The RAAF has been mid-air refuelling its South Korean and US allies during Exercise Vigilant Storm.
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This follows Australia and South Korea’s agreement to increase interoperability between their air forces, with both signing a mid-air refuelling agreement earlier in the year.
Taking place from 28 October to 5 November, the United States and South Korea conducted Exercise Vigilant Storm, which saw around 240 aircraft perform 1,600 sorties, and for the first time, involved both fifth generation and fourth-generation aircraft.
The RAAF deployed a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), a heavily modified Airbus A330, and aviators from No. 33 Squadron to conduct the refuelling, taking off from Gimhae Air Base.
During the exercise, the crew refuelled the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) KF-16U fighter jets as well as F-35B Lightning IIs and F-16CJs from the US Marine Corps and US Pacific Air Forces, respectively.
According to Squadron Leader Anna Lovatt, who was in charge of RAAF operations during the exercise, No. 33 Squadron worked closely with ROKAF’s No. 261 Squadron.
“Deploying to Gimhae offered the opportunity to work alongside the ROKAF, receive procedural briefings from them, share experiences and build friendships,” SQNLDR Lovatt said.
“There were opportunities to take ROKAF flying to observe our operating procedures, and there were many similarities in how we work.
“We were able to identify differences and engage in discussions to gain appreciation of how each air force operates, both for aircrew and maintenance workforces.
“The timing of Exercise Vigilant Storm couldn’t have been better to continue to build on the relationships we developed in Exercise Pitch Black,” SQNLDR Lovatt said.
The RAAF has had experience with mid-air refuelling its allies before, having previously deployed the KC-30A MRTT to refuel Japanese Mitsubishi F-2 aircraft, and again fuelling US F-35B jets.
The ROKAF has supported the RAAF in the same way in the past during Exercise Pitch Black 22, with No. 261 Squadron having deployed a similar KC-330 Cygnus MRTT tanker to RAAF Base Amberley earlier this year.
“The level of support we provided to the ROKAF on Exercise Pitch Black was reciprocated to our detachment at Exercise Vigilant Storm, and we were very well looked after,” SQNLDR Lovatt said.
“From an engagement perspective, this was an incredibly valuable relationship-building activity that allowed us to operate the KC-30A for the first time on the Korean Peninsula and further develop 33 Squadron to 261st Squadron relationships.”
Ensuring interoperability between the two air forces, South Korea and Australia signed an implementing arrangement for mid-air refuelling that coordinated tanking procedures.
The agreement was signed in September by Air Commander Australia Air Vice-Marshal Darren Goldie and Korean Operation Commander Lieutenant General Park Ha Sik.
“This helps further ensure that our two air forces can support one another in the skies, during exercises and training activities and on any future operations,” said AVM Goldie.
“The transfer of fuel when required to sustain and prolong our presence in the air is critical to our aircraft being able to successfully project air power.”