First contacts in Indonesian skies

31 August 2023

For the first time, RAAF has conducted air-to-air refuelling with Indonesia.

A RAAF KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport refuelled seven F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft of the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU).

 This included about 60 flying sorties, both day and night, within Indonesian air space.

Commanding Officer of 33 Squadron Wing Commander Neil Bowen said that the successful training facilitated closer and more strategic engagement between the nations.

“This training ensures both countries are contributing to the collective security in the Indo-Pacific,” Wing Commander Bowen said.

“It allows the TNI-AU to be more agile and combat-ready when supporting any contingency missions, and provides RAAF aviators continued experience in conducting highly skilled refuelling operations in a new environment.”

Air-to-air refuelling is typically conducted with both aircraft flying in close formation at approximately 650km/h.

To refuel the F-16, the KC-30A must extend a 19-metre advanced refuelling boom system to connect with a receptacle on the receiver aircraft.

“Airborne refuelling is a challenge – it is a fast injection of flammable jet fuel from a tanker aircraft into a receiving aircraft, which will extend flying endurance.” Wing Commander Bowen said.

 “It is a vital force multiplier for air operations, allowing aircraft to cross greater distances and remain within the battlespace for longer without the need to land.”

RAAF Detachment Lead on this activity, Flight Lieutenant Andrew Brinkmann, said a highlight was observing the growing confidence among the crew and the Indonesian pilots over consecutive flying days.

“TNI-AU are wonderful hosts and highly professional and friendly operators,” Flight Lieutenant Brinkmann said.

“It’s been really satisfying gaining a deeper understanding and respect, as we work together improving with each sortie.

“In addition, the Indonesian archipelago is a beautiful sight, especially at 20,000 feet with a nearby volcano simmering away.”

Flight Lieutenant Brinkmann also described how this particular air-refuelling task was different to other international tasks.

“Apart from this being our first refuelling with Indonesia, we are helping TNI-AU pilots stay current in their mid-air refuelling capabilities and also developing new AAR [air-to-air refuelling] qualifications for their pilots,” Flight Lieutenant Brinkmann said.

“The training has been mutually beneficial, as we don’t have a domestic F-16 capability, but many of our partners and allies do.

“The F-16 is a tricky receiver for an air refuelling operator to connect, so this is a great chance for our operators to gain familiarity with F-16 aircraft.”

The event involved about 200 boom contacts over five days between the KC-30A and the F-16 Fighter Falcons, in varying lighting conditions – day-light, dusk, and night-time flying.



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