High Altitude Combat for Navy Officer

Published on LSIS Jayson Tufrey (author), CPL Craig Barrett (photographer)

Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, CSC and Bar, presents Lieutenant Peter Hassall with his certificate of completion for Mission Commander on the E-7A Wedgetail, becoming the first Navy officer to do so. (photo: CPL Craig Barrett)
Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, CSC and Bar, presents Lieutenant Peter Hassall with his certificate of completion for Mission Commander on the E-7A Wedgetail, becoming the first Navy officer to do so.

Combat Systems Operator to Combat Systems Manager is normally the pinnacle of career progression for ops crew, but Lieutenant Peter Hassall, who commissioned four years ago, took things one step further and is now an E-7A Wedgetail Mission Commander.
Maritime Combat Officer Lieutenant Hassall is the first Navy fighter controller to complete the mission commander course and one of a handful who serve in each of the six E-7As operating out of 2 Squadron, RAAF Base Williamtown.
As part of the implementation of the maritime warfare branch, the Navy created the Maritime Combat Officer role.
The specialisation allows ex-senior sailors without a bridge warfare certificate but appropriate skills, to perform warfare duties in the officer continuum.
Lieutenant Hassall said he progressed through the various stations in the aircraft, from surveillance control officer to senior surveillance control officer and finally mission commander.
“I commissioned as a maritime combat officer in 2011 after coming through as a Chief Petty Officer Combat Systems Manager (Aircraft Controller) in 2006,” Lieutenant Hassall said.
“While a challenging course, it drew on previous experience both with the Navy and the squadron which helped me complete the training – I am now moving forward to enhance a truly joint capability.
“To reach the level of mission commander is not dependent on which service you belong to, as far as the Air Force is concerned, it is the natural progression through the aircraft and your relevant experience – it is definitely hard-earned though.”
One of the course instructors said there were less than 15 personnel qualified as mission commanders since the E-7A’s acceptance.
“It’s great to have a member of the Navy qualify in this role as it allows the Air Force to positively influence Navy air and surface warfare capabilities into the next generation of threats,” he said.
“The E-7A mission commander holds a lot of responsibility – they have overall tactical control of the aircraft; they have the autonomy to continue with a mission if all communications are cut to higher headquarters; and they work with the aircraft captain to ensure the E-7A is in a position and is capable of executing its mission.”
Lieutenant Hassall was presented his graduation certificate by Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, and Commodore Warfare, Commodore Peter Leavy, at a ceremony at the Squadron on 18 September.
Rear Admiral Mayer said this was a significant achievement for the individual, Navy and the Joint Defence Air Warfare capability.
“This qualification is the culmination of a great deal of hard work underpinned by operational experience,” Rear Admiral Mayer said.
“Since joining 2 Squadron in 2006,  Lieutenant Hassall has clocked up more than 2,000 hours on the E-7A Wedgetail weapon system across all crew positions, completed two periods as an instructor in 2 Squadron training flight, participated in numerous high-end exercises and, more recently, completed an operational deployment.
“To get to the top spot as a Maritime Combat Officer is an achievement of which he should be proud.”
Rear Admiral Mayer said it had been satisfying to watch the Navy fighter control capability mature over the past four years.
“I am impressed that the Australian Defence Force and our coalition partners are being supported on operations by E-7As with Navy fighter controllers fully embedded across the full range of mission crew positions,” Rear Admiral Mayer said.
“It confirms Navy’s commitment to the air battle management capability provided by 2 Squadron and will pay dividends when these personnel return to Navy and re-invest their knowledge into the maritime air warfare space."
Lieutenant Hassall said he loved his new role.
“To put it into Navy terms, it’s like being a Principal Warfare Officer in the back of an aircraft,” he said.
“I could have shooter priority on something that is usually held at higher levels – but it could get to my word to say to take something out.
“Obviously you still have the rules of engagement and work within the bounds of the left and right of arc – the experience I have brought from the fleet has definitely helped me in this role.”