Vigilare is an NC3S product Boeing Defence Australia is developing for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) under Project Air 5333. (image : Boeing Australia)
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is integrating three new operational elements into its advanced, network-centric military — a squadron of Wedgetail command and control aircraft, the first two squadrons of F/A-18F Super Hornets and the Vigilare theater surveillance integration system — all designed as the backbone of a small, highly responsive force.
However, this cutting-edge force was envisioned somewhat differently only five years ago. The Wedgetail had a 2006 delivery date and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters were slated to replace the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) classic F-18 Hornets as soon as they were available.
Vigilare integrates information from the following sources to provide a Common Operating Picture of the battlespace (source : Boeing Australia)
Instead, the Wedgetail’s radar was set back by a two-year delay for hardware and software redesign that has stretched into more than four years. The massive task of integrating many sources, services and sensor types caused a dragging out of Vigilare’s operational introduction. Finally, the U.S. slowed the F-35 program and drove up its cost, which injected uncertainty into Australia’s budgeting.
These delays and a change in Canberra’s government have created extreme political and financial pressures for the Australian military. But now it appears that no matter how monumental the problems of the last four years have been, they are small compared to what would have happened without the slowdown in programs, improvements in technology and reshuffling of priorities.
Wedgetail AEW&C (image : valka)
Because the RAAF’s Hornets are aging, Canberra approved purchase of the Super Hornets as an interim aircraft between the Hornets and F-35. Aerospace industry and military officials contend that without the Super Hornet to make the task of integration incremental, the shift from Hornet to F-35 would likely have become a nightmare of increased cost, complexity and schedule overruns.
The delay of the Wedgetail and Vigilare air defense ground environment rippled through the high-tech aspirations of the RAAF. It meant they were not going to be in place for the creation of a network-centric force that could digest all of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s futuristic capabilities. To counter that delay, the RAAF acquired the Super Hornet, with its inherent network-centric capabilities, to begin the integration process.
The Wedgetail radar delay allowed the performance of the MESA long-range, 360-deg. radar to mature and new missions to emerge. Instead of making a uniform sweep at a given range as originally planned, the MESA radar can stuff its power output into limited sectors to markedly increase its range and ability to detect small objects.
12 Super Hornet will be modificated to the EA-18G Growler configuration (image : ADF)
Researchers contend they will make full use of the electromagnetic spectrum. With Wedgetail, we will see a slice of that growth. L-band radar with its lower frequency range is good for scouting for a couple of hundred miles.
Finer-grained images, such as people and individual targets, require higher frequencies provided by the X-band radars carried by Super Hornets and Growler electronic attack aircraft. Even higher in the spectrum, visual identification of a person at short ranges is possible. Moreover, disparate sensors can be fused to create a combined picture.
Wedgetail, Super Hornet and Vigilare lay the groundwork for an even more impressive force that is envisioned, if not funded, to include:
• The modification of 12 Super Hornets to the EA-18G Growler configuration.
• The acquisition of an undetermined number of P-8 Poseidon jet-powered maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft to supplement and then replace the P-3 turboprops.
• Perhaps another two squadrons of Super Hornets for precision, standoff kinetic attack.
• As many as 75 F-35-type stealth aircraft, which could be introduced in 2025.
• Far in the future, perhaps 25 penetrating, high-performance unmanned platforms that can deliver bombs or anti-electronic weapons.