days, a vacant airstrip in Australias remote north was transformed
into a bustling fast-jet launch platform. Private John Wellfare
looks at how RAAF Scherger went online.
Sara Doore and FLTLT Robyn Tatnell lead the stretcher carrying
a wounded enemy soldier.
from 381ECSS prepare hot boxes for deployed personnel.
Katie Gallin, from 1CLS, drives back to Townsville after
bringing stores to RAAF Scherger.
first 1SQN F-111 touches down at RAAF Scherger.
Chris Campbell, from 2AFDS, mans a vehicle checkpoint at
by CPL Kirk Peacock
1SQN advance party disembarks at RAAF Scherger.
Chris Everett and CPL Gill Rutledge work at the alternate
message tactical comms centre.
technician FSGT Kelly Morris checks out an explosive device
planted beneath a truck.
by PTE John Wellfare
does it take to activate a bare base? Commanding Officer No. 381
Expeditionary Combat Support Squadron, Wing Commander Scott Winchester,
knows the answer.
As do the members of his unit and No. 2 Airfield Defence Squadron,
who turned RAAF Scherger into a high-security platform for launching
F-111 strike missions during Exercise Kakadu.
The remote far north Queensland facility is one of three Air Force
bare bases in Australia, which can be activated as staging platforms
for air attacks against an invading force.
When activated, the base population goes from four Air
Force caretakers live at the base to provide year-round upkeep
to more than 500 personnel. The bare bases are a crucial
part of Australias defence strategy, which forms the basis
of the ADFs primary role.
Its not just a matter of coming in and turning the
lights on, Wing Commander Winchester said. You need
to look at, first of all, what element youre supporting
and from there deduce the level of airbase services needed to
activate and sustain flying operations.
Then you start to look at the force structure that youre
putting in place and that will drive the numbers and the equipment
requirements that you need to deploy to the location.
If weve got pre-positioned stores at the base, we
have to look at serviceability issues and make sure its
there, it works and then bring up any additional equipment thats
required to provide the stores support.
Theres lots of moving parts to activating the base
identifying the customer requirements, formulating the
force structure and from that falls out your personnel requirements
and their movements. Then youve got to look at how you deploy
people under the threat scenario to ensure that we can step through
the activation process.
Were providing the airfield services that youd
expect from the main operating bases to the south.
On the airfield we have navigation aids, we have landing
aids, we have a cable arrest system, we have air traffic control
service, we have airfield rescue, fire fighting, tanker support
and an air load team.
Communications-wise, we have the full suite of IT systems, radio
networks [and] video conferencing. We have messing, accommodation,
logistic support and vehicle maintenance.
All those capabilities that you find on home bases, we can
establish them at this base.
RAAF Scherger was to be activated to support F-111 operations
in a political environment of rising tensions between northern
neighbours Mauveland and Purpleland. With the governments of both
countries warning Australia not to intervene, RAAF Scherger faced
a potential security threat from either nation and had to be protected.
Airfield defence guards from No. 2 Airfield Defence Squadron cleared
the air base and established patrol staging posts in the surrounding
bushland before the main body of personnel arrived. Expecting
the likely threat to come from a foreign Special Forces unit,
the ADG patrols covered likely insertion and extraction points
for small reconnaissance or strike teams.
In addition to activating the base youve got to protect
the base as well, and thats a role that needs careful monitoring
and prioritisation to ensure that ones not done to the detriment
of the other, Wing Commander Winchester said.
For 10 days, personnel from No. 381 Expeditionary Combat Support
Squadron and No. 2 Airfield Defence Squadron waged a battle against
time and an increasingly disruptive team of Mauveland Special
Forces troopers, who were intent on preventing the approaching
Despite setbacks some a result of exercise scenarios, others
arising from the bases lack of use and the need to clear
out the cobwebs the first F-111s touched down on
schedule on August 1, and were immediately refuelled and relaunched
as a test of both the air base and No. 1 Squadrons ground
A lot of the hard work is actually in setting up the base
and activating it, especially with RAAF Scherger, which hasnt
been activated to this extent since it was constructed.
Theres also the reception of No. 1 Squadron and basically
being responsive to their needs.
We need to provide them with an excellent level of service
to ensure that they can do what they need to.
Were activating this base because of the F-111 operations
and that needs to be our focus at all times.
Fortunately, many members of Wing Commander Winchesters
unit have experience with establishing services in a deployed
With the level of operational tempo weve had in the
past couple of years, a lot of the personnel have deployed on
They can draw on their knowledge and experience from those
locations and apply them to a bare base scenario.
Overall, the level of experience across the unit is fairly
high as far as operating in austere conditions.
At the completion of their mission, the F-111s and support crews
leave the base, which No. 381 Expeditionary Combat Support Squadron
then closes up and vacates. The caretakers return to their duties,
maintaining the lonely outpost on the western coastline of Cape
York until the next time its needed.