Sermon on the Mount again (loaves and fishes) because we only had about 70 fighters.

Similarly, in the Army the requirements for artillery and armour were questioned by FDA on the same grounds, and even with my limited knowledge of land operations, I was appalled. The Navy was also affected. The size of the major surface warship acquisition recommended by Dibb was in the order of a corvette. Any of you who have had any experience with the patrol boats – and my experience was with the older Attack class – know that there are some sea states where you don't do anything with the ship, you don't eat, you don't sleep, you just hang on. You certainly don't fight. It didn't appeal to me to be putting Australian servicemen into inadequate ships. I have some reservations about surface combatants, they do have limitations, but they are important. I'm a supporter of the Anzac frigates as they are now, even though they cost a lot of money.

The Dibb review also had problems with offensive capabilities and being able to take the operational initiative. It was because Australia has a defensive strategy that the Dibb review advanced the opinion that we didn't need an offensive capability. This interested CGS and CNS as much as it did me. It took some argument to disabuse the Dibb team of that idea; to explain to them that even in a defensive environment one must have an offensive capability. Such was the meagre amount of knowledge that existed at the expert analyst level. I hope you're not still having problems with that notion but it was an article of faith with FDA at the time.

The time was that I thought the Dibb review my life's work as CAS, but I consoled myself with the view that the committee routine might be reduced. Unfortunately, words mean all things to all men and we had to keep going over the same business and fighting the same issues, even though I'd thought they had been disposed of at previous meetings. Let me give you an example.

In keeping with tradition, when I came back from America and was installed as DCAS, the Chief went away on a trip. Before he left he said: 'There's a Force Development Committee meeting on Thursday, would you hold the fort for me?' Of course, there were two major Air Force projects and the budget on the agenda. The staff pumped me up and I trudged across the exercise yard there with my arm nearly coming out of its socket from the weight of papers. The first item was an Army project and as it unfolded I thought: 'I haven't been away. Its the same words, its the same status'. There we were, 2 years down the track repeating the pantomine.

In the three posts that I held in Air Force Office, I got thoroughly tired of the committee process. We went over the same ground time and time again. Yet exactly where projects are in the Five Year Program means little until they reach the Budget Year. Nevertheless, there we were, examining Year 2 items as though they were new. We were going through the process for the sake of it. I got tired of the nugatory paperwork. I'm anti-paperwork, I always have been. If the mass of papers could be reduced to a level acceptable to private business the Greenies would be put out of work.

There was another technique which I found particularly offensive. It was not unusual for a member around the committee table to ask about issues explained in the agendum itself, the DP1, or whatever papers had been circulated before the meeting. When this was explained, the response would be: 'Oh, I haven't got time to read that'. It was an attitude I found arrogant and insulting.

Let me get on to helicopters. The Dibb review did not mention the transfer of helicopters to Army in the body of the paper. Nor was the matter ever discussed by Dibb with the Chiefs of Staff. Instead the proposal appeared as an unsupported recommendation in Dibb's recommendations. It was apparent that something was in the wind.

Before the Dibb review had finished the CGS made a bid for the transfer of helicopters. Subsequently the matter was studied by a committee chaired by the then Commodore MacDougall. The committee has six members, four sailors, one Army and one Air Force. With one dissension the report recommended the preservation of the status quo with some procedural recommendations; that is that the RAAF should continue to operate the helicopters. I had no problems with the procedural recommendations at all; they were completely in harmony with my and my colleagues' views of providing adequate support to the other Services. What is more, I believed that the recommendations of the helicopter review committee were also in harmony with the CDF's philosophy of the oneness of the Australian Defence Force, and that was what we were working towards.

Following the MacDougall Committee's report, the matter was discussed in COSC. This is what happened, and if I make an error, there are at least two people in this room who can put me straight. The COSC was attended by the outgoing Secretary, Sir William Cole. That was unusual; perhaps it was because resource issues were involved. CGS's opening address ignored the MacDougall review completely, which had me scratching my head because my preparation was based on the MacDougall report. CNS followed and agreed with the report's recommendations, that is, that the RAAF should retain the helicopters. I weighed in by protesting about the way the meeting was being conducted. It was being run exactly as if a new project was introduced by a Chief of Operations at the Force Structure Committee, which of course was quite improper. I was overruled. Then the CDF dealt his card, saying that he'd been agonising over night over the matter, and he'd only just made his mind up. He thought the helicopters should be transferred to the Army, and handed round a prepared statement to that effect.

After lunch Sir William Cole failed to appear (because his retirement was imminent?) and there was some general discussion. We then went to a vote. Over the lunch break CNS had reversed his decision. He now supported the CGS and CDF, which meant that the Vice Chief of the Defence Force (Air Marshal Funnell) and I were out-voted.

I announced my intention of seeing the Minister. It was an interesting meeting. Minister Beazley was the most passive I'd ever seen him. Indeed, re resisted only one response, and that was to frown when at one stage I was hitting the table. So, I put my hand in my pocket and continued. I reminded the Minister of the MacDougall report, our track record in supporting the other services with the helicopters, the fact that there was nothing in exercise reports to indicate dissatisfaction, and that on the contrary we had recently received laudatory comments following and exercise in 1986 in the Emerald area. That exercise had been a precursor to Kangaroo 86 which had also gone well. On this, Mr. Beazely commented: 'But that's the only time', referring to the Emerald exercise, which made me prick my ears up and launch into a restatement of points made earlier. I concluded that I couldn't understand the decision, particularly in view of CDF's comments about the unity of the ADF and the way we were working.

Mr. Beazley was a bit like Pontius Pilate, he seemed to wash his hands of the affair, yet later I recalled getting a message from London to say the Minister had announced on a visit not long before that that the Army would get the helicopters. David Evans and I, at the launching of Paul Dibb's book on the Soviet Union at the ANU some months before, had also overheard Mr. Beazley tell a group of people that he was going to give the helicopters to the Army. So much for his stance. This left me wondering why we'd gone through this nugatory exercise with so much staff effort and so much anguish.

At this stage I should mention Ian Sinclair's political advice: 'Never complain, never explain and never apologise'. I'm not complaining, I'm here at a history conference to tell you what happened. I could see Army's argument for having the helicopters under their control, but I believe that given the unity of the ADF, our track record, and the proposed command and control arrangements – which we were quite happy to meet – the decision was wrong.

I was a bit put out afterwards and so were others. When CDF visited units after the decision he would rubbish the Helicopter review (the MacDougall Committee report) as 'that silly little report', which was rather embarrassing for Commodore MacDougall. It didn't endear the CDF to me and, it's something I won't forget. Furthermore, the Acting Secretary sent a minute to CDF which also rubbished the MacDougall report. The minute was not addressed to the RAAF, and when I learnt of its existence and asked CDF for a copy I was told that it didn't exist, which I thought was unethical. I also thought it was rather stupid, given the habit these sorts of papers have, of wandering through copying machines.

Let's leave the helicopter transfer. It was a tremendous blow to a team of dedicated and highly skilled people in the Air Force, who were justifiably proud of their record.'
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 10:36
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Caribous ....
Or the subsequent capability gap following the retirement of same? It's probably not high on the Ronnie's priorities, nor of the ADF's, but from my little bit of the organisation it's a big big big big hole that has opened up.

Ain't just me either, it's just that those of us in the green skin affected by this aren't numerous, vociferous, connected and high profile enough to have any say in it.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 11:46
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Like This - Do That, you silly, silly man. Haven't you heard? The Caribous have been replaced and the whole of their capability retained.


... by King Airs.


When you think about it, and the state of things at Defence (and in Canberra in general) that pretty well says it all.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 11:46
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BR71,
Thanks for that extract from AM Newham’s speech, which I found quite illuminating.
With one dissension the report recommended the preservation of the status quo with some procedural recommendations; that is that the RAAF should continue to operate the helicopters. I had no problems with the procedural recommendations at all; they were completely in harmony with my and my colleagues' views of providing adequate support to the other Services.
Which is what I was getting at in my previous post. Looks like AM Newham had realised that the way RAAF was doing business with Army needed to change. Too late however. It seems Bennet and Beasley had other ideas.
I maintain that had RAAF been more sensitive to Army’s needs much earlier, things may have been quite different today.
And thanks for that link to Eather's article. Interesting................
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 22:36
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Comments On Post #1,#2,#3

Herewith some views on the paper by Wing Commander Martin Sharp, RAF from the Fourays website.
...The RAAF’s lack of attention to the battlefield support role was a considerable frustration to the Army, and led to tensions in Army/Air Force relations over command and control of battlefield aircraft...
Close air support training was always a major facet of RAAF strike and fighter squadron activities, ergo, continual significant provisioning for armaments and war reserves ammunition stockpiling.

...In December 1960 the Army established No. 16 Army Light Aircraft Squadron to fulfil its new roles. The unit was formed at RAAF Amberley in Queensland from the nucleus of the Air OP Flight, and was equipped with Cessna 180 aircraft and Bell 47 Sioux helicopters...it was agreed that the RAAF would train sufficient Army technicians to enable them to take over RAAF functions, and from 1964, the RAAF began to extricate its personnel from Army Aviation. Nevertheless, the RAAF retained responsibility for airworthiness, engineering standards, aviation supplies and flight safety management...
When visiting Amberley early 1960s, I was astounded at the openly expressed bitterness of some AAvn personnel (who were being hosted on a RAAF base) at the Air Force having oversight responsibility for their activities - 16ALA Squadron was commanded by a RAAF officer at the time. That core of now retired malcontents have generated much of the anti-Air Force misinformation over the years.
...when No. 9 Squadron was reformed in 1962 to operate the Iroquois, it was designated as a search and rescue squadron by the RAAF, but it soon became apparent that Army support would be the main role of the Iroquois. A second Iroquois squadron was established in 1964, deploying to RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia later that year...
9SQN only received its first aircraft late 1962 and the build-up to 2 squadrons from scratch within 18 months was a much under-rated feat, only possible because the Air Force then had significant surge capacity. There was a huge effort in technical and aircrew training plus progressive involvement in Army support training in Australia as 9SQN grew. The RAAF responded admirably to the government requirement to form a second squadron for deployment to Malaysia for support of Army in counter-insurgency operations.
...Nevertheless, as the RAAF Historian has noted, the RAAF should have strived to support the Army in the way the Army wanted, not the way the RAAF found least troublesome...
The RAAF Historian failed to recognise that helicopter technology around 1960 was pretty rudimentary as demonstrated by the types being operated by British forces in Malaysia and US forces in Vietnam in the early 1960s. It would have been folly to venture into anything larger than the Iroquois at that time given the other re-equipment programs in train.
...In 1966, eight Iroquois from No. 9 Squadron were deployed to Vung Tau in South Vietnam to support the 1st Australian Task Force (ATF) operating throughout Phuoc Tuy Province. The RAAF appear to have been reluctant to deploy the helicopters, which were ill prepared for the task facing them, lacking armoured seats, door gun mounts and body armour for the crews...
Vietnam involvement for Australia was not on the horizon when the Iroquois were introduced to RAAF service and the US Army was similarly ill-equipped when Iroquois were first deployed to Vietnam. They ordered 1,000 sets of Sagami gun mounts for Bravo/Charlie model Iroquois to be manufactured in Japan. Armoured seats were retro-fitted when they became available and body armour, which was a wide usage Army need, continued to be scrounged because of shortages in the US supply system on which 9SQN depended.
...When the RAAF helicopters were deployed, senior Air Staff in Canberra were keen to see that they were not put to undue risk and issued a directive placing strict limitations on their employment. For example, RAAF helicopters were authorised to lift troops only ‘from a secure staging area to a landing zone that is relatively secure and where enemy resistance is not expected’, and ‘from an area of operation to a secure staging area when enemy resistance is anticipated only on the last lift from the landing zone’...
Pre-Vietnam, the Australian military conformed with British Joint Service Planning doctrine and that pertained to 5SQN operations in Malaysia which was a Brit controlled scenario. The contentious Air Staff Instruction derived largely from JSP doctrine but the operational scenario in Vietnam differed considerably and was US controlled. Not mentioned by W/C Sharp was that the Australian Army also had a significant learning curve when they first deployed to Vietnam in 1965 as part of US 173rd Airborne Brigade.

The ASI did cause confusion initially, but 9SQN was then fortunate to have a considerable number of senior experienced pilots, some veterans of conflicts from WW2 onwards, who generally exercised their judgement in operational situations ignoring the ASI. Unfortunately, it remained in the unit Confidential Order Book and as junior pilots ex-flying training schools and Iroquois conversion with minimal Army support training in Australia began flowing into the squadron, some acrimony was generated through some very minimal instances best illustrated by an anecdote.

Near mid-1968, when 9SQN was hugely busy operationally while simultaneously doubling in aircraft and personnel strength, a junior pilot came up to me in a troubled state seeking advice. He had been operating near Saigon and a ground unit requested assistance so he asked in his very direct manner of speaking: 'Is your area secure'. The response was 'No' and he apparently responded something like: 'Sorry, but we cannot help you yet' which triggered some aggravation. When he asked what should he have done, I responded: 'Best not to ask that question', to which he said: 'Well, I bloody well won't do so again'.

His bravery could not be questioned as I later recommended him for a DFC which he was deservingly awarded for his role in a night extraction of a SAS patrol in contact; nor could his dedication to support of the troops because he later said to me: 'The biggest buzz I get is taking hot meals out to those poor buggers when they are all wet and shivering'. He was a fine young airman but sadly later killed in a flying training accident in Australia. The controversial ASI became unilaterally ignored as the squadron matured to full strength and comprehensive operating procedures were developed in concert with 1ATF.
...The Army also operated its own aircraft in Vietnam, including six Bell 47 Sioux helicopters and Cessna 180 fixed-wing aircraft from 161 Reconnaissance Flight...The Flight had a number of RAAF personnel on its strength, but some of them seemed less than happy to be serving with an Army unit; an RAAF officer who visited the airmen noted: ‘the reaction of the airmen to field conditions has at the outset been disappointing.’ It seems that the airmen were ill prepared for their task and their reaction to the conditions probably did little to engender the RAAF to the Army...
Not mentioned is the reason for RAAF involvement with 161 Recce Flight was that maintenance standards had decayed.
...One issue typifying the difference of outlook was the location of 9 Squadron. The task force commander wanted the Squadron based forward at Nui Dat alongside the task force headquarters, but the RAAF refused to move from Vung Tau...
9SQN was logically based at Vung Tau in accord with principles in JSP doctrine for locating air units. Nui Dat was only 25 kilometres distant, just 10 minutes Iroquois flight time. US Army supply system and engineering resources were located at VT, also an impressive technical resource, the USS Corpus Christy Bay, was moored in the harbour and invaluable for aircraft component re-plating and other precision engineering. Constant electrical power and illumination enabled 24 hour maintenance work.

Vung Tau received multiple rocket attacks because it was a worthwhile target whereas Nui Dat was principally just a concentration of sand-bagged tents and not really worth enemy effort, although that may have differed had an Iroquois squadron been co-located. (Image of 9SQN hangar facilities at Vung Tau airfield to be inserted).


The RAAF has been roundly criticised for this decision over time, but the proceedings of the Chief of Army History Conference 2002 belatedly determined that Army planners erred in basing at Nui Dat and should have located 1ATF at Vung Tau.

Perhaps best we break at this point as there is a fair bit more to be said re the rest of Martin Sharp's paper.

Last edited by Bushranger 71; 19th Jul 2010 at 23:12.
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Old 19th Jul 2010, 22:55
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B71,

That is bl**dy interesting stuff. Unfortunately it won't convince those whom have been thoroughly brain-waished. Keep it coming anyway!
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Old 20th Jul 2010, 01:22
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If God meant the Army to fly airplanes he would have made the sky Brown, there ,that raised the level of this post!
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Old 20th Jul 2010, 07:23
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Part 2 Comments On Posts #1,#2,#3

Since Army helicopters operated at Nui Dat, apparently without difficulty, the RAAF’s case may have seemed unconvincing to some. Whatever the merits of the RAAF’s case, it should have been up to the operational commander to make such decisions and the failure of the RAAF to respond to the Army’s requirements did not help its case for retaining control of the helicopters.
Really! The 3 Services were independent entities at that time with Vietnam elements under overall command of a Saigon-based General with an Air Force deputy commander. Commander 1 ATF only exercised operational control of 9SQN which was appropriate and all that was necessary. The Air Force never had any problems assigning operational control to the other Services but they declined operational command for sound reasons in my view with the Vung Tau basing issue a good example wherein the initial 1 ATF commander had an inadequate appreciation of aircraft engineering and maintenance related considerations. (images to be inserted).
To improve liaison with the task force, the senior RAAF officer from Vung Tau, Group Captain Raw, relocated to the task force headquarters and established an air transport operations centre. However, Group Captain Raw was inexperienced in air/land operations and his relationship with the commander of the ATF was strained.
The 1ATF command and control structure derived from joint-Army/RAAF planning in Australia based on JSP doctrine which provided a Task Force Air Commander, Task Force Air Support Officer, small air transport operations cell (ATOC) and a close air support cell, both of the latter bits having essential communications infrastructure and being annexed to the HQ Command Post. The small ATOC was staffed by Air Force junior officers and clerks.

9SQN was the only RAAF unit under opcon 1ATF with 35SQN Caribou under opcon USAF 7th Air Force, so the initial 1ATF RAAF component was arguably top heavy. This morphed into the TFAC more or less becoming an Air Force base commander at Vung Tau where 3 units were located. 9SQN provided a TFAC Representative at Nui Dat staffed by rotation of Squadron Leaders and senior Flight Lieutenants. I performed this role for 2 plus months during my last of 3 tours. TFAC Rep got involved in joint planning for major activities and also had an integrity oversight responsibility for 9SQN operations.

The ATOC responded directly to Army in the CP for Iroquois tasking and there was seldom need for intervention by the TFAC Rep as the system hummed along smoothly. This anecdote portrays the only occasion I exercised any authority. The 9SQN night dustoff aircraft had been tasked to recover a badly wounded enemy prisoner for interrogation. The aircraft captain was inexperienced and when approaching a strobe light in dense inky black jungle for winching of the prisoner, observed another strobe light nearby. I was monitoring all the radio nets and the ground callsign was adamant they only had one strobe light. The enemy were displaying another in close proximity so I directed the captain to abort. The G2Ops got a bit peeved but the prisoner died soon after.
Many ATF operations were also supported by US Army helicopter units and inevitably comparisons were sometimes drawn between the RAAF and the US Army. With a huge fleet of helicopters at its disposal, the US Army was willing to endure losses at a rate that could not have been sustained by a relatively small military force like that of Australia; indeed, many professional airmen considered the US Army’s use of helicopters in Vietnam to be profligate.
Early 1968, when 9SQN was expanding to 16 x UH-1H Iroquois with more capacity for troop movement, several pilots (including myself) were briefly detached to the composite US Army/RAN 135th Assault Helicopter Company for insight into US Army operating practices. There had been 3 catastrophic Iroquois mid-air collisions at another nearby US Army base and we all adjudged their formation flying procedures as stressful and unsound.

Several of us had formerly flown fighters so we simply adopted fighter low level battle formation for Iroquois tactical trooping with multiple benefits including much reduced collision risk, door-gun cross-cover, manoeuvring flexibility and more relaxed flying as can be seen from the following illustrations. (images to be inserted).
Another issue that created friction between the Services was the arming of helicopters. RAAF helicopter operations were sometimes supported by US Army gunship helicopters (modified UH-1 Iroquois), but coordination of gunship missions was difficult and the arrangement was not always entirely satisfactory.
Wrong, and similar statements have been made by some military historians. I was project officer for development of the RAAF UH-1H Iroquois gunship version and its operational introduction 13 months later. Herewith relevant extracts from a comprehensive well- illustrated e-book on CD that I produced concerning the project.

'...Prior to April 1969, helicopter gunship support for 1ATF was provided by the US Army being generally quite good and 9SQN worked in harmony with American gunship crews; however, availability became a cause for concern. The US Army tasking philosophy aimed at sharing activities among many of their units in the III Corps area of operations and gunships often ferried from bases to scenes of operations virtually on opposite sides of the country. Transit flying in hours of darkness was generally avoided by gunship units and a Light Fire Team (US Army parlance for a flight of 2 gunships) might spend up to 4 or 5 hours of daylight travelling to and from Nui Dat, thus limiting availability for operations. There were several US Army gunship equipped units within about 45 minutes flight time but these elements were often operating at distant locations when very urgent gunship support was required.

...The normal SAS role was covert reconnaissance but soon after the 1968 Tet Offensive, the SAS squadron in theatre became more involved in ambush activities frequently inflicting casualties upon the opposition. Inevitably, it became more difficult for SAS patrols to break contact with the enemy resulting in increasing contested extractions and it was only a matter of time before a patrol was overwhelmed before extraction could be effected if gunship support was not immediately available.

...Majority of contested SAS extractions were in jungle up to 150 feet high. The enemy at times was within cricket pitch proximity of the patrol and the hoisting process took 20 or more minutes on occasions with both SAS and 9SQN exhausting ammunition.'
The modifications were very successful and increased the capability of 9 Squadron, but the Army and some members of the RAAF sought a more potent gunship capability in the form of the Bell AH-1 Cobra. The Army presented a cogent case in favour of the Cobra, but the Air Staff insisted that the modified Iroquois were satisfactory. The RAAF’s willingness to accept a second rate solution for its helicopter requirements was in stark contrast to its attitude towards fixed-wing aircraft, where the need to always acquire leading edge technology had been firmly established.
Wrong again, (SIGH!!). 9SQN acquired components of the XM-21 system as fitted to US Army UH-1C to experiment with design configurations for the UH-1H which had never been designed for the gunship role. The XM-21 system was like something out of Jules Verne with traversable miniguns that were electro-hydraulic and unnecessarily complex for reliability so we gutted the electrics and hydraulics and converted the system to a fixed forward-firing arrangement (like fighter aircraft) operable by either pilot with swing down gun-sights mounted above the front windscreens.

The mature RAAF Bushranger gunship was far from a second-rate capability, carried more ammunition with better firepower than the basic AH-1G Hueycobra, had more gun redundancy and very broad fields of fire for the door-gunners (each had twin M60s) who were able to suppress virtually behind the aircraft. A suitably wired UH-1H with gun-sights permanently fitted could be configured as a gunship within 90 minutes, including weapon system harmonisation, and full refuel/rearm was achieved in 10 minutes. Conversely, it could be de-configured in 30 minutes. These characteristics exemplified flexibility, versatility and economy of effort which are long-standing principles of war-fighting.

The Australian Army were infatuated with the Hueycobra, but it was the RAAF who were doing this aspect of the fighting and the Bushranger gunship proved highly effective. The Army always believed they had a right to tell the Air Force what hardware to buy, but their expertise in this regard has proved very deficient with their own acquisitions.

And finally, how would a bloody navigator know what air to ground gunnery is all about?

Methinks enough for this segment. A final bit yet to come and I will get the referenced images up within a day. Beer needed now.

Last edited by Bushranger 71; 20th Jul 2010 at 21:50.
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Old 20th Jul 2010, 10:07
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The RAAF Historian failed to recognise that helicopter technology around 1960 was pretty rudimentary as demonstrated by the types being operated by British forces in Malaysia and US forces in Vietnam in the early 1960s. It would have been folly to venture into anything larger than the Iroquois at that time given the other re-equipment programs in train.[/font]

The RAAF historian was bang on the money
The RAAF made no effort to support the army in the way that the Army wanted and no attempt to rewrite history can change this fundamental fact.

Vietnam involvement for Australia was not on the horizon when the Iroquois were introduced to RAAF service and the US Army was similarly ill-equipped when Iroquois were first deployed to Vietnam.


Absolute tosh. The Army was operational in Vietnam before the first tranche of UH1B were delivered and by the time the last of the UH1B’s were delivered Captain Noel Delahunty had been awarded a Military Cross for performing the world’s first ‘Hot extraction’, by helicopter in April 1964

The USAAF had been operating Hueys in Vietnam since 1962 and DARPA lost their first Huey Gunship in January 1964

WO1 George Chinn who flew on the resupply to D company 6RAR in August 1966 had already been awarded a DCM for his part in a helicopter assault landing in Thua Thien two years earlier, back in April 1964.

That the RAAF were woefully unaware of these developments and the fact that they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to perform the resupply at Long Tan is a shocking indictment of the RAAF’s unwillingness to accept the manner in which the Army required to be supported. A manner in which the Army had been supported in Vietnam since 1962 by US Army, US Marine and RVN Air Force Helicopters. Since 1962.

The RAAF were required to provide a C-47 to support the AATTV commitment way back in 1962. The RAAF didn’t provide it because the RAAF had no interest in what was occurring in Vietnam. The Army instigated an exchange programme from FARELF to the US Forces in Vietnam in 1962. The RAAF could have done likewise but didn’t.

All this is going on before August 1964 when the RAAF Caribou’s arrived in theatre.

By the time that 9 squadron arrived in Vietnam in 1966 they had the gear but no idea. That they had no idea was the RAAF’s own fault


Not mentioned by W/C Sharp was that the Australian Army also had a significant learning curve when they first deployed to Vietnam in 1965 as part of US 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Absolutely true but 1RAR sorted out its operational issues with 173rd Abn in a matter of months not years. As your next anecdote suggests the RAAF had failed to address the Army’s support requirements in 1968 a good two years after the Australian task force commander threatened to send 9 squadron home in ignominy. The RAAF made no effort to support the army in the way that the Army wanted because the RAF made no effort to understand what the Army required or indeed where and how the RAAF might be required to serve.

Vung Tau received multiple rocket attacks because it was a worthwhile target whereas Nui Dat was principally just a concentration of sand-bagged tents and not really worth enemy effort, although that may have differed had an Iroquois squadron been co-located. (Image of 9SQN hangar facilities at Vung Tau airfield to be inserted

Rather than inserting a photo of the hangar facilities at Vung Tau, how about you provide some information on the number of airframes destroyed or damaged during these multiple rocket attacks. A breakdown of RAAF casualties killed and wounded in these terrible attacks on Vung Tau would be illuminating.

Here is an interesting statistic. 1 in 17 RAAF personnel serving in Vietnam was granted a British Award. “Never in the field of human conflict has so much fruit salad been granted to so few”

Remarkably, this fact does not institutionally embarrass the RAAF. The woeful RAAF response to the Task Force’s helicopter needs is unlikely to embarrass them either.

Mick

Last edited by chippymick; 20th Jul 2010 at 11:38.
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