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A Sharper Spear

Following the end of the Second World War, the Australian government instigated a massive program of immigration. After narrowly preventing a Japanese invasion and suffering attacks on Australian soil for the first time, it was seen that the country must "populate or perish". Immigration brought traditional migrants from the United Kingdom (UK) along with, for the first time, large numbers of southern and central Europeans. Five million immigrants arrived between 1948 and 1960 alone, with many newly-arrived migrants finding employment in government assisted programs such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme.  Parallel to this, Australia like many countries also experienced a significant ‘baby-boom’.   The result of all this was that by 1960, Australia’s population was approximately 20 Million and growing.

Concurrent with this was a booming Australian economy which stood in sharp contrast to war-ravaged Europe.  Australia was extremely well-endowed with natural resources.  In addition, the manufacturing industry, which had previously played a minor part in an economy, was greatly expanded, thus contributing even more to the wealth of the nation.

In summary, by 1960, Australia was rated as one of the richest nations on the planet.  It had an abundance of natural resources; the growing ability to exploit them; was politically stable; had a strongly growing, well educated population, and was a key part of the Western alliance of nations.  It didn’t take a genius to realise that this would be something envied by others.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the Chief of Air Staff Sir Frederick Scherger, later backed by other senior military officers such as Rear Admiral G. J. B. Crabb of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) argued the case to their Ministers for purchasing British-made atom bombs and leasing British 'V' bombers - Victors, Valiants or Vulcans - to deliver them, at least as far as Jakarta.  Initially, this push was hampered by a reluctant Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, who thought that such weapons should be left in the hands of the three great powers that already had them - the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK) and the USSR - and in those of no other!

By the middle of the decade however, things changed.  First of all, Prime Minister Menzies had left politics due to medical problems.  He was initially replaced by the cautious Harold Holt.  In December 1964 though, Holt disappeared while swimming at Cheviot beach in Victoria. As a result, the new prime minister from January 1965 was John Gorton, a former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighter pilot and a maverick who believed that Australia, like Israel, could and should be militarily strong and robustly self-reliant.

Gorton’s accession to power coincided with a growing concern about Australia’s ability to defend itself.  In November 1964, the Australian Financial Review speculated that Indonesia was likely to go nuclear, a claim which prompted many in the media and Government to assert that Australia must have a nuclear deterrent against both China and Indonesia. At first, the option of basing either British or American nuclear weapons (missiles, bombers or submarines) in Australia was considered.  However, it quickly realised that no nuclear power would be willing to hand over nuclear weapons without a veto or control over their use, and that Australia should therefore consider its own indigenous development of such a deterrent.

While reserved about actualities, Federal Cabinet pronounced in October 1965 that “Our military thinking does not exclude the possible contingency in the longer term, that, due to advances in military technology or to the development of a more serious threat of a direct attack on Australia ... our forces should have as far as possible a potential capability to operate with nuclear weapons and in the face of nuclear opposition.”.  Thus was borne the Australian Nuclear Weapons Program.

This program was able to move quite rapidly thanks to support from the USA which had been quietly urging Australia to take on a greater role in the world.  In fact, in 1963, US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara had told the Minister for External Affairs Garfield Barwick in Washington, that it would be natural for Australia to develop nuclear weapons if China did. In 1964, Secretary of State Dean Rusk told Cabinet in Canberra that the United States supported Australia “…advancing to a point just short of final manufacture”.  Therefore, when Australia quietly asked for assistance with its program, it was forthcoming – though neither nation publicly admitted this.

Concurrent with these developments, moves were also afoot that were to arguably have even greater impact on the region than Australia acquiring nuclear weapons.  In mid 1965, during a meeting with the New Zealand Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, Gorton raised the possibility of establishing closer ties.  The reply was even stronger than he could have hoped for – Holyoake suggested that not only was it possible, but that in his opinion it was desirable.  New Zealand had been watching with envy the growth of Australia since the end of the war and now the chance to link itself to that growth was on offer.  After a series of joint conferences and public forums, in May 1967 the people of both countries were asked to vote on whether the two countries should adopt a common currency and establish a number of combined Military units (so called “ANZAC” units).  The vote, which in Australia’s case also gave the vote to Indigenous Australians, passed with a massive majority in both countries.  Over the next 3 years, both countries adopted a single currency and established a number of the ANZAC Units both in the Army and Air Force (the Navy was somewhat more difficult, though the number of cross military postings was increased here as well).

With the development of warheads underway, it was now time for Australia to consider the means to deliver them.  Initially land based missiles were considered.  After all it was argued; during the 1950s, Australia had participated in the development of the Blue Streak missile, a Medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) intended for delivery of a nuclear warhead.  This position was soon changed though to something of a more dynamic nature.  This would also be influenced by the now Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee Sir Frederick Scherger as well as the equally influential Chief of Naval Staff (and distinguished naval aviator – in 1940, he led six Swordfish biplanes in carrying out the first ever torpedo attack by aircraft on a capital ship at sea, and had also formerly commanded the carrier HMAS Melbourne) Admiral Sir Victor Alfred Trumper Smith.

Under their influence, it was decided that Australian nuclear weapons would be delivered from aerial platforms – both land based strike aircraft and aircraft carrier based aircraft.  For the land based element, it was decided that the already planned F-111 fleet would be initially used.  These would be supported by a fleet of 12 KC-135As.  These, along with the first 24 F-111Cs (combining the F-111A with longer F-111B wings and strengthened FB-111A landing gear) arrived in 1968.  At first the plan was to increase this with a second batch of F-111Cs.  However, in 1971 this order was changed following an approach by General Dynamics to co-develop with the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) a new, longer ranged, strategic version of the F-111.  This would eventually be known as the FB-111H and was a significantly larger aircraft with more powerful engines able to carry significantly more payload and to a greater range.  The first of these flew in 1975.  Full production started soon after and the first of 36 entered RAAF service in 1977.  Versions were also soon acquired by the USAF (for use with SAC where they were known as Super Aardvarks) and the RAF (as a V-bomber replacement where they were known as Excalibur GR.1s).  In RAAF service, they were simply known as Ultra Pigs.

During the period it took to develop the FB-111H, the RAAF leased a squadron of F-111As from the USAF.  Upon the FB-111Hs service entry these were to be returned to the USAF, however it was decided to purchase them instead - half were converted into RF-111A reconnaissance aircraft and the remainder into EF-111A electronic warfare aircraft. The existing F-111Cs were also kept in service but moved from the nuclear strike role to one of more conventional interdiction.

Supporting the F-111s were the existing Dassault Mirage III fighters.  In 1970 however, these were supplemented by 24 McDonnell-Douglas F-4E Phantoms under the 'Peace Reef' agreement.  In order to simplify its logistics chain, the RAAF soon commissioned Hawker de Havilland to study a re-engining program for the Mirages.  The result was the Mirage III-79 (also known as the Mirage III+) which replaced the SNECMA Atar 9C turbojet with the more powerful General Electric J79 as used in the Phantom.  Although initially thought to be a simple upgrade, this (just as with the earlier CAC Avon Sabre) soon grew to become a significant change.  In order to accommodate the new power plant on the Mirage III's airframe, and to deliver the added cooling required by the J79, the aircraft's rear fuselage was slightly shortened and widened, its air intakes were enlarged, and a large air inlet was installed at the base of the vertical stabilizer, so as to supply the extra cooling needed for the afterburner. As part of the update, the aircraft were also fitted with canards which greatly improved the aircraft manoeuvrability and slow speed control.

On the Naval side, the centre-piece of the new strike capability was to be two new super carriers.  Initially, American carrier designs were looked at, including even a modified version of the American John F. Kennedy class.  However, in 1968 another option suddenly presented itself when the partially complete second and third British Queen Elizabeth class (previously referred to as the CVA-01 class) carriers HMS Duke of Edinburgh and HMS Prince of Wales were offered by the British Labour Government who wanted to cut back defence spending.   With the carriers being offered at virtually ‘bargain basement’ prices (the British Government wanted them gone), it was an offer the Australians couldn’t pass up on.  However, the ships would not be completed as standard Queen Elizabeth class carriers.  As part of their completion, it was decided to undertake an extensive upgrade to the basic design. The most significant part of this upgrade involved increasing the length of the flight deck by 20 feet and an increase in displacement to 60,000 tons.

By early 1971, the first of these, HMAS Gallipoli was launched.  The second, HMAS Kokoda was launched two years later in 1973.  The ships subsequently entered service in 1973 and 1975 respectively.  The centrepiece of each ships air wings were two squadrons of F-111Bs giving a total of 18 aircraft per ship (both the Blackburn Buccaneer and Grumman Intruder had also been considered, but the combination of superior performance and commonality with the USN and the RAAF’s F-111s saw the F-111B chosen instead).  These were primarily dedicated to the Strike role though with secondary anti-shipping/ground attack roles.  Theoretically, they could also be used in an interceptor/fleet defence role, though the RAN pilots did not train for that role and the aircraft were equipped with radars optimised for the maritime/land attack environment rather than dedicated air-to-air radar.  In RAN service the F-111Bs received the seemingly playful name of Platypus (though one was always reminded that the aircraft, just like the mammal, carried potent ‘venom’). Initially supporting the Platypi on each ship were a squadron of A-7 Corsair IIs and one of McDonnell-Douglas F-4F Phantoms (this was a navalised version of the F-4E), however shortly after HMAS Kokoda entered service the A-7s were replaced with a second Phantom squadron.  Rounding out the air wings were mixed units with E-2A Hawkeyes (the Blackburn Puffin was also briefly considered), C-2 Greyhounds, and SE-2A Albatrosses.  This last aircraft was a dedicated ASW version of the E-2 without the Roto-dome but with retractable mad boom and sonobuoy tubes (Gallipoli actually first operated with older S-2 Trackers for a year).  Later on, a number of additional C-2s were acquired and converted into KC-2A tankers.  A number of S-61 Sea King helicopters were also carried serving in multitude of roles.

Supporting each of the new fleet/strike carriers were the legacy HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney.  These were also equipped with A-7 Corsair IIs as well as S-61 Sea King helicopters (in both ASW and Assault versions).  With the introduction of the new carriers however, the role of these smaller ships was re-assessed.  It was soon decided that both ships would be re-tasked either with Amphibious Assault or Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) depending upon their air-wing composition.  Both roles lent themselves to the use of helicopters though.  As such in 1974, the A-7s were passed to the RAAF initially and then sold to New Zealand (who was in the process of seeking a new combat aircraft, having initially leased A-4 Skyhawks, which were subsequently returned to the USN).  Both HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney also had their catapult equipment de-activated and were converted to operate all helicopter air wings.  Depending on the tasking at the time this might comprise either S-61s (for ASW) or UH-1Hs Iroquois and AH-1T Taipans. 

This latter platform was the result of a joint Australian-US Marine Corps program which modified the existing US Army’s AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.  Both forces were very interested in the AH-1 Cobra, but requested greater load carrying capability in high temperatures as well as twin-engines for improved safety in over-water operations.  The resulting AH-1T (which quickly received the Taipan name after the deadly Australian snake) had a lengthened tailboom and fuselage with an upgraded transmission and engines and was designed to be more reliable and easier to maintain in the field. The version was given full TOW capability with targeting system and other sensors, and received a more powerful gun turret featuring a three barrel 20 mm cannon that was based on the six barrel M61 Vulcan cannon.

Also supporting the new carriers were a fleet of new destroyers.  These, the “Bismarck Sea” class (each ship was named after a naval battle involving the RAN and included the HMAS Bismarck Sea, HMAS Han River, HMAS Coral Sea, HMAS Sunda Strait, HMAS Java Sea and HMAS Savo Island) were based on the USN’s Spruance-class destroyer and were designed for air defence in hot weather.  Their primary armament was the RIM-66 Standard missiles on twin Mark 26 launchers, though they also were fitted with Twin Mark 45 127 mm guns as well as RGM-84 Harpoon missiles and torpedoes.

Testing Times

In 1972, following the election of the new Labor Government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, the Australian participation in the Vietnam War was ended and the deployed forces withdrawn.  However, despite the initial fears of many in the Defence Forces, Whitlam did not cut the new capabilities.  As a former RAAF navigator in WWII, Whitlam was appreciative of the importance of a strong defence force for Australia.

In December 1974 Cyclone Tracy devastated the city of Darwin.  Central to the disaster relief operation was the brand new HMAS Gallipoli which embarked with a combination of RAAF and RAN helicopters (UH-1Hs, CH-47Cs and S-61s).  This operation only helped to strengthen the plan to keep the ships in service.  It wasn’t long however before another, more significant test was to occur, this time triggered by events on the other side of the world.

In April 1975, the left-wing Movimento das Forças Armadas mounted a coup d'état against the right-wing authoritarian government in Lisbon.  Following their successful takeover, they announced the intention to rapidly withdraw from Portugal's colonial possessions including East Timor.  Indonesian nationalist and military hardliners saw the Portuguese coup as an opportunity for East Timor's annexation by Indonesia.  Moreover, President Sukarno, who had moved steadily from democracy towards authoritarianism, saw this as a means to help strengthen his own position. 

On 7 December 1975, Indonesian forces invaded East Timor. Operasi Seroja (Operation Lotus) was the largest military operation ever carried out by that nation.  Following naval bombardment of Dili, Indonesian seaborne troops landed in the city while simultaneously paratroopers descended. By noon, Indonesian forces had taken the city.  On December 10, a second invasion resulted in the capture of the second biggest town, Baucau, and on Christmas Day, around 10,000 - 15,000 troops landed at Liquisa and Maubara. A large proportion of these troops were from Indonesia's elite commands.  It was during this last phase that an unknown radio operator sent the following broadcast: "The Indonesian forces are killing indiscriminately. Women and children are being shot in the streets. We are all going to be killed.... This is an appeal for international help. Please do something to stop this invasion…".  This was quickly picked up and repeated by the Australian News media.  With long held anxiety in Australia about Indonesian intentions, this Christmas Day invasion quickly resulted in calls for something to be done.  However, military action was the last thing many Western governments wanted, particularly the United States who at the time was completing its own withdrawal from Vietnam.  The situation was further complicated by the Soviet Union’s apparent support of Indonesia - this support prevented any United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution being passed.  For two weeks nothing happened…

Finally, under greatly mounting public pressure (and some not so public urging by allies such as the USA), Whitlam announced that “…Australia could no longer stand by as atrocities were carried out on the door step… Indonesia must recognise the Sovereignty of the East Timorese people”.  He then declared that “…Australia expected Indonesian troops to start withdrawing within days or else further action to evict them would be considered…”  This declaration received widespread backing from Australia’s allies, especially New Zealand, the USA and Portugal.  In Indonesia however, the reaction was at first to do nothing.  Then, two days after the Whitlam declaration, what would become known as the “Balibo Five Incident” took place.  The Balibo Five were a group of journalists for Australian television networks based in the town of Balibo in East Timor.  In what was believed to be a reaction to the Australian media’s unfavourable reporting of the Indonesian invasion, Indonesian military forces arrested and then executed the journalists.  This was the last straw.  Whitlam ordered the Australian Military to initiate Operation Astute.

In the early hours of the 20th January, 1976 the quiet of Dili was broken as RAAF F-111Cs screeched across the city.  Their target was the airport and the main Indonesian Air Defence batteries.  Also struck were the believed main barracks of the Dili based occupation forces.  Similar attacks also took place at Baucau and other key points across East Timor.  At dawn, the next phase began as RAAF F-4Es and Mirage IIIs as well as RAN F-4Fs and F-111Bs operating from HMAS Gallipoli entered the battle.  Their main missions were to eliminate any Indonesian strong points.  Also in action was the RNZAF, which placed two A-7 squadrons under RAAF command.  It was during this first day, that the first aerial battles also took place.  The Indonesians weren’t going to give up easily!  The Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara, (TNI–AU - Indonesian Air Force) reacted more quickly than anyone predicted.  TNI–AU MiG-21s and some of the new MiG-23s (two squadrons of these had recently entered service) intercepted a flight of Mirages returning from a strike.  In the ensuing dogfight, two MiG-21s and a single Mirage were downed.  Over the next 3 days the battle continued.  More aircraft were lost on both sides.  Indonesia also lost a number of warships which were specially targeted by the F-111Bs.

On the 24th the next phase of the Australian led action took place.  Following the elimination of the main air defence units surrounding Dili, Australian paratroops were dropped.  They quickly secured the airstrip which allowed C-130 aircraft to land and disgorge more troops with heavier equipment.  Also landing were two enormous Lockheed C-5 Galaxy transports (these were ‘on loan’ from the USAF and had been quickly painted with RAAF roundels over the US markings – they still flew with USAF crews though).  Over the space of a number of missions, the C-130s and C-5s allowed Australian Army M-113 armoured personnel carriers, FV101 Scorpion light tanks and even new Chieftain AS-1 main battle tanks (MBTs) to be deployed.  With a concurrent amphibious landing in the south at Suai, Australia quickly started to take control of the country. 

However, the Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Darat (TNI–AD - Indonesian Army) troops fought just as hard on the ground as their TNI–AU comrades were in the air.  On the 28th, a new development took place.  As a way of striking back at Australia and potentially opening up a new front in the what was now known as the East Timor War, Indonesian forces struck at Australian interests in Papua New Guinea (PNG).  Operating from bases in Irian Jaya (Western New Guinea to Australia), Indonesian special forces supported by TNI–AU Il-28 Beagle bombers struck.  Initially the targets were isolated villages and mine sites, but still it was an invasion of Australian territory (since 1949, Australian had administered the territories of Papua and New Guinea) and as such would garner a reaction.  On the ground PNG “Head Hunter” units (these were small units of Papuan troops that had been trained by Australia’s elite Special Air Service (SAS) and were at home operating in the tough PNG mountainous regions), began a series of reprisal attacks against the Indonesians.  In addition, the RAAF targeted the Indonesian air bases from which the attacks were launched.

For the next week or so, the war continued with mounting casualties on both sides.  By the end of the first week of February, Australia was in control of virtually the whole of East Timor (though small pockets of TNI–AD troops still held out).  At this point, sensing the battle was over and fearful of Australia expanding the war into West Timor, The Indonesian ambassador to the United Nations asked the Soviet Union’s ambassador to support a cease-fire deal.  Within 24hrs, the UN Security council had voted on the associated resolution and called for both sides to stop the fighting.  This was agreed to and thus on the 7th February, the East Timor War officially ended.

Repercussions and Rewards

Following the war, a number of developments took place.  First amongst these was that within weeks of the ceasefire, the politically weakened Sukarno was toppled by the head of the military, General Suharto, who was formally declared President in March 1976.  With the Indonesian Military seen as having distinguished itself in the war, this was a popular action throughout the majority of the country. Suharto’s first act was to order the re-equipping of the military to make up the losses incurred during the war.  The Soviet Union was the main recipient of the resulting equipment orders and quickly supplied new fighters (MiG-21s, MiG-23s, Su-15s and Su-22s) along with Air Defence missiles (SA-3s and SA-6s).  Also purchased were Mi-8 Assault Transports and Mi-24D ‘Hind’ Assault gunships and T-72 tanks.

On the Australian side, initially there was no change – the existing forces took on an occupying role until replaced by a United Nations administration and peace keeping force.  By the end of 1976, elections were arranged and a new East Timorese Government elected.  Following the ‘Liberation’ this new administration looked very favourably towards Australia.  As a consequence, in 1977 Australia was ‘rewarded’ with the drafting of a treaty to share resources in the Timor Gap. The treaty was signed in May 1977, with an estimated five billion barrels of oil to be shared between the countries.   This agreement, along with general economic partnership, was a crucial factor for the East Timor’s quick recovery from the war.

Politically, Prime Minister Whitlam initially reaped the rewards that any successful war inevitably gives.  However, in a surprising development his government was narrowly defeated in the general election of 1977.  The new Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, entered office in December with a majority of two seats. 

For the Australian military, the period following the war was a period of analysis.  Some equipment such as the F-111s (both the C and B models) had performed superbly, whilst others such as the Mirages and even the Phantoms, whilst still very capable, were assessed as not being sufficient for the future.  As a result, a new program to replace these was initiated.

In 1978, the RAAF and RAN agreed to purchase a new common fighter to replace the Mirages and Phantoms.  Following detailed analysis it was decided to purchase two types in a Hi-Lo mix.  For the Hi category, the choice was between the McDonnell-Douglas F-15 (in both conventional and Naval versions), Grumman F-14 (single common version), Panavia Tornado ADV (in both conventional and naval versions) and Dassault Mirage 4000 (which didn’t actually have a naval offering), whilst for the Lo category, the choice was between the General Dynamics F/A-16 (again with both conventional and naval versions), McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 (common version), Sepecat Jaguar (in both conventional and naval versions) or Dassault Mirage 2000 (again with no naval version).  Finally in 1979, the decision to purchase F-14Bs (these were fitted with the GE F110 engine) and F/A-16/Ns (both also fitted with the GE engine) was announced - the RAN F/A-16N order was later changed to conventional F/A-16s when it was decided that the carrier air wings would be centred upon the F-111B and F-14B.  Incidentally, a ‘home-grown’ option was also considered for the Hi role, when CAC offered an interceptor version of the FB-111H – this, the F-111G was fitted with the same Hughes AWG-9 radar as the F-14 and carried the same AIM-54 Phoenix missiles, in this case though in excess of 16 could be carried.  However, whilst undoubtedly impressive, the F-111G was ultimately rejected since it lacked the multi-role ability of the F-14. Concurrently with these new fighter programs, the existing F-111Cs and F-111Bs were also to be upgraded with the same engine (they would be redesignated as F-111C+/F-111B+ after this) and eventually, the AVQ-26 Pave Tack forward looking infrared (FLIR) and laser designator system (though this suffered developmental problems and was not actually introduced into service until late 1981).

Other changes taking place were the purchase of 6 (later increased to 8) Boeing E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft and the ‘proper’ acquisition of 6 C-5 Galaxy transports.  The RAAF also successfully argued for the introduction of a small (1 squadron) but dedicated combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter fleet.  Initially a variant of the CH-47 was considered, but eventually 12 Sikorsky HH-53H Pave Low III were ordered from the US.

Another major lesson was the importance of air defence capability for the Army.  Although already equipped with shoulder launched systems such as he FIM-43 Redeye, the experience of attacks by Indonesian aircraft during the war had shown this to be insufficient.   It was also felt that the protection of allied fighters could not always be guaranteed – as indeed was the case during the war.  As such, a program to acquire a more powerful system for the ARA was begun.  At first, off the shelf systems such as the US Army’s MIM-72A/M48 Chaparral or M163 Vulcan Air Defense System or even the newly proposed British Tracked Rapier system were considered.  However, an indigenous option was soon put forward that beat all of these.  This proposed modifying the existing Chieftain AS-1 MBT with a new turret.  This was basically similar to the existing turret in appearance though was lightened (with reduced armour).  The 120mm main gun was replaced with a General Electric GAU-8/A Avenger, seven barrel 30mm cannon fed by a magazine holding up to 1600 rounds.  This had an effective range between 350 m and 2000m.  Supporting the main gun were two 4 round pods fitted with Swedish RBS 70 laser-guided missiles.  These had an effective range of up to 8km and were also being introduced in a MANPADS version for the Army as well.  Supporting both the gun and the missiles was a targeting/surveillance system comprising a radar and independent optical/laser turret.  Following trials, the Chieftain AS1 Air Defence Variant (ADV) or, as it was quickly named: Echidna; was quickly proven to be the winning solution. A total of 32 Echidnas were subsequently ordered.  A version was also subsequently ordered by both the British Army and the Iranian Army (though these were not delivered due to the Iranian revolution).

Of Sultanates and Southern Oceans

In 1979, events on the far side of the world were once again to have an impact upon Australia.  Between August and December 1978 strikes and demonstrations paralysed Iran. Finally in mid-January 1979, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi left Iran for exile. Two weeks later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Tehran to a greeting by several million Iranians.  The royal regime collapsed shortly after on February 11th when guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting.  Iran voted by national referendum to become an Islamic Republic on 1st April 1979, and a new theocratic constitution whereby Khomeini became Supreme Leader of the country was approved in December 1979.

This revolution had profound repercussions around the world.  Most significantly, it inspired Islamic groups in a number of countries to consider similar.  In Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic country, the leaders of the Darul Islam were just such a group.  Newly inspired, they immediately began to initiate protests through out the country often using students from the more radical Madrasahs that had been established through out the country.  The group also began staging raids on nightclubs and bars in the major cities to punish proprietors and patrons who did not adhere to Islamic values. Things reached a climax in March 1980 when members of Komando Jihad (a militant offshoot of Darul Islam) stormed the Presidential residence in Jakarta.  Following a gunfight that took many hours, the group displayed the body of President Suharto and declared that Indonesia was now an Islamic State to be known henceforth as the Indonesian Sultanate and would be ruled by a council of Islamic scholars.  Over the weeks that followed, the group strengthened its position.  Central to this were the Madrasah students who fervently sought out anyone who did not comply with the new Sharia law.

The world reaction to this development was initially fear – first Iran and now Indonesia!  Where might be next?  In Australia, the Government under Prime Minister Fraser was just as stunned as the leaders of other Western leaders.  Although appalled but what was happening on their doorstep they didn’t know how to react – this was especially compounded by the fact that most in Australia had mixed emotions about the deposing of Suharto.  After all, he was the man most associated with the Indonesian military’s actions in the recent East Timor War.  As such the official reaction was to do nothing more than to issue calls for calm.

Also competing for the Government’s focus at this time was the Rhodesian situation.  The Rhodesian Bush War had been underway in one form or another since 1964.  By 1979 however, a resolution was finally in sight.  During the 1979 Commonwealth Conference, Fraser, together with his Nigerian counterpart, convinced newly-elected British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to withhold recognition of the internal settlement Zimbabwe Rhodesia government (Thatcher had earlier promised to recognise it). Subsequently, the Lancaster House talks were held and Robert Mugabe was elected leader of an independent Zimbabwe at the inaugural 1980 election - Fraser was widely recognised as 'the principal architect' in the installation of Mugabe.

At the 1980 election, Fraser hoped to capitalise upon this however it was not to be and in fact, he saw his majority sharply reduced and the coalition lose control of the Senate. Fraser was however able to form a minority government by way of deals with a number of independent parliamentarians. The writing was on the wall though - in 1981 the economy experienced a sharp recession; and a protracted scandal over tax-avoidance schemes run by prominent party members plagued the government. Finally, a popular minister, Andrew Peacock, resigned from Cabinet and challenged Fraser's leadership. Although Fraser won, these events left him politically weakened.

By the end of 1981 it was also obvious that the popular former trade union leader Bob Hawke was going to become Labor leader. Fraser was emboldened to call a snap election before Hawke could consolidate his position. However, he had left his run too late. On the day Fraser called the election for 5 March 1982, Hawke was formally declared as leader of the Australian Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition. A former Union Leader, Hawke was always ready for a fight.  Sensing the public’s concern with the Indonesian situation, he made this a major campaign platform calling for stronger action.  At the resulting election, Fraser was heavily defeated.  However, before anything substantial could be done about Indonesia, events once again took an unexpected turn…

On 2nd April 1982, Argentine forces mounted amphibious landings of the Falkland Islands, following the civilian occupation of South Georgia on the 19th March.  In the period leading up to the war, Argentina had been in the midst of a devastating economic crisis and large-scale civil unrest against the military junta that had been governing the country since 1976.  The Falkland Islands lay east of Argentina and their name and sovereignty had long been disputed (Argentina referring to them as Islas Malvinas). The junta calculated that the UK would never respond militarily to their taking of the islands. In doing so the junta hoped to mobilise Argentines' long-standing patriotic feelings towards the islands and thus divert public attention from the country's chronic economic problems and the regime's ongoing human rights violations. Such action would also bolster its dwindling legitimacy.

Word of the invasion first reached Britain via amateur radio. The retaking of the Falkland Islands was considered extremely difficult - the U.S. Navy actually considered a successful invasion by the UK to be 'a military impossibility'.
The main constraint was the disparity in deployable air cover with the UK having a single operational aircraft carrier (HMS Hermes) with at most, 28 Harriers against Argentina's 220 jet fighters.  This situation had come about as a result of another round of Defence cuts whereby the British Labour Government of James Callaghan had decided to replace the formidable HMS Queen Elizabeth fleet carrier with a pair of simpler (and it was hoped, less expensive) HMS Invincible class Anti-Submarine carriers.  As such, the HMS Queen Elizabeth had been sold to Canada (along with its air wing of Phantom FG.1 fighters; Buccaneer S.2 strike aircraft and E-2 Hawkeye AEW aircraft – not to mention quite a few RN FAA pilots who also transferred services) as a replacement for the HMCS Bonaventure – in Canadian service the ship essentially retained its name but was now officially HMCS Queen Elizabeth.  Although the Callaghan government had recently been replaced by that of the conservative Margaret Thatcher, the sale was already long past.  To compound the problem, the two new carriers HMS Invincible and HMS Illustrious, were seriously delayed.  The aging Commando carrier, HMS Bulwark, was also available, though this was only equipped to carry helicopters and was considered to be of doubtful use.

Against this backdrop, the Argentines considered their position secure.  However, they hadn’t counted upon the willingness of the British to call upon their Commonwealth ‘children’.  Within days of the initial invasion, Prime Minister Thatcher had rung her Canadian and Australian counterparts requesting their assistance.  Both reacted positively with the result that a combined Commonwealth task force was now tasked with the recapture of the islands.  From Canada came the HMCS Queen Elizabeth escorted by 2 Iroquois-class destroyers, HMCS Huron and HMCS Algonquin.  From Australia, the HMAS Kokoda and 3 “Bismarck Sea” class destroyers HMAS Han River, HMAS Coral Sea, and HMAS Java Sea as well as a pair of replenishment and support vessels.  The remaining forces would come from the UK and would comprise the HMS Hermes as well as in excess of 30 destroyers, frigates and all important troop transports and logistics ships.  Thanks to a splendid effort at intelligence security, the participation of the Canadian and Australian forces was totally unknown to the Argentine forces. 

By mid-April, the RAF had set up an airbase at Wideawake Airfield on the mid-Atlantic island of Ascension, including a sizable force of FB-111H Excalibur GR.1 strike aircraft, Handley Page Victor K Mk 2 refuelling aircraft, and McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR Mk 2 fighters to protect them. Meanwhile the main British naval task force arrived at Ascension Island to prepare for war.  A small force had already been sent south to recapture South Georgia.

In mid April, a Boeing 707 of the Fuerza Aérea Argentina (FAA) attempted to approach the British Task Force during their travel to the South. Before it was escorted away, it managed to spot the HMCS Queen Elizabeth (which had only joined the task force days beforehand) and report this disturbing development to the Argentine High Command.  The involvement of Australia was still a secret though.  Attempts by FAA 707s to make closer approaches were intercepted by RCN Phantoms; the unarmed 707 were not attacked because diplomatic moves were still in progress and the UK had not yet decided to commit itself to war.   This would soon change though.

On the 1st May, all hell broke loose as the combined Commonwealth forces struck (Australia’s involvement was only officially communicated via their Ambassador 30 minutes before the first strikes).  From the RAF, Operation "Black Buck” involving a total of 6 Excalibur GR 1 strike aircraft, supported by a large portion of the available RAF Victor K Mk 2 refuelling force struck the airfield at Port Stanley.  Although the raids did minimal damage to the runway, the damage to radars and air defences was unrepairable. Shortly after this, a strike force of RCN Buccaneers from the HMCS Queen Elizabeth also struck and completed the job – the runway was totally out of action.

To the West, the Australian part in the operation was also beginning.  Flying from the South, two strike packages of F-111B+s escorted by F-14Bs and a single EF-111B+ (the EF-111B+ was a dedicated electronic warfare version of the F-111B+ using the same equipment as the RAAF’s EF-111As) each struck at the Argentine air bases at Rio Gallegos and Río Grande   Coming as a total surprise, and with aircraft equipped with the new Pave Tack pods and associated GBU-10 Paveway II laser guided bombs, the effect was devastating.  After the single attack, both bases were unusable for the duration of the conflict.  Whilst many aircraft were caught on the ground, some at Rio Gallegos were already airborne.  However for the RAN F-14B pilots (many who were veterans from the East Timor War), these were easy targets – within minutes, two A-4B Skyhawks and a Mirage IIIEA were shot down.  These kills were also the first for the F-14.

In the days that followed, the carnage continued, as the Argentines, though mounting a brave defence, were simply outclassed.  On the 2nd May, the vintage Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano was set upon and torpedoed by the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Conqueror. Three hundred and twenty-three members of Belgrano's crew died in the incident.  Two days later on the 4th May, the sole Argentine aircraft carrier Veinticinco de Mayo was struck by AGM-84 Harpoon missiles fired from two RCN Buccaneers.  It would eventually sink 18 hours later with the loss of over 800 crew.  On the same day, the FAA struck back when the RN destroyer HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet missile fired by a FAA Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard.  A day later the frigate HMS Ardent was also mortally hit by an Exocet fired from a shore based trailer.  That evening the frigate HMS Argonaut and destroyer HMS Antrim were also hit by Argentine bombs but these failed to detonate.  They would be the last ships damaged during the conflict as the overwhelming superiority of the Commonwealth forces combined with ongoing strikes against the mainland bases took effect.

The tempo of operations increased throughout the second week of May as the UN attempts to mediate a peace were rejected by the British, who felt that any delay would make a campaign impractical in the South Atlantic storms.  During the night of 12th May the British Amphibious Task Group under the command of Commodore Michael Clapp mounted Operation Sutton, the amphibious landing on beaches around San Carlos Water, on the north-western coast of East Falkland facing onto Falkland Sound – the 4,000 men of 3 Commando Brigade were put ashore.  By dawn the next day they had established a secure beachhead from which to conduct offensive operations.  By this time, total Commonwealth air superiority had been achieved – the combination of RAN F-14Bs and E-2s were especially deadly accounting for the majority of the kills (in fact, so devastating were the F-14Bs, the Argentines named them "la Muerta Negra (the Black Death)".  Over the next week, the British ground forces started to conduct operations.  They were supported by RAF Harrier GR.3 close support aircraft operating from HMS Hermes and met with little resistance – once air superiority was achieved the Argentine forces knew it was all over.  On the 16th May, the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, Brigade General Mario Menéndez, surrendered to Major General Jeremy Moore – some 9,800 Argentine troops were made prisoners of war.  A day later, the Argentine government accepted an end to hostilities.

The Argentine loss of the war led to ever-larger protests against the military regime and is credited with giving the final push to drive out the military government that had overthrown Isabel Perón in 1976.  Elections were held on 30 October 1983 and a new president, Raúl Alfonsín, took office on 10 December 1983. In the long term the debacle concluded the periodical intervention of the Argentine military in the politics since the 1930s.

For the UK the war, though still costly, was considered a great victory for the UK and indeed the Commonwealth (without whom it was acknowledged, the result could have been significantly different). The war provided a substantial boost to the popularity of Margaret Thatcher and undoubtedly played a role in ensuring her re-election in 1983.

Air power proved to be of critical importance during the conflict. Air strikes were staged against ground, sea and air targets on both sides, and often with clear results.  Moreover, the importance of AEW&C guided fighters was proven beyond doubt. The Argentine Exocet and Commonwealth Harpoon missiles also proved their lethality in air-to-surface operations, leading to retrofitting of most major ships with Close-in weapon systems (CIWS).

Business as Usual and Business Unfinished?

Following the Falklands War, the Australian Forces returned triumphantly.  Very quickly, it was back to normal operations.  First issue to be addressed for the defence force in the wake of the Falklands War was the issue of replacing the two light carriers HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney.

The need to secure a replacement for these grew as the carriers’ age caused their operating costs to increase.  In June 1977, the Defence Force Development Committee had approved an investigation into acquiring two new STOVL/helicopter carriers. By August 1979, the decision was limited to three designs: a modified American Iwo Jima class amphibious assault ship, an Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi class carrier, and a Sea Control Ship design that later became the Spanish Navy's Principe de Asturias.  By February 1981, the Iwo Jima class was the preferred option.  However, the confusion of the latter period of the Fraser Government threw this into disarray.   When the new Hawke Government came to power one of their first decisions was to re-initiate this project.  This drive was largely led by the passionate, young Minister for Defence, Kim Beazley – he would quickly get the nickname “Bomber Beazley” for his fervent support of all things military. 

The new project quickly took on the lessons of the Falklands War.  Two of the main ones were that size was beneficial to help withstand the effects of missile strikes (the fitting of additional CIWS was also crucial in this respect), and that a greater ability for the conduct of amphibious operations was highly desirable.  As a result of these (and other) considerations, focus now switched to a variant of the American Tarawa class amphibious assault ships.  The new Tarakan-class (as they were known – after the Battle of Tarakan) warships had a more squared-off forward flight deck with 12° "ski jump" and no forward sponsons.  In addition, the Tarakan-class warships were 24 feet longer in overall length to better accommodate a "well-deck” for launching landing craft or Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft. Each Tarakan-class warship also had a hospital with 600 patient beds and six operating rooms – this latter feature was also seen to be of significant use in disaster relief operations.   The first of the new class, HMAS Tarakan was launched in 1985 and entered service two years later in 1987.  Its sister ship, the HMAS Balikpapan was launched in late 1986 entering service in 1989.  Both ships were equipped with an air wing tailored for each mission, though generally they carried 6 AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft, 4 AH-1T+ Improved Taipan attack helicopters (this was an upgraded variant with four bladed main rotor and more powerful General Electric T700 engines.  It also acquired some sensors from the AH-64 Apache), 6 CH-47 Sea Chinook helicopters (these were a version of the standard CH-47C but with added navalisation features) and 8 – 10 MH-60B Helicopters (the latter were acquired in 1986 as replacements for the venerable UH-1 Iroquois and were a hybrid of the standard UH-60A troop transport with the navalisation features of the SH-60B-2 ASW helicopter which had also been acquired as an SH-61 replacement).

The other major project gaining support in 1984 was that to replace the long serving Oberon class of diesel-electric submarines.  Initially, a new diesel-electric design was considered, but following the success of the Royal Navy’s SSNs in the Falklands War (in particular their ability to operate virtually indefinitely), a nuclear powered option was soon favoured.  Designing and building the submarines in Australia would be one of the most complex projects ever undertaken and was initially met with a great deal of criticism.  However, thanks to campaigning by several figures in Australian industry, the support from several trade unions, and the drive of Beazley, the view that it was both possible and feasible soon came to dominate.

The project was given the procurement designation of SEA 1114.  The RAN had four main requirements: that the submarines were tailored to operating conditions in the Australasian region; that the submarines be multi-role capable adopting both a nuclear strike role and special forces delivery capability in addition to their primary hunter-killer role; that they be equipped with a combat system advanced enough to promote a long service life; and that appropriate and sustainable infrastructure be established in Australia to construct the boats, then provide maintenance and technical support for their operational lifespan.  The requirement was for eight boats and they would be designated the Collins class (the lead boat taking its name from Australian Vice Admiral John Augustine Collins, with the other seven submarines named after significant RAN personnel who distinguished themselves in action during World War II).

Proposals were received from seven companies, with two selected for a funded study, and the winning design announced in mid-1987. The resulting submarines, based upon a proposal from the General Dynamics Electric Boat were arguably the largest, most complex attack submarines in the Western world.  Equipped with an advanced combat system and 8 torpedo tubes plus 12 dedicated vertical launch (VLS) tubes for launching land attack missiles the design was also one of the most heavily armed of all submarines.  Power was provided by an Australian designed (though with assistance provided by the USN) pressurized water reactor capable of delivering 45,000shp.  The boats also had extensive equipment for shallow-water operations, including a floodable silo capable of simultaneously deploying eight special forces operators and their equipment.  In fact so impressive was the design, that the USN also used it as the basis for their own Seawolf class submarine.  However, being such a complex project there were inevitable delays and the first of the class would not enter service until 1993.

Other new equipment changes during this period were the introduction of the AAC Wamira and T-45 Goshawk trainer aircraft.  The Wamira was also adopted by the RAF, partially as thanks for the support offered by Australia during the Falklands War.  Finally, a new Close Air Support/Forward Air Controller (CAS/FAC) platform was sought.  Initially a version of the Wamira was considered likely, however following lessons of the East Timor and Falklands conflicts, something with substantially greater firepower and survivability was looked for.  Simply acquiring more Taipan helicopters was also considered, but these would be limited in their ability to operate effectively in some of the mountainous terrain of the PNG territories (where Indonesian forces had infiltrated during the East Timor War).  Consequently, in 1985, the decision was made to acquire 24 Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft.  These would be designated OA-10C and were based upon the A-10B Night/Adverse Weather version but without the impressive GAU-8/A 30mm Gatling gun (this was considered unnecessary for their intended role and was replaced with a 20mm M-61 instead – the smaller gun allowed for increased ammunition and fuel capacity as well).  In Australian service, the aircraft quickly received the nickname Devil after the Tasmanian Devil.  They were often based from small airstrips throughout Northern Australia and the PNG Highlands.

Despite all the new equipment programs, the issue of Indonesia had not been forgotten.  As one of the principle campaign platforms of the Labor party during the 1982 election, strong action was planned.  With the Falklands War taking centre stage though this was initially ‘put on the back burner’.  However, by June, with the war over and the Australian forces back home, it came to prominence once again.  In July Australia tried to get the UN to introduce sanctions, however, this was vetoed by the Soviet Union.  As such, in August it announced that it would introduce its own sanctions aimed at encouraging democratic elections in the country – these sanctions were also supported by the USA, UK, France, Canada, New Zealand and a number of other countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. 

Other action inspired by the Indonesian Islamic Revolution and the earlier East Timor war was to establish a new defence and security pact between the nations of the region.  This would become known as the Oceania Defence Treaty (ODT) and involved Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, East Timor, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji and most of the other small island nations in the south Pacific.

In late 1985, a significant development took place.  A RAAF Jindivik Mk 5R Surveillance UAV (this was a long span - 11.5m wingspan - reconnaissance variant of Jindivik target drone powered by more powerful General Electric J85 engine and able to cruise in excess of 75,000ft.) operating from RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia, spotted what appeared to be a number of mobile missile launchers being unloaded from a ship.  These were later identified as launch vehicles for Scud-C ballistic missiles – the missiles themselves were spotted being offloaded from subsequent ships and were believed to have been supplied by North Korea with funding provided by Iran.  Such weapons were able to strike many Oceania Defence Treaty signatories including Singapore, Malaysia, East Timor and for the first time Australia directly (The northern city of Darwin was within range of missiles launched from Indonesian territory).  Even more frightening was intelligence that Indonesia may have been collaborating with Iran and Pakistan on developing Nuclear, Chemical or even Biological Warfare warheads for these missiles.  This was a development that Australia especially could not tolerate. 

With diplomatic options considered unlikely to succeed, the option of military action was increasingly seen as necessary.  As such, the order to begin planning what would later become known as Operation Stabilise was given.  Initially focussed upon the elimination of the Scud missiles and their launch vehicles, this soon grew into a far larger operation aimed at neutering much of Indonesia’s military power – to a large degree, this was seen as the unfinished business of the East Timor War.  Consideration was also given to eliminating the ruling members of the Indonesian Sultanate as it was considered unlikely for democracy to develop whilst this remained in place. 

Consequently, at midnight on the 12th August 1986, the first strikes in what would be Australia’s largest military operation took place.  Supported by forces from New Zealand, Singapore, and Malaysia, these initial strikes were aimed at the Scud launch vehicles (the main operating/maintenance base for the vehicles had been identified from intelligence sources) and the main Air Bases throughout the country.  The first strikes were undertaken by FB-111H Ultra Pigs equipped with Kingfisher Supersonic ASMs fitted with conventional warheads (these were a ramjet powered missile typically fitted with a nuclear warhead and were the primary weapon of the FB-111Hs).  These first strikes were aimed at the Scud vehicle depots and the Air Defence systems surrounding the main Indonesian airbases at Iswahyudi, Abdulrachman Saleh, Hasanuddin, Halim Perdanakususma, Pekanbaru and Adisucipto.  A strike was also targeted at the former Presidential residency in Jakarta where the ruling Islamic Council were believed to be located.  Following this strike were waves of F-111C+ and B+ strike aircraft (both RAN carriers HMAS Gallipoli and HMAS Kokoda were taking part in this operation along with the HMAS Sydney) supported by EF-111B+/C+ jamming aircraft.  RAAF F/A-16s were also heavily tasked with attack missions.  The RNZAF sent two squadrons  - one of A-7s plus one of F/A-16s (New Zealand had joined the Australian program to purchase F/A-16s and was in the process of replacing it’s A-7s with them), whilst Singapore and Malaysia both committed their forces of A-4 Skyhawks and F-5E Tigers (Singapore, also committed some aging Hawker Hunters) to the fight.  Protecting all these Oceanic attack aircraft were RAAF and RAN F-14Bs, out to add to their reputation from the Falklands War. 

In the days that followed the initial strikes, the battle escalated.  Although the initial strikes were successful (the Scud threat especially was believed to have been eliminated in the first strike), throughout the entire war though, six FB-111Hs were kept at 5 minutes readiness armed with nuclear weapons should a launch be detected.  This however was not made public until many years later), just as in the East Timor War, Indonesia was putting up a strong defence.  However, the initiative was firmly with the attacking forces.  Despite some losses (the A-4s, A-7s and even F/A-16s all suffered losses), the overwhelming superiority of the F-14Bs soon made themselves felt.  By the end of the second week, virtually the entire Indonesian inventory of aircraft had been eliminated either on the ground or in the air.  With the Air Defence batteries and SAM sites also having been largely eliminated, the way was now open for the elimination of remaining military assets considered a threat.

By end of the first week of September, the operation was over.  The Islamic Council had been overthrown by surviving elements of the Indonesian Army led by a Colonel Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – he would eventually be elected President.  Within hours a call for a ceasefire had been sent which was accepted by the attacking Oceanic forces.  In the weeks that followed, Indonesia also witnessed a partial disintegration up as first Irian Jaya (soon renamed West New Guinea) and then Aceh declared their independence.  Not long afterwards, both Yogyakarta and West Timor also broke away – in West Timor’s case, unification was sought with their increasingly prosperous neighbour East Timor.



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