RAAF aviators bring big picture to US exercise

Department of Defence

Wedgetail aviators from RAAF 2 Squadron recently shared airspace awareness and their own collective experience with American counterparts in Florida during Exercise Checkered Flag.

The exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base involved participants from the United States Air Force (USAF) and United States Navy conducting air-to-air combat training missions over the nearby Gulf Range Complex – a massive 466,000 square kilometre area of military airspace over the Gulf of Mexico.

RAAF aviators used the considerable airborne surveillance talents of their E-7A Wedgetail to provide a ‘big picture’ of each mission and coordinate friendly aircraft.

As well as coordinating missions with their USAF counterparts flying the E-3 Sentry surveillance aircraft, RAAF 2 Squadron members shared their experience operating the Wedgetail.

The RAAF has operated the E-7A Wedgetail since 2010, and the USAF announced in February this year that it too will acquire E-7s to replace its older fleet of E-3s.

Major Jackie Pike is a USAF surveillance and control officer who has been embedded with 2 Squadron for the last two years.

“A surveillance and control officer […] is the controlling operator who speaks to aircraft, directs them where to go, and provides overall air battle management through the RAAF E-7A Wedgetail,” Major Pike said.

“An opportunity we don’t normally have is being able to have US Air Force E-3 and RAAF E-7 aircraft working together, which has been such an incredible learning experience.”

RAAF 2 Squadron demonstrated the strategic importance of and shared responsibility to maintain air superiority during the 24-1 iteration of Checkered Flag.

Squadron Leader Steve Scott, an air battle manager with 2 Squadron, led the RAAF contingent at Exercise Checkered Flag.

“Our primary objectives in Checkered Flag are to ensure that the training we do back home integrates well into a coalition package,” said Squadron Leader Scott.

“We’re trained to the same standard and when we come over here we want to ensure that works cleanly and efficiently.”

The exercise enables participating allied and partner nation armed forces to learn best practices from each other.

“You don’t realise what type of bubble you are in when you just operate in your own unit, in your country’s military,” Major Pike said.

“Going outside of [your own military] and expanding your knowledge and expanding your experiences has been incredibly valuable.

“You really get to see the different approaches, mindsets and operations. That is something I look forward to bringing back to the US Air Force.”

Squadron Leader Scott said he enjoyed operating on the E-7 aircraft.

“It brings a unique capability to the fight,” he said.

“(Collectively) we’re looking to expand the fleets, and our RAF [United Kingdom] brethren and USAF are now on board for the E-7 project.

“It’s going to be really great to work with those guys and teach them the lessons we’ve learned over the past few years.”

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