OPERATION BUSHFIRE ASSIST – AERIAL CONTINGENTS
The Australian Defence Force is providing direct support to the current Australian bushfire crisis.
ADF support will continue for as long as needed.
Around 6,400 ADF personnel are supporting Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST. The ADF’s efforts are being co-ordinated through three Joint Task Forces (JTF) of which, Victoria’s (JTF 646) is Based on Army’s 4th Brigade, with support elements from across the ADF. RAAF Base East Sale is the central hub for the Defence response in southern areas.
Recent aviation activity
• The ADF continues to support the return of evacuees to Mallacoota, working closely with the Victorian Police to return evacuated residents.
– 237 evacuees have been returned, including by C-27 Spartan and C-130 Hercules aircraft.
• ADF personnel, including an Unmanned Aerial System and a Defence-contracted search-and-rescue helicopter, assisted local police in their search for a missing four-year old boy near Waterhole in East Gippsland. The boy was found and reunited with his family.
• Fodder drops are continuing to areas of need.
· Air support. Two Australian and two Singaporean CH-47 Chinook helicopters are operating from RAAF Base East Sale to support firefighting operations and provide humanitarian assistance to remote and isolated communities. Other ADF aircraft are providing support as needed from around the country.
· Health and Pastoral support. Air Force is operating a medical facility at RAAF Base East Sale and providing pastoral care to support JTF operations. Each JTF is staffed with appropriately credentialed mental health professionals.
· Photorecon.net interviewed SQN LDR Hayman and SQN LDR Kleemann, RAAF Chaplains at the east Sale Emergency Reception Centre, which at its peak, processed some 300-400 evacuees daily.
· UAS support. A Small Unmanned Aerial System (SUAS) (Wasp) is based at RAAF Base East Sale to conduct ISR operations in support of JTF646.
ADF efforts are supported by over 350 international military personnel.
· 99 Papua New Guinea Defence Force members – largely engineers – working with JTF 646
· 54 Republic of Fiji Military Force engineers who are working alongside ADF personnel in East Gippsland
· 87 New Zealand Defence Force members
· 57 Republic of Singapore Air Force members
· 80 Japan Self-Defense Force members
· 10 United States Air Force members forming two cargo load teams operating from RAAF Bases Richmond and East Sale
· the New Zealand Defence Force has provided engineering support and three NH-90 helicopters
· the Singapore Armed Forces has provided two CH-47 helicopters
· the Government of Japan has provided two C-130 Hercules aircraft.
· Two New Zealand Defence Force NH90 helicopters provided aerial surveillance in south west ACT. Combined Army and Rural Fire Service teams were deployed for Helicopter Landing Zone clearance tasks in the area.
· The ADF continues to support civilian authorities following the Coulson C-130 Hercules Large Aerial Tanker accident near Adaminaby.
· Air support: MRH-90 Taipan, MH-60R Seahawk and EC-135 helicopters are conducting fire mapping, surveillance, and search and rescue support operations supporting New South Wales RFS throughout the Hunter, Greater Sydney, Illawarra, Australian Capital Territory and southern regions.
· Air support. P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft continues to conduct reconnaissance flights over fire-affected areas in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. This aircraft is operating from RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia.
DEFENCE BASE SUPPORT
· RAAF Base East Sale is supporting Defence aircraft providing emergency response.
· RAAF Base Richmond and RAAF Base Edinburgh are providing airbase access and support for Large Air Tanker and spotter aircraft.
· RAAF Base Wagga is providing refuelling support.
Photorecon.net was offered media opportunities during this time, including to RAAF Base East Sale, mid-January.
Interviews were conducted with WCDR Allen, CO, 30SQN, East Sale and Capt. Campbell Rogan, Australian Army Aviation, Townsville QLD.
WCDR Allen confirmed flying conditions at this time had been very restricted due to the thickness of smoke, which by 11am, still gave only around 300-500m visibility. The first flight out was observed to be a RAAF C-27J resupply return flight to Amberley. (amusingly, when we enquired, the CO had not at this time heard Japan had offered to participate).
“C” Squadron (CH-47F Chinook “Foxtrot”) is part of 5th Aviation Regiment, based at Townsville, QLD. Born in Victoria, with extensive operational service, Capt. Campbell Rogan, Australian Army Aviation (AAA) was like many service personnel we spoke with “excited to be deployed in his own country”. Army’s two “Chooks”, lifting 11 tons/ 26,000lbs on the centreline or seating at least 32 troops in fully kitted combat troops (or many more civilians) were backed up by two Singaporean CH-47Ds on line at East Sale for bulk fuel transport supply missions (mainly diesel for generators) and stock fodder drops and had already helped the evacuation from Mallacoota.
The Chinook we inspected, A15-301 “Caveman”, was observed to have had installed, an extended-range fuel tank in the cabin, giving a further 2 hour’s endurance, essential for the ferry from Townsville.
Standard crewing is 2 pilots, 2 aircrewmen and 1 aircrewman tech. It should be noted, the mission was, at the time of writing, moving from the “emergency” phase into the ‘recovery” phase, from evacuation to supply.
All of us here at Photorecon.net, ClassicWarbirds.net and CivilAviationWorld.com send along healing thoughts and our best wishes to all Australians, and the multi-national forces that are assisting during this bushfire disaster.