The Royal Australian Navy’s MH-60R Seahawk helicopters’ superior intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance cameras and sensors are being used at night to support firefighting efforts across New South Wales.
Each night, soon after dusk, the aircrew are joined by Rural Fire Service (RFS) specialists flying over fire grounds to assess and map fire movements.
The two aircraft have been flying from 7pm each night until 5am the next morning.
RFS Air Attack Supervisors Peter Sergeant, of Cameron Park Brigade near Newcastle, and Jason Conn, of Orana District near Dubbo, recently joined No. 816 Squadron aircrew for night flying operations.
“We coordinate aircraft movements over the fire ground in consultation with the ground crews,” Mr Sergeant said.
“The Defence technology allows us to observe the fire at night and map the fire spread, a capability not normally available to RFS.”
The MH-60R, known as the Romeo, is Navy’s next-generation submarine hunter and anti-surface warfare helicopter, but readily adapts to support a variety of missions, including search and rescue, utility and humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations.
“The Defence technology allows us to observe the fire at night and map the fire spread.”
No. 816 Squadron Detachment Commander, Lieutenant Commander Tim Craig, said the squadron assets operated in conjunction with RFS specialists to contribute to the wider mission.
“We have multiple aircrews present, along with a maintenance team who are working to provide two aircraft available for fire-spotting throughout the night,” Lieutenant Commander Craig said.
“Flying at night allows us to provide up-to-date information on the state and position of fires to RFS Headquarters, which permits them to optimise the direction of their resources while fighting these fires during the day.
“This availability is providing an essential platform for the RFS specialists.
“Being able to contribute in a small way to the firefighting efforts in northern New South Wales is a rewarding experience, particularly as we have been able to talk to RFS volunteers who are fighting fires while their own homes and communities are at risk.”
The Australian Defence Force is working with Emergency Management Australia to support the firefighting efforts in New South Wales and Queensland.