Gunners from the 8th/12th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, took to the sky with a lift in Pilatus PC-21 aircraft from RAAF’s No. 4 Squadron for Exercise Thor’s Run.

Two joint-fire teams, made up of six soldiers each, swapped body armour for flying suits to call in artillery fires from the sky during the seven-day activity.

Sergeant Aaron Costas, of the 8th/12th Regiment, took up the opportunity to achieve realistic training while No. 4 Squadron and its PC-21s were in the Top End supporting the Joint Terminal Attack Control course and conducting training with the 1st Aviation Regiment.

“We would usually refine our aerial observation skills through simulation in the dome trainer located at Robertson Barracks,” Sergeant Costas said.

While the level of simulated training was good, he knew the opportunity to work with No. 4 Squadron to achieve live-fire training could not be missed. 

“During Exercise Thor’s Run, we actually had the opportunity to be up in the airframe, doing the job in real time,” Sergeant Costas said.

“It really gives you some perspective and an appreciation for what the pilot has to do.

“This experience also allowed us to sharpen our skills and contribute to a more efficient system between the observer and the firing unit, in this case the 101st Battery.” 

The PC-21 is a new airframe, introduced into service in early 2020, with No. 4 Squadron to replace the older and similar looking PC-9/A(F) as the Close Air Support emulation platform.

Captain David Fileman, an Army pilot serving with No. 4 Squadron, said the squadron’s main task was to enable the integration of air-surface capabilities within joint forces. 

“The PC-21 is a flexible and cost-effective platform that allows us to work with joint-fires teams to ensure interoperability and to gain an understanding of each other’s roles in the battlespace,” Captain Fileman said.

“The training has been mutually beneficial as it was the first time that No. 4 Squadron aircrew conducted artillery 'call for fire' in the PC-21 in its role as a Forward Air Control platform.”

Exercise Thor’s Run was the first live-fire activity for the 8th/12th Regiment this year, with all three batteries due to get into the field over the coming months.

The inclusion of RAAF assets provided a valuable training opportunity, demonstrating the importance of close integration between the Royal Australian Artillery units and its RAAF counterparts.