RAAF tanker refuels US Marine Corps F-35B for trans-Pacific flight > US Indo-Pacific Command > 2015

RAAF tanker refuels US Marine Corps F-35B for trans-Pacific flight > US Indo-Pacific Command > 2015

As a testament to the strong U.S.-Australia alliance and growing interoperability, a Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A multipurpose tanker aircraft and No. 33 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, flew from Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley, Australia, to Camp Blaz, Guam, on May 19, 2024, to refuel two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft (from Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 214) on a trans-Pacific flight.

On May 3, eight F-35Bs and more than 200 Marines from VMFA-214, “Black Sheep,” departed Yuma, Arizona, bound for RAAF Tyndall to link up with RAAF No. 75 and No. 3 Squadrons. The purpose of the deployment is to increase interoperability and prepare for future exercises and operations in the region through a bilateral training event. The training consists of basic air maneuvers, tactical intercepts, offensive counter-air maneuvers, defensive combat aviation, and offensive counter-air attack night flights.

After scheduled stops in Hawaii and Guam, six of the jets continued on to Australia, while two remained in Australia for standard maintenance. A few days later, when the aircraft were ready to depart, the scheduled U.S. tanker was unavailable for the final leg of the flight.

“America’s refueling capabilities were put to the test, and at a time when the Tanker Airlift Control Center couldn’t get us to the finish line, the RAAF stepped up and got us to the finish line,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. John Paul Reyes, VMFA-214’s operations officer.

Without hesitation, a KC-30A multi-role tanker aircraft from Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley was redirected to provide vital aerial refuelling support.

“Our coordination with RAAF Headquarters Air Command, RAAF Mobility Control Centre and No. 33 Squadron was seamless and communication and coordination through the various channels was swift and exceeded our expectations,” Reyes said. “It was clear they were committed to supporting the United States. They prioritized our mission and understood the importance of the U.S. F-35Bs arriving in Australia to support follow-on missions.”

This smooth coordination was made possible by a team of 30 members from multiple organisations, all committed to delivering the US fifth generation fighter jet to Australia.

“The opportunity for the Royal Australian Air Force to deploy U.S. Marine Corps troops and aircraft to the Indo-Pacific region reaffirms the strength of our partnership with the United States,” said Royal Australian Air Force Col. Stephen Monipenny, commander of No. 86 Wing.

The F-35B variant provides the Marines and Combined Joint Forces with short takeoff/vertical landing capability and supersonic speeds to evade radar detection, enabling air operations from aerial bases or air-capable ships around the world. While the RAAF only operates the A variant, the KC-30 is equipped to refuel the F-35B, demonstrating interoperability between the allied nations.

The KC-30 transferred about 45,000 pounds of fuel to the two F-35Bs, three times the jets’ maximum payload. This gave the jets an estimated 900 nautical miles of range on a single refueling, enabling them to travel the 2,096 nautical miles from Guam to Australia. By comparison, the KC-30 has an operational range of just under 8,000 nautical miles and can carry 50 tons of fuel for up to four hours.

As an extremely high-capacity tanker platform, the KC-30 can refuel an F-35B multiple times while operating in a combat environment without sacrificing its own capabilities. This extends the flight endurance of the Joint Strike Fighter and supports the Joint Joint Force, while allowing the multi-role tanker to perform other transport, strategic airlift and defense missions in support of joint air operations. Such capabilities, coupled with the deep-rooted military relationship between the two nations, provide for enduring bilateral integration and combat readiness.

“The interoperability between the U.S. and Australia has been the smoothest coordination I’ve experienced in my 15 years in the Marine Corps,” Reyes said.

The planned training at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tyndall builds on decades of strong alliance cooperation and mutual support between the U.S. and Australian militaries.

These joint exercises not only deepen the tactical proficiency of both militaries but also reaffirm their shared commitment to collective defense and maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“Both Australian and American crews will benefit from gaining concrete experience in planning and executing a cooperative move,” Monipenny said, “which will enhance our ability to project power to the region and work with the United States in support of our shared security objectives.”

The operation highlighted the strategic and operational flexibility of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and I Marine Expeditionary Force, which continually trains in the Indo-Pacific, maintains forward deployments and enduring commitments to allies and partners in the region.

The success of the combined trans-Pacific air refueling mission not only ensured that U.S. Marine Corps and Royal Australian Air Force training objectives were met without interruption, but more importantly, it highlighted the strong bond between the U.S. and Australian militaries.

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