Australian military forces prepare for bushfire season

Australian military forces prepare for bushfire season

Joseph Hammond

The Australian Defence Force is adding to its arsenal and calling on friends as it continues to fight massive bushfires that have burned 18.6 million hectares, more than 20%, of Australia’s forests in 2019 and 2020. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has been deploying helicopters and other aircraft to suppress the fires, move equipment and evacuate civilians.

Despite recent rain, the military is taking no chances as it prepares for the fire season. The RAAF accepted delivery of a new Bell 412 helicopter, pictured, which was transported by an RAAF C-17A Globemaster. It was the first time an Australian crew had transported a 3-ton Bell 412 carefully wrapped in plastic with its rotor blades disassembled.

“Our air mobility fleet has a strong record of supporting state-based emergency services, including during Operation Bushfire Assist, and we will continue providing support,” RAAF Air Commodore Carl Newman, commander of the Air Mobility Group, said in a statement.

In some regions of Australia, meteorologists forecast that a La Nina weather event means that thunderstorms and flooding may present bigger risks than fires. Bushfire risk, however, will be high in northwestern Australia and southeast and central Queensland, an Australian Department of Defence (DOD) spokeswoman told FORUM.

Last season’s fires destroyed 5,900 buildings and killed 34 people, while pushing several animal species close to extinction, Reuters reported. Nearly 80% of Australians were affected by the fires. Australia received assistance, including firefighters, aircraft and supplies, from Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and the United States.

“A number of opportunities have been identified to enhance preparedness and coordination with the states and territories,” the spokeswoman said.

Australian lawmakers are reviewing revisions to a law that would make it easier to call up military reservists to fight bushfires. Moreover, the U.S. remains committed to supporting Australia’s humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. In January 2020, an RAAF Globemaster collected 20 tons of fire-retardant powder from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for firefighting in Australia.

Joseph Hammond is a FORUM contributor who reports from the Indo-Pacific region.