Flight Path
24 Feb 2015|

A No.6 Squadron F-111 'dump and burn' at the 2007 Avalon Air Show.

This week’s update discusses American drone exports, the state of Russian and Indian fifth-generation fighters, new technology advancements and complications, and the upcoming 2015 Australian International Air Show.

First, last Tuesday US President Barack Obama approved a new policy allowing US companies to export armed drones to US allies (previously limited to the UK). It’s not exactly a free-for-all—requests are to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with agreement contingent on ‘proper use’ principles. The unclassified version of the list stipulates drones must obey international law, and must not be used unlawfully against their owner’s domestic population. How the principles address the assassination of suspected terrorists remains unclear. While the US debates the proper use of drones, India is expanding its own surveillance drone program. India recently signed two separate deals with Israel Aerospace Industries and the American company, AeroVironment.

As India deepens its defence manufacturing ties with the US (observed in its most recent Indian–US Defense Trade and Technology Initiative) speculation is growing about a declining India–Russia bond. That’s been further reinforced by news of their strained relationship developing the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA jet fighters. Still, notwithstanding Indian frustrations at Russian unwillingness to share design information and workload, the Russian United Aircraft Corporation has confirmed it’s set to receive the first batch of the fifth-generation fighters in 2016 and is expecting India to sign a contract for the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft in 2015.

Back to technology, discussions in the US have begun on updating the F-15 and F-16 fighters, and retiring the Fairchild-Republic A-10, as well as the U-2 and Global Hawk drones. Rob Weis from Lockheed Martin’s advanced development program advocated for the development of an unmanned program to replace the functions of both the U-2 and Global Hawk drones. Alternatively, Northrop Grumman is developing a ‘universal payload adapter’ to take the sensor suite from a U-2 and fit it to the drone. Similar discussions about the nature and needs of the future battlefield have also begun in relation to close air support—in particular, how that mission can be fulfilled in a more contested environment.

Moving to Nigeria, with the support of airstrikes, Nigerian forces seized the border town of Baga from Boko Haram on Saturday. That comes as Nigeria prepares to launch a ground-and-air offensive against the group in tandem with Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Heading back to Australia, 19 February marked 73 years since the bombing of Darwin in 1942. The commemoration included an RAAF Orion flying over the city. Over the weekend, Canberra held a separate commemoration remembering those who served in World War II. Three F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft from the Republic of Singapore Air Force ‘Black Knight’s’ aerobatics team were joined by RAAF PC-9A as they closed the service. Coming up this Friday is the Australian International Air Show at Victoria’s Avalon Airport. The special ANZAC centenary celebrations program is a salute to 100 years of military aviation and the heroes of the sky. The tribute will showcase Australian and overseas aircraft from WWI, and WWII, as well as more modern military aircraft.

Operating in conjunction with the International Airshow is the Avalon 2015 Aerospace and Defence Exposition. Running from 24 February to 1 March, the exposition is a biennale event which explores the full range of military and civil aviation, aerospace, land and air defence. Notable events on this year’s program include the prestigious Air Chiefs Symposium, the Australian Association for unmanned systems conference and the Australian International Aerospace Congress.

Yesterday’s Australian paper (paywalled) reported the Chief of Air Force Air Marshall Geoff Brown will be attending the Airshow and Exposition. In the report, Brown claims the air force will become the primary military arm in responding to the increasingly complex needs of government, including but not limited to international terrorism, combat operations and humanitarian missions. Brown’s assertion is founded on Plan Jericho, originally launched in May 2014. The plan seeks to leverage the introduction of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and its information-age technology to transform the Australian air and defence force into a fifth-generation force spearheading the ‘defence of the future’.

Palmo Tenzin is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.