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By JOHN JESSER, Defence
and Aviation Writer
If an air attack had been mount ed against northern Australia yes terday, the Royal Australian Air
Force would have been able to re spond with only seven outdated Mirage fighters.
Although more aircraft were available in Australia's only fully operational fighter squadron, 75 Squadron, based at Darwin, only seven pilots were available and these included the unit's command ing officer. Normally, 18 pilots would be allocated to the squadron.
The disclosure was made in evi dence presented this week to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, which is investigating per sonnel wastage rates in the Austra lian Defence Force, and it underlines the severity of the pilot, shortage in the RAAF.
A spokesman for the RAAF con firmed that 75 Squadron had only seven pilots but, "for security rea sons", would not provide any fur ther details about the ability of the RAAF to operate its fighter forces.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Mar shal Ray Funnell, said last month that the shortage of pilots had re sulted in reduced flying time and a reduction in the manning level of tactical fighter squadrons from 18 to 12 pilots.
Last year 107 pilots resigned from the RAAF and so far this year 117 have resigned. This is expected to increase to between 12S and 130 resignations before the end of this statistical year.
The historical annual average number of resignations is 47 and the RAAF has the ability to train about 65 pilots a year.
It is clear that the situation will get much worse, particularly since the RAAF is taking delivery of new F/A-18 Hornet fighters and re quires additional pilots to undergo conversion training to fly them.
In fact Air Marshall Funnell ad mitted recently that the RAAF would find it "very difficult" to keep pace with Hornet deliveries.
One of the reasons for the short age of Mirage pilots at Darwin is that some pilots are undergoing Hornet conversion training at Wil liamtown, NSW.
Number 75 Squadron is to be moved to Tindal, 350km south of Darwin, later this year and re equipped with Hornets.
The time taken to recruit poten tial RAAF pilots and train them through the Australian Defence Force Academy and then at various RAAF bases to qualify them to fly various aircraft up to the Hornet is typically five to seven years.
Even then they will not be able to exploit all of the Hornet's capa bilities. The Hornet was purchased as a multi-role aircraft, which puts considerable demands on its pilots
and means they must undergo^ a longer-than-usual period of train ing, and maintain a high number of flying hours, to achieve the re quired level of capabilities.
Australia has ordered 75 Hor nets and at the end of February 38 had been delivered, with the last due in May 1990.