Presently based at RAAF Darwin, No. 114 Mobile Control & Reporting Unit (MCRU) provides the Royal Australian Air Force with a ground based radar system network which enables mobile air reporting and active control of airspace for both military operations.
No 114 MCRU (which is part of 41 Wing), is just one squadron of many which are makeup the RAAF’s Surveillance and Response Group (SRG) force. Working alongside other units comprising No 42 Wing who fly the E-7A Wedgetail (Airborne Early Warning and Control) for control of battlefield operations, No 44 Wing who operate the mobile control towers, No 92 Wing who are tasked with maritime operations utilising the AP-3C Orion and now also the P-8 Poseidon which is slowly coming online. With all of these elements the SRG is a quite busy component of the overall RAAF daily operations and a very important part of the ADF structure.
Looking at the parent unit of No.114 MCRU, 41 Wing is based at RAAF Williamtown and from this fighter base, 41 Wing commands all of the RAAF’s Air Defence operational and training needs. Other components of the Wing is spread out around various locations in Australia, which include 3 Control and Reporting Unit (3 CRU) and Surveillance and Control Training Unit (SACTU) both located at RAAF in Williamtown while 114 MCRU is located in Darwin and 1 Radar and Surveillance Unit (1 RSU) is located in Adelaide.
During Pitch Black 2016, DUAN joined other media at RAAF Darwin where we were given access to view inside the operations of No. 114 MCRU. We met the Commanding Officer of the unitWGCDR “Nathan”, seen at left, who explained the role and tasks this unit undertakes in such exercises like Pitch Black. But before we delve into the modern era operations of No.114 MCRU lets take a look at the unit’s history and insights to the technology it uses.
HISTORY OF 114 MCRU
The long and proud history of No.114 shows they have been quite active in combat and peacetime operations. 114 MCRU history can be found stretching back to WW2, where in 1943 the unit was established at Camden, NSW as No. 14 (Mobile) Fighter Sector Headquarters. The new unit was quickly thrown into combat and sent to Papua New Guinea to support the massive air efforts underway. From there the personnel took part in air surveillance across the northern area of Australia and into the South West Pacific. The personnel were responsible for controlling anti-aircraft batteries and air-to-air interceptions of Japanese raiders and achieved many successes.
Here we see a WW2 style RAAF Fight Control Unit on film – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMqD9XZlm7E
By the beginning of 1945 the unit was withdrawn back to Brisbane and then readied for deployment to Tarakan and served admirably under challenging situation until the end of the war. The unit returned home in 1945 and was set up in southern NSW and disbanded on 1 April 1948 – a somewhat interesting date?. It was reactivated in late 1955 and in 1956 the unit renamed No. 114 Mobile Control and Reporting Unit. By 1958 the unit was moved to Butterworth formed part of the British Commonwealth Far East Strategic Reserve. While deployed to Asia, No. 114 MCRU directed in the last years of the Malayan Emergency, the RAAF Sabre jets of Nos. 3 and 77 Squadrons along with Canberra bombers of No. 2 Squadron.
With the RAAF deploying to Thailand in 1962 with Sabre Jets from No. 79 Squadron for air support missions, No.114 also controllers on attachment to Ubon Air Base in Thailand. Asia kept the unit very busy and in 1964 unit went on to a 24-hour operational footing to provide tactical support to Sabres of Nos. 3 and 77 Squadrons during the Konfrontasi between Indonesia and Malaysia. Luckily for everyone no combat took place.
No 114 MCRU was again disbanded in 1966. Again on April 1 1968 (Ed note….something about 1st of April must keep popping up as being of interest to the unit?) it was reactivated at RAAF Amberley where it was equipped with the AN/TPS-27 radar sets. By 1979 the AN/TPS-27 were replaced with the newer AN-TPS 43 model. No. 114 MCRU was again transferred to a new base and they were located at RAAF Base Tindal, Northern Territory from 1997 until moving north to RAAF Base Darwin in December 1999, where they presently.
During 2007 a detachment of No. 114 MCRU with 75 personnel was deployed on active service to Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan. The controllers were used to coordinate coalition combat air operations in the Kandahar region. After 2years the detachment returned to Australia in 2009, with some more overseas experience gained.
On 23 May 2013 No. 114 MCRU celebrated its 70th anniversary at Darwin. Due to its long history and vital role in the RAAF, the squadron was presented with a Squadron Standard on 23 May 1990. This Standard presentation was quite unique as it has been the only time a non-flying unit in the Air Force has ever received such recognition.
AN/TPS-77 RADAR SET
No.114 is currently equipped with the road and air transportable version of the Lockheed Martin AN/TPS-117 system called the AN/TPS-77. The AN/TPS-77 was entered operational service with the US military back in the early 1980s and the RAAF acquired the AN/TPS-77 or sometimes called TPS-77 system in 2005. It replaced the older AN/TPS-43 radar.
An example of an RAAF AN/TPS-77 set is shown below (Wiki – Nick-D)
To describe the TPS-77 it looks like a big rectangle that rotates on the truck bed base. The AN/TPS-77 is an active electronically scanned array (AESA), 3-dimensional air search radar. At the heart of the TPS is a radar system which has long range detection capability include a detection range of 470 km and can monitor up to 100,000 ft altitude which is quite useful in this modern era.The radar uses the L-band in a pencil beam scanning method. The radar’s system uses a solid-state transmitter along with a beacon interrogator search radar. The highly capable design means it is low powered and has back up systems in place which allows the AN/TPS-77 and computer software to be set up in remote controlled alongside monitored operations. The remote linking back to manned site reduces the overall manning requirements.
NO. 114 MCRU CURRENT OPERATIONS AND ROLE IN PITCH BLACK 2016
Normally home based at Darwin, No. 114 MCRU is as shown above, is able to move around to “bare sites” where there is minimal infrastructure and set up their own operations. While operating from RAAF Darwin they have some form of “civilised” setup operating with fixed infrastructure in place, seen at left. When deployed in the field such as a detachment to the Delamere range during Pitch Black or Afghanistan operations, they are working in rougher conditions.
On base at RAAF Darwin, found deep inside 114 MCRU location were many camouflaged shipping containers or otherwise viewed as “pods”, which comprise the operating controllers work sites. They were surrounded by cabling and the loud hum of generator sets. Located inside these pods were the “heart” of the MCRU – the human element – the fighter controllers. At Pitch Black 2016, DUAN was shown around the “pods” by WGCDR “Nathan” and other unit personnel.
When based at Darwin, other locations in Australia or overseas, the controllers may be required to handle civil traffic at times too. Controllers face assorted challenges when carrying out their tasks such as information issues, technical issues and environmental factors.
At Pitch Black 2016 the role of the controllers inside each pod was explained to DUAN as to help to manage the various aspects covering military tactical airspace battle management along with continual surveillance of the fighting airspace around Darwin.The controllers are located at computer desktop workstations, where they sit monitoring via a variety of radar displays on the computers screens the traffic. They also communicate via voice and real time chat programs to broadcast messages to fighters and other elements using Link-16 SATCOM systems.The controllers work on 3hr shifts inside the pod directing the airspace.
The RAAF controllers are highly trined, with exposure to FCI tactics and procedures. Integration of tactics and fighter is a big requirement for a controller at No.114 MCRU. Controllers need to know what is required, what outcomes are needing to be achieved and what resources they have available. They are in exercises like Pitch Black, required to understand and manage defensive and offensive counter missions aspects. Also tactical coordinators monitor the radio traffic.
Having been based at RAAF Darwin now for 16years, No. 114 MCRU capabilities also allow them to support the Australian Army’s 1st Brigade and the Royal Australian Navy. DUAN observed that the 114 MCRU team was bolstered by the inclusion of NATO members – German and Dutch military personnel who helped support the RAAF members in controlling the variety of strike packages that formed the exercise’s air elements.During the Pitch Black exercise, No, 114 changed sides from “Blue” to “Red” force at designated times, thus providing both sides with effective battle space control.
Looking ahead, in managing airspace in the 21st Century it is clear that it will require information – lots of data feeding into units like No.114 MCRU. All this data helps to form the bigger picture for ground based combat controllers. With battle space controllers providing the RAAF with a highly capable centre from which tactical and decisions can be made will in the future require more fed data from other sources such as the 2 SQN E-7A Wedgetail seen below) and other RAAF units.This variety of data feeds enables the members of No.114 MCRU to manage the battle air space easier.
Future data sources that WGCDR “Nathan” hinted at will include more work with the 5 Flight at RAAF Amberley who use the IAI Heron and any future UAVs systems as they come online. In the longer term with theRAAF keen to implement all aspects of the Jericho plan underway along with the introduction of the F-35 Lightning II into service in the next few years, this will mean the RAAF is aiming for a much enhanced force wide integration of all elements of command and control. This critical goal means a much bigger role being played by the SRG elements to ensure the RAAF is kept informed of all airspace movements. These changes will also see more system networking implemented and newer secure communication distribution systems utilised along with enhanced real time data link systems being used by the RAAF fighter and control elements.
DUAN would like to thank the members of No. 114 MCRU and the RAAF Public Affairs team for making this visit possible.