Squadron Reformation Marks Milestone

Department of Defence

In a significant move for allied air capability, the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Air Force have reformed their respective 80 Squadrons.

The occasion was marked with a dual squadron parade and reformation ceremony, attended by Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman and Warrant Officer of the Air Force Ralph Clifton, at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, United States, on April 15.

80 Squadron represents the transition of the Australia Canada United Kingdom F-35 Reprogramming Laboratory (ACURL) capability into an integrated, operationally relevant squadron that will continue serving the world’s most advanced strike fighter jets – the allied F-35 Lightning II.

Air Marshal Chipman explained what the reformation means in an ever-evolving global strategic environment: “Our partnership with allied nations is of utmost importance,” he said.

“Together, we must adapt to meet the challenges of the future, leveraging opportunities for collaboration and cooperation.”

British Royal Navy’s Commander Chris Wilcox, Officer Commanding of RAF 80 Squadron, acknowledged the importance of reforming the two historic units in RAF and RAAF.

“Officially we will be two squadrons, but our early years of F-35 reprogramming have seen us grow into a harmonious and prolific relationship, and as such, we will be proud to share just one name,” Commander Wilcox said.

The outcome of enhanced coalition interoperability is air superiority in a modern three-dimensional, connected battlefield. In today’s increasingly complex and contested electromagnetic spectrum, sophisticated precision strike, GPS and innovative data systems are required to target, jam, spoof and confuse adversarial military forces.

Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Rich Knighton underlined how the F-35 warfighting capability in Europe and the Indo Pacific is dependent on how well the specialist personnel at 80 Squadron continue to ‘sharpen the spear’ together in their work in Florida.

“A critical part of our strength comes from how effectively and synergistically we can operate our 5th generation capabilities,” Air Chief Marshal Knighton said.

“Co-location of the whole F-35 reprogramming enterprise at Eglin AFB provides a unique opportunity to integrate with our closest F-35 partners to the fullest extent.

“It’s an opportunity that wouldn’t exist if we were at home alone.”

The effort of re-raising RAAF’s 80 Squadron and RAF’s 80 Squadron has been four years in the making. Air Marshal Chipman said the Australian journey from the ACURL F-35A mission data team into an operational support squadron holds profound importance.

“I am proud of how the team has grown to support global exercises and operations, providing first-class, responsive operational support to frontline warfighters,” Air Marshal Chipman said.

“It signifies that the people and the specialist work they do, is operationally relevant; fostering unit identity and aviator pride.”

RAAF 80 Squadron Warrant Officer, Warrant Officer Sean Bell, described ACURL as a wholly unique Force Element comprising a multi-faceted RAAF, RAF, Royal Navy and US workforce.

“We are a fully blended unit in terms of three nations of three military services supported by a US Government and prime contractor workforce all interacting as one team. We are also planning for the Royal Canadian Air Force to join us over the next four years,” Warrant Officer Bell said.

“It certainly makes for a challenging but rewarding workplace, knowing that our mission data products are supporting both [Australian] and UK F-35 operations.”

At the ceremony, Wing Commander Matthew Rapson, Commanding Officer RAAF 80 Squadron, commented on how the team will manage future challenges and opportunities.

“Remaining true to our vision of operationally responsive reprogramming [while] navigating significant transitions and breaking down barriers to address our challenges can only be achieved through what got us to this point – enduring successful collaboration within our enterprise underpinned with trust, dedication, cooperation and transparency, driven by innovation and a commitment to our people who will bring about this transformation,” Wing Commander Rapson said.

He described the resolute support of the United States Air Force in enabling the squadron’s mission and highlighted opportunities for collaboration.

“Our capabilities will undergo a series of essential, complex upgrades to remain in lockstep with the collective F-35 modernisation whilst also introducing enhanced software tools critical to our mission,” Wing Commander Rapson said.

Air Marshal Chipman touched on the Pacific legacy behind RAAF’s 80 Squadron badge, which shows a large owl clutching two lightning bolts in its claws.

“The Sooty owl, found across eastern Australia, is a formidable and silent predator. The owl is also a universal symbol of wisdom and strategy,” Air Marshal Chipman said.

“Lightning bolts symbolise the enabling capability of mission data, allowing the F-35 to operate within the electromagnetic spectrum.

“Together, these two images perfectly embody the readiness of the squadron’s mission and motto ‘Strike True’ and also reflect the unit’s commitment to precision and accuracy in all they do.”

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