Per Ardua Ad Astra
'Through Struggle to the Stars' *
The motto of the Royal Australian Air Force
The Royal Australian Air Force - or RAAF - is one of the world's oldest Air Forces. Established on the 31st of March, 1921, three years after the world's first Air Force - Britain's Royal Air Force - it was pre-dated by the Australian Flying Corps. The AFC's primary role was troop support, however as this force became more active in roles such as air-to-air combat, and bombing attacks, it became clear that the AFC's value lay beyond simple infantry support, and the RAAF was formed as a separate force.
Following its formation, the RAAF was under tight financial constraints, as well as being considered a lesser force by the Army and Navy. Both these forces considered the RAAF to be a force whose aim always would be the support of naval and ground forces, rather than a unit who should exist in a stand alone capacity. Due to these various pressures, the RAAF's growth in the pre-World War II years was slow. At the onset of WWII, it found itself under prepared and under equipped. Once war broke out, the RAAF underwent a period of rapid growth, and finally became a force with some strength. Before the war, the RAAF numbered approximately 3,000 personnel, and 300 aircraft. By 1945, it numbered around 180,000 personnel, and 3,000 aircraft. These numbers would drop to around 8,000 personnel following the war however, and its numbers have never risen to anything like its wartime levels since.
Australia's Air Force involvement in WWII was concentrated in Europe, and the Mediterranean area, with many thousands of Australians fighting in Australian Squadrons, or with the RAF. Australia's worst casualties of the war were airmen killed fighting with European Bomber Command, 3,500 men losing their lives.
Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the RAAF's focus shifted to the Pacific, and Asia. Japanese forces were threatening to invade Australia - Australia being bombed more than 60 times by Japanese forces during the war. The RAAF played a large part in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea in 1943, along with American aircraft, ensuring that the Japanese push into New Guinea was mortally wounded, thus more or less safeguarding Australia's security.
Following World War II, the RAAF units fought in Korea, as well as serving with RAF forces in Malta. The RAAF's next large scale deployment took place in Vietnam, from 1964 to 1972, with close to 5,000 personnel serving. The RAAF flew aircraft such as the Canberra Bomber, Caribou transport, and the UH-1 Iroquois helicopter. By the end of 1968, 9 Squadron had flown over 100,000 sorties, transported over 150,000 troops, and evacuated over 2,000 casualties from the battle field. They achieved this with only 6 helicopters.
In the years since Vietnam, the RAAF have participated, either in a combat role, or a support role, in Malaysia, Iraq, Somalia and East Timor, to name a few.
These days, the RAAF operates bases in every Australian State (excluding Tasmania), as well as RAAF Butterworth, in Malaysia. It has a current strength of around 14,000 permanent members, and over 2,000 active Reservists. In recent history, it has been active in humanitarian and disaster relief exercises both within Australia, and overseas. Australian C-130 Hercules aircraft have recently been involved with evacuating injured Australians from Bali, following a bomb blast which injured and killed hundreds - many of them Australian. The RAAF is responsible for patrolling Australia's oceans for activities such as illegal fishing and immigration. The RAAF has also been involved with many rescue missions, particularly helping sailors who run into trouble in the vast oceans surrounding our country.
The RAAF has operated hundreds of aircraft in its history, including many of the world's most famous military aircraft. This list is by no means complete, but examples of aircraft flown by RAAF pilots include:
(Note - The RAAF is no longer solely responsible for Australia's helicopter forces. This role has been taken on by both the Army and Navy, who operate their own helicopters.)
Australia's RAAF continues to modernise, and adapt its forces to the needs of the country. In this changing world, it is recognised that the RAAF needs to remain current with the latest technology, and not allow their aircraft to fall below the capabilities of Air Forces in the region. The RAAF also needs to have equipment that is compatible with its allies - it is unlikely that the RAAF will ever be involved in a major confrontation as a force standing alone. Therefore, it needs to have equipment that can be used alongside the equipment of our allies. The RAAF and the USAF regularly conduct joint training exercises, both here and in the US. The RAAF's aircraft are probably not the most modern in the world at this stage, however replacements for the F/A-18 Hornet, and ageing F-111 Bomber are being looked at. AWACS aircraft may be added to the RAAF's fleet some time in the future.
The RAAF will never be a large military force - in a country of 17 - 18 million, a huge Air Force is not sustainable. So it continues to work within its limitations, relying on efficient operation, and highly trained personnel. you could say its motto could well be 'more with less'. Its genuine motto will never be forgotten though.
Per Ardua Ad Astra
* - The translation to this Latin phrase varies. I have seen it translated as 'Through struggle / toil / adversity to the stars'.