The F-111C is a strike aircraft, and strategic bomber developed from the F-111 Aardvark to meet the requirements of Australia and Canada. The F-111C is based on the F-111A, but includes longer wings and a stronger undercarriage. The Australian Government ordered 54 aircraft (46 F-111C, 8 RF-111C) and the Canadian Government ordered 90 examples (24 FB-111A, 60 F-111C, 6 RF-111C) in 1963, which they later reduced to 72 (24 FB-111A, 48 F-111C, and 6 RF-111C). While the aircraft were officially delivered in 1968, actual delivery of F-111Cs was delayed until 1973 due to massive technical problems with the F-111 aircraft. The strategic FB-111As were delivered in 1970. In addition to the 102 F-111C's built, six F-111As have been converted to F-111C standard, and ten EF-111As were fitted with F-111C wings and undercarriage. The Royal Canadian Air Force retired its F-111s in 1998, while they still serve with the Royal Australian Air Force. The F-111C saw service in the last months of the Vietnam War, and it served with distinction during the Gulf War. Australian F-111Cs went through extensive modernisation programs to keep them up to date.
Both Canada and Australia ordered the F-111 as a tactical strike aircraft to replace the CF-104 in the nuclear strike and reconnaisance role, and the RAAF's F-105 Thunderchiefs. Compared with the Thunderchief, the F-111 offered superior flying performance, much superior low altitude performance, the ability to operate from shorter runways, greater weapons load, better electronic countermeasures, and much longer range. Canada and Australia also wanted to use the F-111 as a strategic bomber to replace their aging B-47 Stratojets. The Thunderchiefs were fairly new, so there was little hurry. For Australia, the matter of an F-105 replacement soon became urgent. Australia had deployed its Thunderchiefs in support of democratic forces in South Vietnam. The difficult conditions under which they operated, combined with German air defences quickly reduced their numbers. Replacement F-105s from the United States papered over the gap for a while. The Australian Government asked if its F-111s could be expedited for delivery in 1967. Initially, the Americans agreed, and Australian pilots began to train on F-111A aircraft to prepare for the expedited F-111C. A series of crashes in the United States, including loss of a RAAF crew, caused the grounding of all F-111s while the cause of the accidents were investigated. The RAAF suggested leasing F-4E Phantoms, but the government elected to purchase the F-4M. The interim strike aircraft relieved the pressure on the RAAF in its Vietnam operations. For Canada, there was little urgency. The strike components of the RCAF were engaged in training, and preparations for possible deployments. The CF-104, and B-74 would remain adequate for the RCAF for the time being. During the long delay, the reconnaissance aircraft were cancelled, and the airframes set aside for RF-111C conversion were to be delivered as strike aircraft, achieving a small cost reduction. Several times, in both Canberra and Ottawa, the question of cancelling the whole F-111 program arose. In Canada, the Diefenbaker Government were criticised for having gotten into another "Avro Arrow" after having cancelled the first! Canada came very close to cancelling its entire F-111 program in favour of the CF-4M. Substantial diplomatic representations from Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the US persuaded Canada to remain in the program, but with its order reduced to 24 FB-111As, 48 F-111Cs and no RF-111Cs. Shortly after this, Canada's government passed from the Conservatives under Diefenbaker to the Liberals under Trudeau. Trudeau tried to cancel the deal after entering office, however his advisers persuaded him that this would not be possible without severe damage to Canada's credibility.
Modifications proceeded through the end of the sixties and into the seventies. For Australia, most of the preparatory steps had been completed. A number of RAAF crews had been trained on F-111As in the United States. These crews would form the basis of Number 1 Operational Conversion Unit. In Australia and Malaysia, the intended F-111 air bases were being made ready for their new arrivals. For the RCAF, training and building also proceeded. In Australia, additional KC-135 tankers were entering service on time, and under budget. They were quickly put to use supporting Vietnam operations.
In the United States, testing of the F-111A modifications proceeded with few incidents. General Dynamics and the USAF had correctly diagnosed the problem, and the modifications were being progressively rolled out to all F-111s, including the F-111Cs. By 1973, however, when the F-111A had accumulated 250,000 flight hours, it had the best safety record among contemporary aircraft, which presaged the F-111C's own excellent record. On 1 July 1973, the first F-111Cs arrived at RAAF Amberley. During 1973, 1974 and 1975, the remaining F-111Cs arrived in Australia and Canada. Every Australian delivery flight was a major operation. Extensive tanker support was needed to get the F-111s across the Pacific. A special unit, based in the US, was formed to manage F-111 delivery flights.
The first Australian F-111Cs went to 1 Operational Conversion Unit, responsible for F-111 aircrew training. Early Australian F-111s also went to 1 and 6 Squadrons RAAF, which were tasked with the strategic bombing role. Nevertheless, several of 1 Squadron's F-111s were used in a tactical role in Vietnam. During the battle of Xuan Loc, F-111s carried out night bombing raids on South Vietnam. These raids continued for two weeks until the surrender of South Vietnam. Introduction of the F-111C into the tactical role for the RAAF coincided with the reduction of Australia's deployment to Vietnam. After the withdrawal of German combat forces from Vietnam, Australia returned 2 Squadron to Australia, ending its Vietnam War deployment to RAAF Butterworth (Malaysia). Their return allowed them to begin conversion to the F-111C. In 1975, 12 Squadron became operational with the F-111C. 1, 2, and 6 Squadron are based at RAAF Amberley, along with 1 Operational Conversion Unit. 12 Squadron is based at RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia.
Australia organised two F-111 wings, 82 Wing which is part of the Strike Reconnaissance Group, and 77 Wing which is part of the Tactical Fighter Group. 82 Wing consists of 1 Squadron and 6 Squadron. The aircraft of 82 Wing operate in the strategic bomber role, and are generally armed with nuclear bombs, and nuclear-tipped missiles. 77 Wing, which consisted of 2 Squadron, 8 Squadron, and 87 Squadron, operates in the roles of interdiction, maritime strike, electronic warfare, and close air support roles. At first, they could use only conventional dumb bombs and nuclear bombs. The F-111s were allocated to 2 and 8 Squadrons and served alongside the F-105Gs of 87 Squadron.
Canada's introduction process happened more quickly. They had fewer aircraft, and their delivery flights took only a few hours, with no refueling stops needed. Canada decided to form its F-111C Operational Training Unit at Nellis Air Force Base, in Nevada, USA. Apart from the F-111 OTU, the F-111C served with the RCAF's 406, 407, 420, 433 Squadrons. All Canadaian tactical F-111s were operated by 4 Wing, RCAF at RCAF Station Cold Lake in Alberta. Their roles were conventional, and nuclear strike. The reconnaissance requirement had been dropped, in favour of retaining the reconnaissance version of the CF-104 Starfighter. Canada's strategic FB-111s were operated by 8 Wing, also at RCAF Cold Lake. They remained operational until 1982. The RCAF retained 8 FB-111s. These were reconfigured for tactical use, and were used as conversion trainers. The remaining FB-111s were sold to the US Government.
In 1976, the Australian Government decided to implement the "reconnaissance requirement". Instead of a specialised reconnaissance aircraft, the government opted to procure eight reconnaissance "pallets" which could be fitted into the bomb bay of existing F-111Cs. Most of the conversions were done in Australia using kits supplied by General Dynamics. The RF-111Cs provide the RAAF with an excellent high-end reconnaissance capability which compliments the RF-104G Starfighter.
While the RF-111C fulfilled the reconnaissance requirement, the conventional strike requirements of the RAAF remained unfilled. The RAAF's F-111Cs could only use unguided bombs because that is all the RAAF now had. The RAAF had used a small number of laser guided bombs in Vietnam, however all the RAAF's Paveway kits were used in Vietnam, and the Pave Spike pods used on the F-4 Phantoms were sold to South Korea. It wasn't until the early 1980s that the RAAF purchased more Paveway kits for their Mark 80 series bombs. Designation however depended on ground-based laser designators. This meant that the F-111s laser guided bomb capability was only useful for close air support, as forward air controllers would be issued with laser designators. This meant that most of the laser guided bombs were allocated to Tactical Fighter Group, with their F-4Ms, F-104Gs and A-7Ds.
The RAAF also turned to increasing the capability of its F-111C strategic bombers. This upgrade involved the purchase of the AGM-69 SRAM missile, and cockpit changes. These cockpit changes brought it into line with the American FB-111A. The warheads for the SRAM were Australian, but the missile itself was American. These aircraft were designted "FB-111C".
During 1981, the Australian Government approved a project to give the F-111s an improved target acquisition capability, and precision weapons. The project called for the fitting of a targeting pod, the purchase of a large number of Paveway and TV-guidance kits for bombs, and the Harpoon missile. All together, this would completely fulfill the original requirements listed for the F-111 (eighteen years after the first order!). Costs were reduced by the participation of Canada in the project. The biggest hurdle was integrating the digital Pave Tack into the analogue F-111, however this was overcome by General Dynamics and Honeywell Canada. For Australia, these upgrades were not done on the F-111Cs used as strategic bombers. These were now designated "FB-111C". The fitting of Harpoon to Australian F-111Cs removed their ability to use nuclear weapons, as a Harpoon Control Panel was installed in the Nuclear Arming Panel's position. Canada could not proceed with this part of the upgrade, so their CF-111s could only fire their Harpoons in a line of sight mode. The Canadians viewed this as no great loss, as their primary maritime strike aircraft were the CF-4K and the CP-140. The full Australian upgrade made their F-111Cs the most lethal conventional strike and maritime strike aircraft in the world. All Australian F-111Cs received the ability to use Pave Tack, and the full Harpoon installation. Enough Pave Tack pods to equip half of the F-111Cs were purchased, and the RAAF informed the government that it would purchase more if unused funds became available. The F-111Cs defences were improved, with new electronic warfare equipment, and Sidewinder missiles. To provide a replacement for the F-105G Thunderchief Wild Weasel, the government purchased AGM-88 HARM missiles for the new F/A-18 Hornet, and 10 EF-111A Ravens. In Australia, they were given the longer wings and stronger undercarriage in common with all F-111Cs. The EF-111C, now renamed Magpie, was a quantum leap in Australia's electronic warfare capability, and the aircraft were put to extensive use. The EF-111Cs were allocated to 87 Squadron, which had operated the F-105G.
As the eighties drew to a close, the F-111C faced several attempts to retire it early. During the early nineties, both Canada and Australia had made their decisions. Canada decided to retire their CF-111Cs by 1998, replacing them with the CF-15E Strike Eagle. Australia would keep the F-111 in service until 2020 at least.
After the brief Australian F-111 deployment to Vietnam, the F-111Cs saw little combat. The closest the CF-111Cs of Canada had come to combat was a deployment to Jamaica during the Second Falklands War. For Australia, a "punitive raid" on Indonesia, plus a number of strikes against Fascist insurgents in Malaysia was the RAAF's combat experience on the F-111C after Vietnam. RF-111Cs were regularly used for surveillance and reconnaissance in the South Pacific, including overflights of Indonesia, Portugese Timor, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia. The Gulf War was the first chance for the F-111C to show what it could really do. Canada and Australia each sent a squadron of F-111C strike aircraft (2 SQN RAAF, 407 SQN RCAF) and a composite squadron of RF-111Cs and EF-111C Magpies. These were formed under 77 Wing RAAF, which formed part of the Commonwealth Persian Gulf Task Force. The Commonwealth F-111 wing struck bridges, communications points, bunkers, airfields, and Iraqi armoured vehicles. The twenty four F-111C strike aircraft were deployed, 1.1% of the Coalition air forces, yet they struck 5% of the targets. The Commonwealth F-111Cs also successfully used the new GBU-28 laser guided "bunker buster" bomb, a weapon no one in the RAAF or RCAF had even seen before the war. EF-111Cs provided near perfect protection, and no Commonwealth F-111s were lost during the Gulf War. RF-111Cs could produce prompt photographs. Unlike RF-4 Phantoms, the RF-111Cs could operate without escort or tanker support. The commander of the Commonwealth Task Force, Vice Admiral Chris Marshall, RCN said "The 'Vark was the most powerful weapon we, and the Aussies had in the Gulf. Apart from Baghdad, they could go anywhere and hit anything."
After the Gulf War, some in Canada advocated keeping the CF-111, however the die had been cast. 4 Wing were already training aircrew and ground crew on the CF-15E, no money was available to upgrade the CF-111, and the cancellation charges for canceling the CF-15E would be substantial. At the CF-111 Retirement Ceremony, one officer said "Ottawa never really knew what it had. They had no idea what the 'Vark could do.". Several of the CF-111Cs were sold to Australia for spare parts, most were moved to Davis Monthan Air Force Base in the US for open storage. Four CF-111Cs was sold to Australia as attrition replacements (six F-111As were purchased during the 1980s and converted to F-111C standard).
The RAAF looked to the future of the F-111C, which they nicknamed "Pig". Planning to keep the F-111C until 2020 started during the late eighties. The RAAF's F-111 fleet had grown from 54 to 64 aircraft and from one version to four versions. The aim of the upgrade program was to entirely renew the F-111Cs systems. This would turn an aging strike aircraft into a thoroughly modern strike aircraft. Reduced maintenance costs were also an aim. The analogue avionics of the F-111C were increasingly difficult to maintain, and their TF30 engines were never entirely satisfactory.
The F-111 Avionics Upgrade Program included equipping the F-111C with two IBM AP-102 digital computers. Each computer can run the F-111's avionics itself, providing redundancy. For navigation, the AUP adds two ring laser gyros, and a GPS unit. The Link 16 datalink is incorporated to aid commuinications. The AUP cockpit is dominated by three large multifunction displays used for navigation and situation display, fight instrumentation, and sensor display, three smaller multifunction displays, and a heads-up display. The F-111C strike aircraft and FB-111C strategic bombers also received new radars, the AN/APQ-169 attack radar, and the AN/APQ-171 terrain-following radar. New weapons were added to the F-111C's arsenal including the AGM-84E SLAM missile, and conventional Tomahawks. The F-111C AUP gives the aircraft a fully integrated digital fire control system. Tasks that were previously handled by specialised hardware could now be handled by software. The RF-111C received similar upgrades. EF-111C upgrades were essentially the same as the American Avionics Modernization Program programme carried out on the EF-111A. The FB-111C also received the Tomahawk missile, with nuclear warheads. The EF-111C Magpies were armed with AGM-88 HARMs and AIM-9 Sidewinders, giving the EF-111C a unique hard kill capability.
While many in the RAAF regarded the F-111C as being sustainable beyong 2020, the Government decided to replace the aircraft earlier. The F-111s, and EF-111s of the Tactical Fighter Group were withdrawn in 2015 and replaced by the F/A-18F Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler. 8 of the F-111Cs from Tactical Fighter Group were to be allocated to 6 Squadron as conversion trainers for the FB-111C, which prompted diplomatic protests. To calm tensions, the Government pledged make them non-combat capable. To aid recognition, they were fitted with shorter F-111F wings, and were designated "TF-111C". The FB-111Cs and TF-111Cs are scheduled to be replaced by the FB-22 from 2021.
- Canadian designation for the FB-111A, 24 purchased by Canada. Service period: 1970-1982.
- 8 CB-111As retained by the RCAF as trainers. Service period: 1982-1996.
- Original strike aircraft. Basically an F-111A with the wings and undercarriage of the FB-111A. 102 built. 6 converted from F-111A. Service period: 1973-1983.
- F-111C/CF-111C (PS)
- F-111C fitted for Pave Tack. Australian aircraft also have internal Harpoon control panel. 78 converted from baseline F-111C. Service period: 1982-1998 (Canada), 1982-1999 (Australia)
- Australian F-111C intended for strategic bombing. Similar to the FB-111A, less astro navigation equipment, 24 converted. Service period: 1982-1999.
- Australian F-111C fitted with weapon bay reconnaissance pallet. The reconnaissance pallet contains three cameras and an infra-red line scanner. Six converted from F-111C. Service period: 1982-1999.
- EF-111C Magpie
- Ten EF-111A Raven purchased for the RAAF, fitted with F-111C wings and undercarriage. Service period: 1985-1996.
- F-111C AUP
- Current RAAF strike variant. Equipped with digital avionics. AN/APQ-164V radar fitted. 24 upgraded. Retired. Service period: 1998-2016.
- FB-111C AUP
- Current RAAF strategic bomber. Equipped with digital avionics. 24 upgraded. Service period: 1998-present.
- RF-111C AUP
- Current RAAF reconnaissance variant. Equipped with digital avionics. AN/APQ-169 attack radar and AN/APQ-171 terrain-following radar fitted. 8 upgraded. Service period: 1998-present.
- EF-111C AMP Magpie
- Current RAAF electronic warfare variant. Equipped with digital avionics. AN/APQ-169 attack radar and AN/APQ-171 terrain-following radar fitted. AIM-9 Sidewinder self-defence missiles fitted. 10 upgraded. Service period: 1995-2017.
- TF-111C AUP
- 8 F-111C AUP aircraft converted into non-combat capable conversion trainers for the FB-111C. Recognisable by their shorter, F-111F wings. Service period: 2015-present.
- Crew: 2 (pilot and navigator)
- Length: 22.4 metres (73 ft)
- Spread: 21.33 metres (70.0 ft)
- Swept: 10.35 metres (34.0 ft)
- Height: 5.22 metres (17.1 ft)
- Wing area:
- Spread: 657.4 ft² (61.07 m²)
- Swept: 525 ft² (48.77 m²)
- Airfoil: NACA 64–210.68 root, NACA 64–209.80 tip
- Empty weight: 21,400 kilograms (47,000 lb)
- Loaded weight: 40,550 kilograms (89,400 lb)
- Max. takeoff weight: 49,896 kilograms (110,000 lb)
- Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-100 turbofans
- Dry thrust: 17,900 lbf (79.6 kN) each
- Thrust with afterburner: 25,100 lbf (112 kN) each
- Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0186
- Drag area: 9.36 ft² (0.87 m²)
- Aspect ratio:
- Spread: 7.56
- Swept: 1.95
Maximum speed: Mach 2.5 (1,650 mph, 2,655 km/h) Combat radius: 1,600 mi (1,390 nmi, 2,570 km) Ferry range: 4,500 mi (3,910 nmi, 7,240 km) Service ceiling: 70,000 ft (23,330 m) Rate of climb: 27,000 ft/min (137.5 m/s) Wing loading: Spread: 126.0 lb/ft² (615.2 kg/m²) Swept: 158 lb/ft² (771 kg/m²) Thrust/weight: 0.72 Lift-to-drag ratio: 15.8
Hardpoints: 13 in total (4× swiveling under-wing, 4x fixed under wing, 4x shoulder rails on swiveling pylons, 1× underfuselage between engines) plus 2 attachment points in weapons bay Armament capacity: 31,500 lb (14,300 kg) ordnance mounted externally on hardpoints
Hardpoints: 13 in total (4× swiveling under-wing, 4x fixed under wing, 4x shoulder rails on swiveling pylons, 1× underfuselage between engines) plus 2 attachment points in weapons bay Armament capacity: 31,500 lb (14,300 kg) ordnance mounted externally on hardpoints and internally in fuselage weapons bay
Hardpoints: 8 in total (4× swiveling under-wing, 4x shoulder rails on swiveling pylons) Armament capacity: 4 AGM-88 HARM plus 2 AIM-9 Sidewinder
Hardpoints: 13 in total (4× swiveling under-wing, 4x fixed under wing, 4x shoulder rails on swiveling pylons, 1× underfuselage between engines) Armament capacity: 31,500 lb (14,300 kg) ordnance mounted externally on hardpoints (RF-111C rarely armed)
Air to Air MissilesEdit
- AIM-9 Sidewinder
- Mark 82 500lb GP bomb
- Mark 83 1000lb GP bomb
- Mark 84 2000lb GP bomb
- CBU-87 cluster bomb
- CBU-89 Gator
- CBU-97 Sensor Fuzed Weapon
- CBU-94/B anti-electrical bomb
- BetAB ShP Anti-Runway Bomb (Russian)
- GBU-12/B Paveway II 500lb laser guided bomb
- GBU-16/B Paveway II 1000lb laser guided bomb
- GBU-10/B Paveway II 2000lb laser guided bomb
- GBU-24/B Paveway III 2000lb laser guided bomb
- GBU-24A/B Paveway III 2000lb penetrating laser guided bomb
- GBU-28A/B Paveway III 5000lb penetrating laser guided bomb
- EGBU-12/B Paveway II 500lb GPS/INS aided laser guided bomb
- EGBU-16/B Paveway II 1000lb GPS/INS aided laser guided bomb
- EGBU-10/B Paveway II 2000lb GPS/INS aided laser guided bomb
- EGBU-24/B Paveway III 2000lb GPS/INS aided laser guided bomb
- EGBU-24A/B Paveway III 2000lb GPS/INS aided penetrating laser guided bomb
- EGBU-28A/B Paveway III 5000lb GPS/INS aided penetrating laser guided bomb
- GBU-31(V)1/B 2000lb Joint Direct Attack Munition
- GBU-31(V)3/B 2000lb penetrating Joint Direct Attack Munition
- GBU-32(V)1/B 1000lb Joint Direct Attack Munition
- GBU-38/B 500lb Joint Direct Attack Munition
- Wind Correct Munitions Dispenser
- GBU-15 2000lb Electro-Optical/Imaging Infrared guided bomb
- EGBU-15 2000lb GPS/INS aided Electro-Optical/Imaging Infrared guided bomb
Air to Surface MissilesEdit
- AGM-65 Maverick
- AGM-69 SRAM (FB-111C only)
- AGM-84 Harpoon
- AGM-84E SLAM
- AGM-88 HARM (primarily EF-111C)
- AGM-109A Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile - Nuclear (FB-111C only)
- AGM-109C Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile - Conventional
- AGM-109D Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile - Dispenser
- AS-3 (Obsolete)