Air Combat Electronic Attack Sustainment Contract program manager Chris Gray in front of a EA-18G Growler.
Air Combat Electronic Attack Sustainment Contract program manager Chris Gray in front of a EA-18G Growler.

Passion for working on world's most advanced aircraft

WORKING each day to ensure some of the most advanced and formidable aircraft in the world get up into the skies is what pushes Chris Gray out of bed in the morning.

He works as manager of Boeing's Air Combat Electronic Attack Sustainment Program manager at RAAF Base Amberley.

The base is home to 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets and 11 EA-18G Growlers.

Ten years have passed since the first Super Hornets arrived in Ipswich with a decade of partnership between the aerospace company and the Australian air force celebrated today.

A $280 million contract extension was signed earlier this month to take the program through to 2025.

Mr Gray said Australia's Super Hornet fleet had been developed into one of the most advanced multi-role fighters in the world.

"Effectively our job is to enable aircraft to be ready to fly each day," he said.

"I've been on this program for nine years. A lot of our workforce have been on the program since the beginning.

"Ten years ago, Super Hornet was only acquired as a bridging air combat capability.

"It was only intended to have a life in the RAAF for 10 years. Here we are today and it is the premium, multi-role fighter for the Royal Australian Air Force."

In December 2012, the RAAF's 24 Super Hornets achieved final operating capability.

Two years later, No. 1 Squadron deployed Super Hornets on combat operations as part of the strike element for Operation OKRA, which was a key part of the Australian Defence Force's contribution to the international effort to combat the Daesh terrorist threat in Iraq and Syria.

"I remember coming to work on the Monday and was blissfully unaware that the Prime Minister had committed the capability … to commence operations in the Middle East," Mr Gray said.

"The whole deployment from September 2014 to March 2015 was just excellent. Boeing support through that period was 24 hours a day. The aircraft proved itself in an operational context.

"Since 2016, it has been Australians, Boeing Defence Australia, as the prime contractor providing sustainment services. That was a significant milestone."

No.1 Squadron deployed for a second Operation OKRA tour in the Middle East in April 2017.

Mr Gray said he was excited of what was still to come.

"New capabilities are released to the platform every couple of years," he said.

"The Super Hornet continues to evolve to maintain its combat edge.

"I grew up in Ipswich. To live and work, support this capability in the town that I grew up in, that's my life.

"It is fantastic to live in Ipswich and see and hear the aircraft flying around, that's part of the Ipwsich lifestyle.

"People move from Melbourne, Nowra or Darwin … having this capability here draws those people.

"For someone who is passionate about Ipswich, hiring people and having them come and live and work here is super cool."