Humanitarian support

Air Force assistance to the civil community

Air Force’s primary role is to provide air and space power for Australia’s security. While Defence stands ready to support civil communities in times of crisis, State and Territory Governments have primary responsibility for the protection of life, property and the environment and for coordinating and planning an emergency response or recovery within their own jurisdictions.

Defence may provide support to both the domestic and the international civil community when requested by the Government.

Domestic Support.Defence provides disaster assistance to the States and Territories through Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC). DACC is the mechanism through which Defence assists organisations and agencies at a time when their resources are not sufficient or have been overwhelmed. States and Territories seek Commonwealth assistance, including Defence assistance, through Emergency Management Australia (EMA).

International Support.Defence also provides support in response to international humanitarian crises, particularly supporting our near neighbours in the South Pacific and South East Asia. Defence provides Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) aid through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) who is responsible for coordinating Australian Whole of Government international assistance. This assistance can include the transportation of humanitarian aid and specialist personnel and equipment including the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT), and Urban Search and Rescue (URSA) teams on behalf of DFAT and EMA. The Air Force and Defence may also provide logistics support and medical support to humanitarian aid providers and organisations when requested. This would also include Aero Medical Evacuation.

Air Force is incredibly proud of the assistance role it is able to provide as part of a Defence response. Air Force is able to provide a range of specialty services including:


Air Force personnel are very highly trained and experienced, specialising in areas such as Search and Rescue (SAR), Aero-Medical Evacuation (AME), critical medical care, engineering and logistics. Defence takes Workplace Health and Safety seriously and will only commit personnel who have the appropriate training and experience to safely assist.

Equipment and Supplies

Air Force operates three types of aircraft purpose built for transporting large amounts of bulky cargo, including helicopters and vehicles. The C-17A Globemaster is capable of carrying up to 70 tonnes, and is the largest aircraft in the Air Force fleet. The C-130J Hercules and C-27J Spartan are medium sized airlift aircraft capable of carrying 19 and 8 tonnes of cargo respectively. These aircraft are all capable of air dropping supplies.

Aero-Medical Evacuation


Air Force has a world class Aero-Medical Evacuation (AME) capability. The C-17A Globemaster, C-130J Hercules and C-27J Spartan aircraft can be transformed into mobile hospitals for transport of critically ill patients. In AME configuration, the C-17A is capable of transporting 54 ambulatory and 36 high dependency stretcher patients. The C-130J and C-27J have the capacity to carry 97 and 21 stretcher patients respectively. The largest AME in recent RAAF history was the flights from Bali after the bombings in 2002, which involved 22 critically injured patients.

The C-17A Globemaster was designed with an AME role as a main consideration. The integral oxygen and electrical connections reduce the need to carry supplementary oxygen tanks and power supplies. Compared with the C-130J Hercules and C-27J Spartan, the C-17A Globemaster is faster, quieter, has less vibration and better temperature control. It is also much more spacious, providing a better clinical environment for both patient and carer. As the full AME configuration does not completely fill the aircraft cargo bay, other essential supplies can also be carried.

Search and Rescue

The Australian Government has an international obligation to provide an aeronautical, land and maritime search and rescue (SAR) coordination service for its territories, territorial seas, and the surrounding high seas. This is an area of 52.8 million square kilometres, covering over one tenth of the earth’s total surface. SAR in Australia is conducted jointly between AMSA, State and Territory emergency authorities and volunteer organisations. The Air Force can assist when specialist skills or equipment are needed.

AP-3C Orion aircraft are equipped with surveillance equipment capable of locating stricken vessels and downed aircraft. Both AP-3C Orion and C-130J Hercules aircraft are capable of dropping survival equipment to survivors and position marking devices to enable recovery by land or water based SAR assets.


In the event of a bush fire, State and Territory Governments maintain primary responsibility for the protection of life, property and the environment and for coordinating and planning an emergency response within their own jurisdictions.

Australiahas well practiced and established processes for retaining and deploying civilian fire fighting aviation assets. This is coordinated through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre, which was formed by the Australian States and Territories in 2003 to provide a cooperative national arrangement for combating bushfires. This national aircraft fleet complements aerial fire fighting resources that are arranged directly by State and Territory Governments. The National Aerial Firefighting Centre receives funding support from the Federal Government and plays a key role in ensuring the sharing of aerial fire fighting resources between emergency service and land management agencies throughout Australia and in the development of national protocols and systems for aerial fire fighting.

Defence does not maintain the aircraft or equipment for aerial bushfire fighting, and has not been directed by Government to establish fixed or rotary wing aircraft, aerial firefighting, or any other specific bushfire fighting capabilities. As a general principle, Defence support is limited to that which can be accomplished within the standing core qualifications, skills and resources of the ADF. Ground based and aerial bushfire fighting is a highly specialised field that requires dedicated equipment and training that, in general, Defence does not possess.

When requested by EMA, Air Force may be able to provide logistics support to the State fire fighting agencies through assistance with refueling civilian fire fighting aircraft and providing water for fire fighting efforts at Bases. Air Force will also provide accommodation and meals to State and Territory fire fighting personnel to reduce travel time and increase their rest periods between shifts.

Over the 2015/16 Summer Fire Season the Air Force is hosting the C-130 based Large Aerial Tanker (LAT) and DC-10 based Very Large Aerial Tanker (VLAT) aircraft, contracted by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, at RAAF Base Richmond.

Defence does maintain specialist fire fighting capabilities such as aviation fire fighting and rescue.

Air traffic control and communications

Air Force can provide transportable close-range tactical and long-range strategic communications support during disaster relief operations, including the provision of radio systems, information systems and air traffic control systems support.

This support can be provided from both established Air Force bases and remote locations, anywhere in the world, using mobile and transportable equipment.

Our Air Traffic Controllers, known as Joint Battlefield Airspace Control Officers (JBACs), are highly-trained to provide integrated civil/military air traffic services—making them adaptable to any environment, and enabling them to effectively manage traffic flow at airports to ensure emergency assistance is received and moved quickly.

The rapid establishment of reliable communication systems allows for the effective exchange of data and information which, in turn, supports the overall effectiveness of humanitarian operations.