USA   F-111 Aardvark


Fight's on at 'Green Flag'

Australian F-111s at Nellis

March 1999

Published with the express permission of 'Strike Publications'

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The next time the dawn hits Sunrise Mountain, the six F-111s will be ready to take on all comers in

Story by Phil Smith
Photographs by Mal Lancaster (Defence Force PR

The prospect of Amberley-based F-111s versus former East German MiG fighter jets and the opportunity to put newly-upgraded F-111s up with NATO’s best was like a red rag to a bull for 82 Wing. The RAAF has deployed six jets and 100 personnel to Nellis AFB, Nevada for Exercise Green Flag 99. At the last minute the Luftwaffe changed its mind and left its short-range Migs in Europe, but the deployment still marked the first time Australia has been invited to the Green Flag series, and provided a great opportunity to build credibility, according to Commanding Officer of No 1 Squadron. "Australia’s involvement alongside five NATO members shows we are ready and able to take part in a coalition force as an equal partner," Wing Commander Kim Osley said. GFLG1.JPG (15450 bytes)
Bone dry in the Nevada desert. The flight from Australia was a thirsty one, but the F-111s' pylons will carry far different loads during Green Flag.  CPL's Glen Bowman, Robert Couchman and Daniel Logan remove the long range fuel tanks on arrival at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
And in the current world environment, if Australia ever deployed RAAF strike assets operationally, it would probably be as part of a coalition force. ‘Inter-operability’ is a significant buzzword in the present situation. US Navy and Air Force units, as well as British, Spanish, Canadian and German units began training over the desert ranges two day’s ago. ‘Green Flag’ places the large attacking formations in a high-technology, high-intensity electronic warfare environment, working against a wide range of ground-based and airborne threats.

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Performing maintenance on the F-111C radar.

The USAF Base at Nellis is one of the ‘Desert Mafia’, a small group of specialised military bases tasked with high level training. They include Marine and Navy ranges running Strike and Top Gun programmes. The region features diverse terrain from salt lakes to snow-capped mountains, and offers around 300 days per year of unlimited ceiling and visibility. The bombing ranges around Nellis, north-west of Las Vegas, are fully instrumented to allow electronic and visual recording of every move made by every aircraft on every mission. When the mission is played up on the big screen at the debrief, there’s no room for guess work and everyone knows for certain whether the weapons went on target on time, or if in fact, the interceptors won the day.

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82WG maintenance personnel returning from the flightline.  Behind is the imposing view of
Sunrise Mountain.

To add to the realism, the desert flats and gullies are dotted with look-alike defence and anti-aircraft installations, ranging from former soviet bloc mobile radars to inert surface-to-air missiles that give aircrews an adrenaline rushing smoke trail as a visual cue.   

Many analysts suggest that rapid development of electronic threats has outstripped actual weapons technology, pitting strike aircraft against highly sophisticated tracking, targeting and jamming systems long before they are dodging incoming projectiles.

But three months before the F-111 aircrews began dodging ‘Smokey SAMs’ and ‘checking six’ for the aggressors, the ground crew was busy. A dedicated team of around 60 personnel had to prepare for a deployment to a foreign base, with a now unique jet and the knowledge that what they could carry in a C130 was all they would have by way of spares and tools. Since last year, the USAF no longer operates F-111 jets. WOFF Engineer, Anthony ‘Steelo’ Lindsay, headed a team of aviation technicians, avionics technicians, weapons specialists and supply NCOs.

"We have to be basically self-sufficient," WOFF Lindsay said.
"We can’t just ring up Sacramento any more and say ‘send such and such down’, and this is the first time the guys have been in that situation."

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No secrets here.  CPL David Harvey and SGT Phil Pluis check Radio Telemetry pods that will link back to Nellis AFB every move the jets make.

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WOFF Engineer Anthony 'Steelo' Lindsay with one of the USAF security personnel on the flightline.

Members of the ground crew team followed the jets across the world by Hercules, launching and recovering the F-111s at Pago Pago and Hawaii. After arriving at Nellis AFB, near Las Vegas they prepared the six aircraft for taxing missions over the following nine days of Green Flag.

"I would like to think that the guys will become more self-sufficient," he said. "They realise they have to think outside the square, scrounging, begging and stealing whatever isn’t nailed down, to keep the aeroplanes flying."

WOFF Lindsay described his troops as keen and well aware that each one earned his or her place at Green Flag.

"It’s a big ‘tick in the box’ for these guys, they’re multi-skilled, with a lot of them qualified in two trades now." "It sounds simple if you say it quickly," said WGCDR Osley.
"We’re going to take six jets ten thousand miles, prepare the lot, for morning familiarity flights on the range, turn all six around again to do the same thing in the afternoon. For the following nine days we’ll achieve a four-turn-two routine for morning and afternoon waves with limited spares and equipment, pack it all up, and return home safely."

 Image Courtesy of On-Target and Pat Crain
Image courtesy of On-Target and Pat Crain

Also see the article "F-111 carries the Raptor Pod" republished here.

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The previous issue, Vol3 No.4, includes:
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