Army :: The Soldier's Newspaper

Top Stories
Your Career
Eagle Eye
Health and Fitness
About us
Navigation Bar End




Our vital wasteland
After two years of talk, Woomera is set for a major revamp. PTE John Wellfare reports on the road ahead.

An F-111 flies over the Woomera test and evaluation facility during a recent systems trial.

An F-111 flies over the Woomera test and evaluation facility during a recent systems trial.

CERTAIN names have come to be embedded in Australia’s military culture as instantly recognisable icons. Names such as Hercules, particularly for members of the Air Force, don’t conjure an image of the Greek hero but of C-130s.

Likewise the name Woomera, for most of Australia’s past and present servicemen and women, does not refer to the Aboriginal weapon, nor the more recently infamous detention centre, but to the largest land weapons range in the world, which spans 127,000 square kilometres of South Australian desert.

Later this year the Woomera Capability Development Plan (CDP) will be released after two years of discussions.

The plan will outline a multimillion dollar program for the rejuvenation and continued development of Australia’s only instrumented air weapons test and evaluation range.

Bordered by familiar opal and uranium mining sites such as Coober Pedy and Roxby Downs, the Woomera range is potentially far more lucrative than most vast expanses of desert and in the past has attracted interest from mining corporations and the South Australian Government.

Squadron Leader Peter Ibbotson, from Air Force Headquarters, has been working closely with the Aerospace Operational Support Group to produce the Woomera CDP.

Like most recent projects across all three Services, the plan to upgrade Woomera’s range infrastructure is not intended to be a one-off event, but rolling process of continued development.

The approach aims to consider technology due for introduction in several years and even technologies in the earliest planning stages, before choosing the best test and evaluation systems for all needs.

“The infrastructure that’s there at the moment pretty much dates from the ’60s and ’70s,” SQNLDR Ibbotson said.

“At that time it was owned by what is now DSTO. They had put a couple of radars and tracking devices in there. That was handed over to Air Force [and] we kept using it but we didn’t invest in it.”

The new CDP will be based on three phases, which will be regularly updated and adjusted to ensure the systems acquired for Woomera will remain useful for as long as possible and offer the best value for money.


“The first phase will look at our current capabilities and work out what we need at Woomera to perform the test and evaluation on those,” SQNLDR Ibbotson said.

“The second phase will look at the Defence Capability Plan (DCP) capabilities that are approved – what we’re going to buy in the next 10 or 15 years – in order to be able to do test and evaluation on those capabilities.

“And then the third phase is to look at capabilities that are out beyond the DCP. “It’s going to be a rolling program – phase two will become phase one, phase three will become phase two and future capabilities will be in phase three.”

Air Force has taken responsibility for producing the Woomera CDP, since Air Force manages the range and stands to gain the most from its upgrade, but that doesn’t mean the other stakeholders aren’t being considered.

It will also allow the rest of the Woomera Prohibited Area to be used if and when required. SQNLDR Ibbotson said the needs of the Army, Navy and DSTO, as well as foreign militaries and civilian corporations – including the mining companies – were all being considered in the CDP.

“We also involve the traditional owners in range management because of the cultural significance of many areas of the Range. The other users are quite happy for Air Force to take the lead because we use it the most, but we’re also making sure that we have the other people on-side.

“It would be so easy for us to steam down the path and do what suits Air Force, but we recognise that it’s not going to help anyone.

“We work hard to keep everybody on board and keep everybody in the loop.” One radar is already on the way to Woomera, a gift from Germany. It will help to keep the test and evaluation facility running by allowing for one of the two 30-year-old radars at the site to be stripped for parts.

What other equipment will be needed is still being discussed. “Probably in the second-half of the year, things will really start to firm up, with a reasonable list of required capabilities.

“The only way you can justify spending money these days is to make sure that your capability needs are backed up by analysis and justification.

“We’ll start to get a really good idea of what we need and then it’ll be a matter of getting the money, competing against all the priorities that Defence has. “We have some cover in that test and evaluation is an essential part of maintaining our Defence capabilities [and] Woomera is key to aerospace test and evaluation.

“There’s no way we can meet those mandates without some investment, so exactly how much investment, and when, is what we need to make a case for, once we’ve worked out what we need.”

Woomera’s rejuvenation is a high priority for the Air Force and the broader Defence community, so much so that CAF Air Marshal Angus Houston chairs the Woomera Prohibited Area Governance Board.

Although the specifics are still uncertain, the most important development that comes with the CDP is that Woomera’s future as a test and evaluation range is not only assured, it’s bright.

A piece of Australian history

The Woomera range area in 1947 (red) and today (blue).
The Woomera range area in 1947 (red) and today (blue).

WOOMERA has been a part of Australia’s defence since 1947 and has been the site of rocket, missile and satellite launches, a US and Australian joint Defence Space Communications Station and even unidentified aerial sightings.

Initially formed as the Long Range Weapons Establishment between Australia and the UK, the Woomera range and its accompanying township was named after the weapon used by Aborigines to throw spears.

The original range spanned a vast area of land in South Australia (about 270,000 square kilometres) and included a separate range covering several hundred thousand square kilometres out to the West Australian coastline.

The range has been gradually cut back to the 127,000 square-kilometre area it covers today – still the largest land range in the world. Testing of long-range missiles began in 1949, and the first rocket launch took place in 1957.

Space launches continued throughout the 1960s, with the last satellite launched from Woomera in 1971.

The RAAF Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU), part of the Aerospace Operational Support Group, took control of the Woomera range from DSTO in 1991 and continues to operate the Woomera Instrumented Range Facility for aerospace test and evaluation.

On February 1 this year, the control of the Woomera Prohibited Area transferred from CSIG to the Air Force. CSIG retains responsibility for the Woomera village.



Top of side bar








Top Stories | Letters | Features | Your Career | Recreation | Entertainment | Health & Fitness | Sport | About us