Keeping Australian Hornets in Middle Eastern skies for Operation Okra requires a dedicated maintenance workforce, led by Squadron Leader Aleisha Broadhead.
Normally serving as Senior Engineering Officer (SENGO) for No. 75 Squadron at RAAF Base Tindal, Squadron Leader Broadhead is deployed to Australia’s main air operations base in the Middle East.
The experience counts as a career highlight for Squadron Leader Broadhead.
“There are few SENGO positions within the Air Force, so you’re very fortunate to be able to get one,” Squadron Leader Broadhead said.
“To be able to come on deployment, particularly for air combat operations, is just absolutely huge and has been really personally satisfying.”
“I’ve served nearly 19 years and this has been my first deployment.”
Under Operation Okra, Australia has deployed Air Task Group 630 to the Middle East Region, which includes six F/A-18 Hornets strike jets that routinely fly missions of up to nine hours.
Much of that time is spent over Iraq and Syria, delivering precision strikes against Daesh terrorists and their warfighting capability.
The Air Task Group is part of a broader Coalition Force supporting Iraqi Security Forces in reclaiming their home territory, including the liberation of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.
The maintenance workforce led by Squadron Leader Broadhead ensures the Hornets can deliver on that mission.
“The maintenance workforce works extremely hard – 12 hour shifts covering 24 hours per day, six days a week,” Squadron Leader Broadhead said.
“Even compared to the Northern Territory, it is very hot over here and so we have to ensure that we have suitable heat management policy and procedures for our maintenance personnel,”
“We could be doing anything from routine servicings to before-flight and after-flight maintenance, launches, rectifications, and fault-finding.”
The Hornet was originally designed for the United States Navy, and features robust a construction that was built for the rigors of flying from aircraft carriers.
Upgrades have ensured Australia’s Hornets can hit ground targets with pinpoint accuracy, but the aircraft are now reaching the twilight of their career.
“The Hornets have been operating for up to 30 years now, so we are very used to working with them,” Squadron Leader Broadhead said.
“They are an older jet, so we obviously have different things go wrong with them.”
“We have a myriad of people, from those who have worked on Hornets for their whole careers, some others who have come from other aircraft types and they bring a wealth of experience as well.”
As the SENGO, Squadron Leader Broadhead carries responsibility for the maintenance work conducted on the Hornets.
“I have a regulatory responsibility to make sure that all maintenance is conducted in accordance with regulations,” Squadron Leader Broadhead said.
“We also have an obligation to make sure that we have jets to meet the flying program.”
Conditions on the flight-line at the base can routinely exceed 50 degrees Celsius during the summer, impacting the work needed to keep jets serviceable.
The job of maintenance has been aided this year by construction of a dedicated hangar that can be used for major servicing work to the Hornets, freeing the Australians from the need to ‘borrow’ space in Coalition hangars.
“The hangar is an excellent facility,” Squadron Leader Broadhead said.
“The technicians are working in very hot and arduous conditions over in the Middle East, particularly during the summer time.”
“It is excellent for the maintainers to come into an air-conditioned facility and do their work with far less interruptions
Each Hornet represents a complex collection of systems bound into a relatively small space, requiring perfect cohesion for the aircraft to fly and fight over the course of a 4000-kilometre mission.
That complexity keeps the Strike Element on its toes, requiring them to manage, plan and predict the spare parts they need to keep in stock.
“We’re a long way from home, and you can’t keep every single spare in the warehouse here,” Squadron Leader Broadhead said.
“There are a lot of people in the logistics system working very hard to make sure that we have the right part at the right time.”
Never the less, the Hornet’s high-serviceability rate in the Middle East, and its success in supporting Iraqi Security Forces, is evidence that Squadron Leader Broadhead’s team is doing the job right.
“There is no doubt that the jets are performing excellently over here,” Squadron Leader Broadhead said.
“We speak with our aircrew all of the time and they are really impressed and happy with our performance.”
“They’re performing really well.”
Article by Flight Lieutenant Eamon Hamilton