RAAF/Japan make giant leap in air-to-air refuelling

Defence cooperation between the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) and the RAAF took a significant leap forward last month.

CAPTIONJapan Air Self-Defense Force, Major General Hiroaki Sakanashi, right, with Wing Commander Neil Bowen at 33 Squadron, RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland. Story by Flight Lieutenant Julia Ravell. Photo by Leading Aircraftwoman Taylor Anderson.

RAAF’s KC-30A can now perform air-to-air refuelling for Mitsubishi F-2 multirole fighters and maritime strike aircraft and Boeing F-15 Eagle aircraft thanks to years of work by staff at RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit and 33 Squadron.

In recognition of this this milestone, Major General Sakanashi Hiroaki, Director General, Defence Planning and Policy Department Air Staff Office, and former Deputy Chief of Air Force Air Vice Marshal Glen Braz visited 33 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley to say thank you.

Major General Hiroaki Sakanashi presented 33 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Neil Bowen, with a commendation praising his team’s role in aiding bilateral defence cooperation by acting as a bridge between 33 Squadron and its Japanese sister squadron, the 404th Tactical Airlift Squadron.

The citation written by JASDF Chief-of-Staff, General Hiroaki Uchikura, expressed Japan’s “sincerest gratitude” for the dedicated contribution made by Wing Commander Bowen and his team for an accomplishment that will be remembered as a cornerstone for the deep friendship between Japan and Australia.

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CAPTION: Japan Air Self Defense-Force, Major General Hiroaki Sakanashi, right, presents Commanding Officer 33 Squadron, Wing Commander Neil Bowen with a commendation during a visit to RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland. Photo by Leading Aircraftwoman Taylor Anderson.

33 Squadron pilot and translator, Flight Lieutenant Kevin Baker – who has been involved in the interoperability project since its inception – said the gifts of appreciation were “very Japanese”.

“The Japanese wrapping cloth gifts were each hand-printed with the Koku-Jieitai logo,” he said.

Flight Lieutenant Baker said the testing program is now complete. “We refuelled F-2s during Exercise Pitch Black last year and we’re planning to get the F-15 refuelling clearance certified in time for Exercise Bushido Guardian, which will be going ahead later this year after being interrupted by COVID-19.

“A typical test program for a single aircraft usually takes about 10 flights, but the differences between the single-seat and two-seat versions of each fighter aircraft affects their refuelling characteristics so each type needs to assessed.

Flight Lieutenant Baker said testing four types across two test programs in the time available was demanding.

“The combined team had to work closely together to manage duty times, challenging weather, maintenance and aircraft test configuration changes,” he said.

A total of 11 flights and 325 contacts were conducted by the aircraft in different conditions during daylight and at night. The engineering data from these trials will allow the RAAF to authorise and train its KC-30A aircrew to refuel F-15s in the future.

“This new capability is the culmination of years of work,” Flight Lieutenant Baker said.

Since 2007, the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation has provided a foundation for wide-ranging collaboration on security issues between Australia and Japan. It was updated in 2022 to support the rapidly growing defence partnership over the past 15 years.


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