USAF flexes its long-range airpower in Australia

The United States Air Force (USAF) has recently fielded some of its most important assets for training exercises and extended deployments in Australia to demonstrate its ability to project both tactical and strategic airpower to distant locations in the Asia Pacific, as well as interoperate with its regional allies and partners.

In the latest development, Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth combat aircraft arrived at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Tindal in the Northern Territory on 18 August as part of the Enhanced Air Cooperation (EAC) programme. The activity is separate from Exercise Pitch Black 2022, a major multilateral exercise – comprising over 100 aircraft from 17 countries – which commenced a day later in the same state.

“This program has been in place since 2017, which builds on a broad range of long-standing air exercises and training activities undertaken between Australia and the United States,” said Air Vice-Marshal Darren Goldie, Air Commander Australia.

“It is the same program that recently saw B-1 Lancer aircraft visit RAAF Base Darwin in June during Exercise Diamond Storm and also B-2 Spirit Stealth bombers visit RAAF Base Amberley recently in July, integrating into Exercises Koolendong and Arnhem Thunder,” AVM Goldie explained.

“It is testament to how well our two Air Forces assimilate, that these incredible aircraft are able to visit our bases and utilise our infrastructure and support services, so we can all train closely with one another,” he added.

According to the Australian Department of Defence (DoD), the EAC is an advanced air-to-air integration activity between the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and US air elements improve interoperability, and has been successfully operating for several years as one of the United States Force Posture Initiatives.

Meanwhile, four USAF Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bombers – representing 20% of the service’s total B-2 bomber fleet – also recently concluded the type’s first deployment to Australia under the Bomber Task Force (BTF) initiative.

The first two B-2s, ‘Spirit of New York and Spirit of Ohio’, arrived at RAAF Base Amberley on 10 July to support a BTF deployment, the US Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) said in a statement. Another two bombers, ‘Spirit of Arizona’ and ‘Spirit of Alaska’, on 12 July, although the latter was subsequently replaced by ‘Spirit of Florida’ around late July.

Only partial details of the bomber’s activities in Australia were publicly disclosed due to operational security concerns, but those that were revealed included red-teaming against Australian forces, as well as air-to-air refuelling with the RAAF’s KC-30 tankers and drills with the RAAF’s airborne early warning and electronic warfare assets such as the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail and R/A-18G Growlers.

“The US Force Posture Initiatives demonstrate the strength of the Australia-US alliance and our deep engagement with the Indo-Pacific. This will ensure we continue to be prepared to operate in the deteriorating strategic environment described in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update,” said the DoD.

by Jr Ng