Exercise High Sierra 2019 has kicked off at RAAF Base Townsville as up to 14 F/A-18A & F/A-18B Classic Hornets descend on the base for the annual No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) operational conversion (OPCON) course. The three-week exercise is the accumulation of the six month long transition for fighter pilots from the Hawk 127 lead-in fighter to the F/A-18 Classic Hornet.
Running from the 18th of November to 5th of December 2019, the exercise will include both day and night flying operations. Flying will take place in both the Townsville restricted airspace and the Townsville Field Training Area.
The Purpose of Exercise High Sierra
Exercise High Sierra is pivotal for students at 2OCU as they undertake a series of missions including Close Air Support, Air to Air and Self-Escort Strike roles. Additionally, it allows for the Air Force to maintain capabilities such as airborne Command and Control and Air to Air Refuelling. These skillsets are provided by No. 2 Squadron (RAAF Base Williamtown) and No. 36 Squadron (RAAF Base Amberley), operating the E-7A Wedgetail and KC-30A MRTT respectively.
Upon their return to RAAF Base Williamtown on the 5th of December 2019, the newly graduated Classic Hornets will be posted to one of two front line squadrons; No. 75 Squadron (RAAF Base Tindal) or No. 77 Squadron (RAAF Base Williamtown).
With this year’s exercise being the final Classic Hornet OPCON course, it marks the transition to the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II as Australia’s next generation of fighter aircraft. From 2020, 2OCU will begin to receive and operate F-35As from RAAF Base Williamtown alongside No. 3 Squadron. The Classic Hornet is currently planned to be phased out at the end of 2021, as No. 77 Squadron switches to the F-35A at the end of 2020 with No. 75 Squadron following suit the year after.