No 4 Squadron is a unit of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which forms part of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), who specialise in coordinating air support.
Although members of the Squadron are required to pass the same selection and training as the Australian Army’s Commandos, the Squadron is not formally part of the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOMD).
No 4 Squadron supports a diverse range of ADF capabilities and operations on a domestic and international front. To achieve this effectively, 4 Squadron consists of three flights, as well as maintenance and logistics sections and a small administrative team. Combat Controller Teams (CCTs) are regularly tasked to support operations throughout the world and, aside from the training ADF Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), the Squadron also directly supports No 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2 OCU) twice a year, 76 SQN through Close Air Support (CAS) during Initial Fighter Course and all Air Combat Group frontline fighter Squadron CAS training with the provision of CCT and Forward Air Control (FAC).
This article will provide the reader with an outline of No 4 Squadron starting with its background and then role. An overview of its organisation and capabilities will also be provided.
No 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC), was formed at Point Cook (Victoria) in October 1916, and went on to see active service on the Western Front during World War I (WWI) (RAAF Museum, 2009). After embarking for England to complete its training, the squadron deployed to France in December 1917. The Squadron regularly engaged the Red Baron’s elite ‘Flying Circus’ and during their brief war service destroyed some 128 enemy aircraft and spawned a total of eleven aces. The Squadron’s highest scoring airman was Captain Cobby who, in addition to shooting down 29 aircraft, also destroyed 13 observation balloons. Following the armistice, the Squadron remained in occupied Germany until returning to Australia before being disbanded in 1919.
The unit was reformed when Australia went to war again during WWII. In 1942, No 4 Squadron Wirraways deployed to New Guinea to support American and Australian ground forces. The Squadron operated in the army co-operation role, providing ground forces with artillery observation, reconnaissance and close air support. In February 1943, the Squadron flew what is regarded as the first recorded FAC mission in the history of military aviation. No 4 Squadron Wirraways would strafe the targets with tracer rounds to assist No. 30 Squadron Beaufighters in delivering their ordnance on the correct target.
The Squadron continued operations until 1945 when they redeployed to support the Borneo campaign. Following the war the Squadron was again disbanded in 1948.
FAC in the RAAF continued to evolve through the formation of a dedicated FAC aircraft in 1969, and the FAC role was operated from 2 OCU, 77 and 76 Squadrons throughout the next few decades. In 2002, FAC became a separate unit with the creation of the Forward Air Control Development Unit (FACDU).
During the first decade of the 21st Century, the training demand for Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) significantly increased, and led to the merger of FACDU and Air Combat Group Special Tactics Project on 03 July 2009 to reform No. 4 Squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown, where it continues to operate in three Flights.
No. 4 Squadron supports a diverse range of ADF capabilities and operations on a domestic and international front and achieves these through a number of roles:
- Provision of FAC aircraft;
- Provision of CCTs;
- Training, development and assessment of JTAC personnel;
- Providing support to 2 OCU; and
- CAS on the Initial Fighter Course.
4.1 Air Combat Group
The Air Combat Group, commanded by an Air Commodore (OF-6), was formed in January 2002 by merging the Tactical Fighter Group and Strike Reconnaissance Group and is one of six Force Element Groups with the RAAFs Air Command.
The Group commands all of the RAAFs fast jet combat aircraft delivering Australia’s capability to control the air and conduct precision strikes. Headquarters (HQ) Air Combat Group, based at RAAF Base Williamtown, commands three operational wings:
- No 78 Wing: conducts operational training (ground and air) on the F/A-18B Hornet and Hawk at No’s 76 and 79 Squadrons.
- No 81 Wing: controls the air with No’s 3, 75 and 77 Squadrons (all F/A-18 Hornet squadrons) and No 2 Operational Conversion Unit.
- No 82 Wing: strikes designated targets and conducts reconnaissance with No’s 1 and 6 Squadrons (Hornets) and Forward Air Combat Development Unit (PC-9/A).
4.2 No 82 Wing RAAF
No 82 Wing, commanded by a Group Captain (OF-5), is one of three operational wings within the Air Combat Group and provides the RAAF with strike and reconnaissance capabilities. HQ No 82 Wing, based at RAAF Base Amberley, commands three operational squadrons:
- No 1 Squadron: strikes designated targets, based at RAAF Base Amberley.
- No 6 Squadron: strikes designated targets, based at RAAF Base Amberley.
- No 4 Squadron: reconnaissance.
4.3 No 4 Squadron RAAF
No 4 squadron, commanded by a Wing Commander (OF-4), provides the RAAF with its reconnaissance capabilities and is currently divided into three flights:
- A Flight: consists of aircrew that operate the four Pilatus PC9/A (F) variant aircraft in the FAC/CAS role.
- B Flight: consists of Combat Controller airmen and officers, who are drawn from Pilot, JBAC and ACO backgrounds, who provide air surface integration; i.e. they integrate and control the elements of air and space power to enable precision strike and advanced military force operations.
- C Flight: consists of JTAC instructors and evaluators to facilitate the training of students undertaking the JTAC course as well as facilitating the continual development and assessment of current JTAC qualified personnel.
The Squadron regularly deploys aircraft and personnel in support of domestic and international operations and Combat Controllers from B Flight are typically deployed on a rotational basis in the Middle East.
During these exercises, PC9/A (F) aircraft fly FAC/A and CAS profiles, with CCT providing Terminal Control and battlefield airspace management. Squadron pilots utilise smoke grenades as weapons to represent high explosive ordnance used by fast jet aircraft. This enhances the training realism and complexity for JTACs.
Smoke grenades are also used to assist pilots of fast jet aircraft to visually acquire ground targets. Releasing smoke grenades in the vicinity of a target provides strike aircraft with an easily identifiable visual feature, assisting them to positively identify their target. This enhances their ability to employ weapons accurately and efficiently and is a key element of FAC.
These procedures provide training not only for the ground personnel and the strike aircraft’s crews, but also for Squadron aircrew practising in the CAS and FAC/A role.
Local Squadron operations centred around RAAF Base Williamtown mainly focus on supporting CCTs and JTACs. Additional operations aim to train and enhance the skills, techniques and qualifications of the pilots within the Squadron.
RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) Museum (2009) No 4 Squadron. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.airforce.gov.au/raafmuseum/research/units/4sqn.htm. [Accessed: 05 October, 2014].