Air Weapons: September 4, 2004

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The Royal Australian Air Force is acquiring new missiles that will allow their force of F-18 Hornets fighters and P-3C maritime patrol aircraft to reach out and touch somebody. The RAAF is in a position which makes this capability a requirement. For instance, there is a reported shortage of pilots for the F/A-18s, due to a small population base and attrition from pilots choosing better-paying jobs with airliners. The loss of a pilot will be keenly felt. The Australians train their pilots well, and in some instances, the Australian pilots have served American pilots some rather large helpings of humble pie in combat training competitions. Their situation bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the Japanese in World War II. They are operating with a small group of very good pilots. In a long war, attrition could render the Australian Air Force useless.

One answer to the problem is acquire long-range missiles. There are three missiles that are in contention. Two (the AGM-158 JASSM and the AGM-84H SLAM ER) are American designs. The JASSM is a long-range (600 kilometers) missile with GPS guidance and a 1,000-pound armor-piercing warhead. The SLAM-ER is a variant of the Harpoon anti-ship missile, which has added the pop-out wings used on the Tomahawk cruise missile. SLAM-ER (the ER stands for Expanded Response) can reach out to 280 kilometers, and has an armor-piercing 800-pound warhead. The third contender is the KEPD 350, which is under development in Sweden. This missile, with a range of 350 kilometers and a speed of Mach .8 (961 kilometers per hour) is designed for multi-mission flexibility. That said, this is the first cruise missile Sweden has tried to develop, and it will probably have some growing pains. KEPD 350 is also slated for use in the German Luftwaffe and possibly for the Swedish air force.

Australias new standoff system will give it a chance to preserve the lives of precious pilots. These days, aircrew is the critical component of combat airpower. Fancy planes are nice, but well-trained pilots are essential. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)


 


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