Saturday, October 31, 2009

RAAF to consolidate AP-3C and C-130 at single base in Middle East



By the end of the year, Australia's four bases in the Middle East will have become one under a rationalisation program designed to cut costs and improve efficiencies for fighting the conflict in Afghanistan.The new facility will host RAAF AP-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and C-130 Hercules transport aircraft as well as support troops serving in Afghanistan.

It will also house around 500 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel with capacity to accommodate another 500 as troops transit to and from Afghanistan.Australia is spending $87 million on new accommodation, hangars and maintenance facilities at the base.But under diplomatic agreements, the Australian government and defence force undertake not to publicly identify the Persian Gulf nation hosting the new facility, shared with New Zealand, Canadian, Dutch, British and US forces.

Neither will Australia identify the other Persian Gulf nations in which troops have been based, although all are well known.The first big step in the base rationalisations occurred late last year as Australia withdrew troops from Iraq, with the headquarters of Australian operations in the Middle East relocating to the new facility.

The next big step occurs on Monday with the arrival of three C-130 aircraft and their support crew from their facility in another Persian Gulf nation.The relocation of the C-130s all but concludes a defence association launched in 2003 when the country hosted the Australian military headquarters, the C-130s plus a squadron of F/A-18 Hornets for the war in Iraq.

That leaves what's called the Force Level Logistics Asset (FLLA) in yet another Gulf nation, created initially to prepare troops deploying into Iraq and support them while there. It now does that for troops in Afghanistan.The plan is to transfer its functions to the new base by December 31.Wing Commander Peter Davis, the facility commanding officer, said Australia's multiple bases in the Persian Gulf grew up at the time of the Iraq conflict in 2003.

"With the change in government the focus shifted to Afghanistan. The big problem we have had is we have still had our support network set up as if we were in Iraq," he said.Because Iran bans overflights by coalition aircraft, Australian C-130 aircrew devoted around a third of their flying hours - some four hours a day - to flying up and down the Gulf between bases.

From the new facility, it's a much shorter flight across to Pakistan and then up to Afghanistan.Moving everything to this location makes a lot of sense from a time and personnel perspective and from an aircrew and an aircraft maintenance perspective, Wing Commander Davis said.Commander of Australian troops in the Middle East, Major general Mark Kelly, said this would produce significant efficiencies from having a single point of entry to the Middle East.

"We will save quite a significant number of air hours in terms of air transport movement up and down the Arabian Gulf," he said."All that provides us with a greater capacity to support ongoing operations both here in the Middle East and Afghanistan and in our own region closer to home."

Major General Kelly said the various host nations had provided gracious hospitality to Australian forces but were protective of that support and requested Australia to leave them unnamed."We have respected that throughout. We have been consistent in abiding by their wishes," he said.

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