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Labor Senator accused of “freelancing” over RAAF VIP jet comments

The refuelling boom of a Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport makes contact with the receptacle of a United States Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighter flies during boom refuelling trials in the United States. The F-35A is equipped with symmetrical external stores for this trial. *** Local Caption *** A Royal Australia Air Force KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport has completed successful refuelling trials with the F-35A Lightning II, better known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Operating from Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert, the RAAF KC-30A flew 12 sorties with a United States Air Force F-35A from 23 September to 26 October.  Using the 18-metre-long Advanced Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) mounted on the tail of the KC-30A, the RAAF crew made a total of 479 ‘dry’ and 24 ‘wet’ contacts with the refuelling receptacle on the F-35A, and transferred more than 95 tonnes of fuel over the course of the trial. These flights will enable RAAF KC-30As to refuel Australian and foreign F-35As alike. Air-to-air refuelling is an important ‘force multiplier’ for the F-35A fleet, considerably boosting the aircraft's range and endurance, or allowing them to carry bigger payloads. A single KC-30A can carry a fuel load of more than 100 tonnes and remain 1800 kilometres from its home base with 50 tonnes of fuel available for offload, for four hours. Throughout the trials at Edwards Air Force Base, the KC-30A was operated by personnel from No. 33 Squadron. A flight test team from the RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit, supported by flight test instrumentation engineers from the Aerospace Systems Engineering Squadron, was integrated within the USAF Test Centre to work on a dynamic test program.  Imagery provided by Lockheed Martin.

Freshman Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching has been accused by her colleagues of “freelancing” according to the ABC after she criticised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on social media for the ordering an Airbus KC-30A equipped with a VIP interior for the RAAF.

Senator Kitching took to Twitter on Saturday accusing the Prime Minister of spending $250 million on a “private jet”. The aircraft is one of two former Qantas A330-200s which were acquired by the Commonwealth in 2015 for about $60m, and are currently undergoing the $190m tanker and cabin interior conversion in Spain.

While six of the seven KC-30s are equipped with a 270-seat business and economy class passenger interior, one of the aircraft will be equipped with the low-density VIP interior with a small number of first class, about 24 business class, and 50 economy class seats, as well as a reported meeting room, shower facilities, and a bedroom.

Along with the rest of the KC-30 fleet, the aircraft will spend a majority of its time supporting RAAF air-to-air refuelling and transport missions from its home base of Amberley, but it will be available for long-range Prime Ministerial overseas visits when required.

Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne, apparently believing that the acquisition and conversion project had bipartisan support in the parliament, directed a retort to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in response to Senator Kitching’s tweet; “Shorten caught by an exploding cigar, having being briefed and agreed on the need for a new RAAF plane, now attacking it. I presume he and Senator Kitching will rule out using it if he ever manages to become PM?”

A senior Labor source told the ABC that Senator Kitching, “…was definitely speaking on her own initiative.”

The RAAF’s SPA fleet is currently under review, with the two leased Boeing 737-700BBJs and three Bombardier Challenger 604s due to be replaced soon or upgraded. Industry sources have suggested the BBJs will likely be retained for a few more years, while the CL604s will be replaced in 2019 with a longer-range business jet such as the Gulfstream G550 or Dassault Falcon 7X.