The Surveillance and Response Group: The RAAF shapes its C2 and ISR Capabilities

By Robbin Laird

As Air Commodore Westwood, the Commander the Surveillance and Response (SRG) put it: “The goal is seamless integration which is always a work in progress, but that is why I think we are a key part of the shaping of an effective Jericho policy.”

Clearly, working the ISR and C2 pieces of the evolving 21st century approach to combat operations is a key part of the overall effort.

It is not an end in and of itself, but part of the tool sets for working a more integrated and effective force.

After the discussion with Air Commodore Westwood, I had a chance to sit down with representatives of the four wings, which make up SRG to learn about their approach and the way ahead.

For an American, it was interesting to see elements in the SRG, which would belong to the USAF or the USN separately in the US forces, but are placed under a common command in the RAAF. SRG conducts its operations 24/7 365 days a year and, with the advent of new capabilities, will be delivering to the Australian Defence Force an integrated surveillance picture across surface, subsurface, air and space.

Surveillance and Response Group has over 2100 personnel spread across Australia working in the following areas:

  • No 41 Wing (Air Defence/Air Battle Management)
  • No 42 Wing (Airborne Early Warning and Control)
  • No 44 Wing (Joint Battlefield Air Control)
  • No 92 Wing (Maritime Operations).

The roundtable was held with:

  • Wing Commander des Jardins, XO 41 Wing
  • Wing Commander Robson, CO No1 Remote Sensor Unit (Over the Horizon Radar and Space Surveillance)
  • Group Captain Martin, OC 42 Wing
  • Group Captain Edgeley, OC 44 Wing
  • Group Captain Champion, OC 92 Wing
  • Group Captain Hombsch, HQSRG Chief of Staff

The discussion began with regard to 41 Wing.  The Wing looks after battle management and is located throughout the Australian continent.

According to Wing Commander Lou des Jardins, “we are responsible for producing the recognized air picture for Australia and the surrounding areas of interest and to our north, in particular.”

A clear way ahead for SRG is working the relationship with the Navy to shape a more effective air-sea common operating picture.

According to Wing Commander des Jardins, “the air battle managers at Williamtown are complemented by a deployable unit that is currently based in Darwin but can be deployed wherever we need it .  It is designed to fit in the back of C-17s or C-130s.  It was deployed to Kandahar for two years, and did the job over there before we handed the task back to the USAF.”

Question: The impact of combat experience was important for your thinking about the way ahead as well, I would assume?

Wing Commander des Jardins: “It is very much so.  When the team returned, the cabins were refurbished and they were redesigned along the needs that were shown through that experience. The importance of redesign to shape a slightly bigger system with more workstations, and  an increased flexibility  in how we operate the mobile system overall was highlighted by our combat experience in Afghanistan.”

The discussion then turned to shaping the way ahead and the shaping of the evolving exercise regime.

Clearly, with the threat evolving, working ways to more effectively deal with high tempo operations is important for the C2 side of the house.  And to do so with a more joint approach

One of the participants highlighted that “the Jericho policy incentive is to develop a much more integrated exercise program and we are rewriting our campaign plan for 41 wing to create more joint efforts in our training at home and to support our presence overseas.”

Group Captain Antony Martin, Officer Commanding No 42 Wing which includes the Wedgetail squadron, provided an update on the Wedgetail and discussed the thinking about the way ahead.

“We have been in the Middle East for almost 12 months. We have flown about 1300 hours on station.  The plane has performed well from a serviceability point of view, which is due in part to having a new airplane.  The minor problems we have had have been aircraft issues, not mission systems issues.  We have a small footprint of around 35 people for ops, and maintenance.

We are flying regularly with about 12 sorties per month.  And the USAF has shown clear interest in our experience, as the AWACS is getting old   and E-7 could be part of the post-AWACs transition.”

The Wedgetail is doing the traditional fighter control but has encompassed a broader approach to management of combat assets within the battlespace, including ground elements as well.

The Wedgetail is working with the F-22s and in so doing is shaping tactics to work the relationship between fifth generation aircraft and a non-fighter battle management system.

“We are starting to draft a new E-7 con-ops to work with fifth generation aircraft, notably with the coming of the F-35, and shaping IP chat as a tool within the battlespace is part of the Jericho approach as well.”

And the Wedgetail team was recently in Baltimore to meet with Northrop Grumman to shape ongoing work on upgrading technologies for improving the radar and mission system performance. Wedgetail is largely  a software upgradeable platform so ongoing spiral development with regular interaction  namely from users to application engineers will be key for the future development of the capability.

The head of No. 44 wing, Group Captain Edgeley, then discussed the approach to air traffic management  The core point is that a high level of integration is required between civil and military operations. This integration enables the operational flexibility required to meet the increasing complexity of military operations, but also reduces the requirement to exclude civil operators from military airspace and airfields.

“We are trying to integrate military and civil traffic in a way that no one else tries to do.”

This also provides an advantage in leveraging new unmanned technologies, which are being worked into Australian airspace as part of normal operations.

As the need to work an expanded battlespace is met, the challenge for Joint Battlefield Airspace Controllers (military air traffic controllers) will be to handle a much more complex deconfliction effort within the battlespace. In a way, this is part of the controller’s effort towards Plan Jericho, and the transformation of jointness.

A clear challenge is to ensure that No. 44 wing can recruit and retain the kind of qualified personnel necessary to shape capabilities going forward.

“We probably cannot compete with the civil sector in terms of salaries, so we are creating a job opportunity which is much broader than what a civil air traffic controller does. Our personnel get the opportunity to do more than just air traffic control.”

The 44 Wing concept of air traffic control encompasses the tactical role of the JBACs  or Joint Battlefield Aerospace Control as well.

With 92 Wing, the discussion turned to the P-3 and preparing for the entry into service of the P-8 in Australia in 2016.

As Group Captain Champion put it: “The P-3 has served us well but we are transitioning to the P-8 which has a much greater set of sensor capabilities which we will become part of our overall enhanced capabilities to see and defend the approaches around Australia.”

With the F-35, the P-8 and the Triton operating in the waters surrounding Australia, in addition to the ground based assets providing core data, the challenge will be to integrate data in a timely manner and ensure it is delivered to the appropriate actors in the broad defense belt surrounding Australia.  And doing so will require an ability to work closely with allies shaping their own common operating pictures.

SRG clearly faces challenges, but is at a critical vortex of the Plan Jericho effort.

Shaping capabilities to inform the joint force in an effective manner to enhance their lethality and survivability will be the challenge; but Australia is investing in new systems to provide for new tool sets; and with Plan Jericho, the mindset is being reshaped to look to draw the best from what each platform can provide, to shape a more effective joint force effort.

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