75th anniversary of air power projection

The Royal Australian Navy recently marked the 75th anniversary of rising above the waves and developing a fully integrated aerial combat force.

CAPTIONHistoric imagery of the arrival of HMAS Sydney III to Jervis Bay with embarked aircraft which formed the Fleet Air Arm’s first squadrons.

World War 2 dramatically changed the nature of nautical combat by establishing air power as one of the main assets required for a modern navy to gain an undeniable advantage over an opposition force.

This realisation prompted the Chifley Government to establish the Australian Navy Aviation Group in 1947, through the purchase of two Majestic-class carriers from the Royal Navy.

This creation of the now Fleet Air Arm was cemented into history on May 25, 1949, when the first light fleet carrier, HMAS Sydney III, arrived in Jervis Bay carrying the 20th Air Carrier Group comprising of the 816 and 805 Squadrons.

These two squadrons of Hawker Sea Fury fighter/bombers, Fairey Firefly fighter/anti-submarine aircraft and Supermarine Sea Otter amphibious aircraft became the RAN’s first aerial arsenal, entering Australia’s Navy into the club of nations with dominion over air and sea.

While the current Fleet Air Arm has evolved into a sophisticated rotary-wing force, its original mandate remains the same: supporting military operations at sea.

The early fixed-wing aircraft of the 816 and 805 Squadrons were soon joined by the 808 and 817 Squadrons of the 21st Carrier Air Group.

The complete force carried out many of the same functions of today’s modern rotary aircraft, including surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, intercepting craft and search-and-rescue operations.

Across its 75-year history, the Fleet Air Arm has been based on the NSW South Coast at HMAS Albatross, which continues to be the home of Navy’s advanced, future-focused air assets.

The first carrier air groups that arrived in Australia had a short time to establish themselves before serving in the Korean War on board mother ship Sydney III, which was the first carrier of any Commonwealth nation to be deployed in wartime service.

Here, the RAN proved its ability to use air and ocean assets to support complex and developing military operations.

Following the arrival of its sister carrier, HMAS Melbourne II in 1955, the RAN continued to have a fixed-wing combat force for another 30 years, until the retirement of the A4-G Skyhawk, after the decommissioning of Melbourne II in 1982.

Since then, the Fleet Air Arm has continued as a force of predominantly rotary aircraft that have established the RAN’s place as one of the world’s most professional and dedicated naval flying forces.

Currently, the Fleet Air Arm’s main strike weapon is the world-class MH-60R Seahawk Romeo, which is a modern-day iteration of the venerable US-made Black Hawk.

The Romeo represents decades of technological advancement culminating into one of the most sophisticated flying machines ever developed for naval use.

Operational in the US Navy since 2006, the MH-60R Seahawk Romeo was designed to replace two helicopters, with the single aircraft performing a gamut of tasks as a multi-functional combat aircraft, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, vertical replenishment, passenger and cargo transfer and search-and-rescue capabilities.

Combining information from advanced radar, sonar, electro-optical and electronic support systems, it carries sophisticated weapons systems including a crew-served machine gun, Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System and the Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedo.

The modern fleet of aircraft allows the Fleet Air Arm to deploy the Romeo across Anzac-class frigates, Hobart-class air warfare destroyers and the Canberra-class landing helicopter docks.

Since its establishment 75 years ago, time, experience and technology has ensured the Fleet Air Arm has evolved over three-quarters of a century to develop into a world-class tactical division specifically tailored to meet Australia’s needs.





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