Mammoth Milestone for KC-30A in Operation OKRA
30 May 2016
A staggering 50 million pounds of fuel has been offloaded by the KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) deployed for Operation OKRA.
That figure equates to 22,679 tonnes of fuel, or more than 28 million litres, offloaded for RAAF and Coalition aircraft in the Middle East Region since September 2014.
Flying as part of Air Task Group (ATG) 630 for Operation OKRA, the KC-30A reached the milestone figure on April 27 during a sortie with a pair of RAAF F/A-18 Hornets.
As of May 2016, the ATG630 Air Mobility Element has conducted 631 sorties with the KC-30A, and flown more than 5,000 hours.
Commander of ATG630, Air Commodore Antony Martin, said the KC-30A MRTT was an essential enabler for Operation OKRA missions.
"The 50 million pounds of fuel has sustained aircraft conducting the full range of missions over Iraq and Syria," Air Commodore Martin said.
"The KC-30A is a key part of the Coalition's success in disrupting and degrading the Daesh threat in Iraq."
"The ATG630 Air Mobility Element has built the KC-30A's reputation as the 'tanker of choice' amongst Coalition air forces in the Middle East."
The Air Mobility Element's Detachment Commander said Operation OKRA missions required the use of nearly all the KC-30A's suite of refuelling systems.
"In a typical sortie, the KC-30A crew will use both the wing-mounted refuelling pods and the tail-mounted refuelling boom to transfer fuel," the Detachment Commander said.
"We normally take off with more than 100 tonnes of fuel on board, and can give away more than half of that if we're flying a sortie over Iraq."
"Quite often, the Air Mobility Element will fly back-to-back KC-30A missions, returning to our main air operating base in the Middle East to change crew and refuel before launching again."
The aircraft's capability was demonstrated during a routine sortie on April 30, beginning by refuelling a pair of United States Navy Super Hornets flying from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
The process begins with a hose-and-drogue being unreeled from pods beneath each wing of the KC-30A, trailing a pair of baskets for the Super Hornets to intercept with a refuelling probe.
The Air Refuelling Operator (ARO) on the sortie, Flight Sergeant Colin Weekes, said the KC-30A was a popular tanker for the Navy pilots.
"The US Navy doesn't have its own tankers flying over Iraq and Syria – they're relying on the US Air Force and Coalition Tankers in the area," FSGT Weekes said.
"Our tanker has 'soft baskets', which shouldn't damage their aircraft if they do make a contact with it during the refuelling."
"We also have longer hoses too that allow them to keep space and see what's going on around them."
The KC-30A's next receiver was a RAAF E-7A Wedgetail, rendezvousing over Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq.
Refuelling the E-7A requires the use of the KC-30A's Advanced Refuelling Boom System, which is guided by fly-by-wire controls by the ARO.
The first contact over Iraq between a KC-30A and E-7A occurred in October 2015, and now typically occurs at least once a week.
"We're familiar with the E-7A, because at home we refuel it on a regular basis," FSGT Weekes said.
Watching through 3D cameras, the ARO uses fly-by-wire controls to move the boom into a 'pre-contact' position.
The ARO then extends a probe in the boom into a refuelling receptacle on the receiver aircraft.
During the contact, the E-7A will take on up to 15 tonnes of fuel, a process that takes up to 12 minutes and requires both aircraft to fly a racetrack pattern together in the skies of Iraq.
The ARO's screen also displays the planned amount of fuel to offload, the rate of transfer, and the total transferred.
"Once the fuel starts transferring, it'll keep going until a number things stop it – either I stop it, the receiver pilot stops it, or they reach their offload limit," the ARO said.
Following on from the E-7A, the KC-30A crew can use the Link-16 battlespace network to see that a United States Marine Corp EA-6B is waiting to be refuelled.
"Link-16 allows us to have greater situational awareness of where everybody is in the airspace, and their different altitudes and different ranges," FSGT Weekes said.
"If I select an aircraft and tag it as 'cooperative', I can also work out how much fuel they've got on board."
Before the KC-30A returns home, it reunites with the two US Navy Super Hornets to provide them with enough fuel to remain over Iraq or Syria.
Being able to refuel two aircraft simultaneously is another reason the KC-30A is popular amongst Coalition air forces.
"When receivers see an Australian tanker with two hoses, they know they can both get refuelled quick, and get back onto the job that they're there to do," the ARO said.
The ATG of Operation OKRA is operating at the request of the Iraqi Government within a US-led international coalition assembled to disrupt and degrade Daesh operations in the MER. The ATG comprises six RAAF F/A-18A Hornet fighter aircraft, an E-7A Wedgetail airborne command and control aircraft, and a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport air-to-air refuelling aircraft. Additionally, the ATG has personnel working in the Combined Air and Space Operations Centre, and embedded with the 'KingPin' US tactical Command and Control Unit.
The ATG is directly supported by elements of Operation ACCORDION including the Theatre Communications Group, Air Mobility Task Group, and the Combat Support Unit, whose mission is to provide continuous combat support to sustain air operations in the MER. There are up to 350 personnel deployed, at any one time, as part of, or in direct support of the ATG.