Six Super Hornets are set to touch down at a Queensland air force base after Australia wrapped up its three-and-a-half years of air strike operations against Islamic State in the Iraq and Syria.
The Turnbull government announced their withdrawal late last year shortly after Iraq’s prime minister declared victory over the militant group.
At its peak, the so-called IS caliphate controlled most of eastern Syria and about one-third of Iraq’s territory.
The fighter jets, an air-to-air refueller tanker and a Globemaster transport aircraft are expected to arrive at the RAAF Amberley base on Wednesday.
The number of personnel deployed to the Middle East will also be drawn down.
As well as fighter pilots and weapons operators, also returning to Australia will be some aircraft maintenance workers and armament technicians (“gunnies”) who assemble the precision-guided bombs.
Air force personnel are likely to be relieved they won’t have to endure another summer at Australia’s main air operating base in the Middle East, where temperatures often reach 50C on the tarmac and 65C on top of the aircraft.
The return doesn’t mark the end of Australia’s military commitment in the fight against IS.
The Wedgetail air battlespace management aircraft, on an operational pause, is expected to recommence sorties early this year.
Hundreds of Australian troops based out of Taji in Iraq will continue to train and mentor Iraqi soldiers.
Australia’s air contribution to the fight against IS has not been without controversies.
An Australian Super Hornet was responsible for an air strike in west Mosul in Iraq which may have killed a child last June.
In a separate incident in March, Australian military personnel had been involved in the target decision-making process of a botched air strike in which seven civilians were killed or injured, including a child.
The previous year, two Australian fighter jets dropped six bombs as a part of a bungled coalition air strike which hit Syrian government irregular forces rather than Islamic State.
RAAF OPERATIONS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA
* The Super Hornets have flown more than 21,400 flying hours, dropping more than 2400 precision-guided bombs on about 2750 sorties in the past three years.
* The air-to-air refueller tanker has flown 9400 hours on about 1200 sorties, and transferred about 42 million litres of fuel.
* The Wedgetail air battlespace management aircraft has clocked up more than 5000 flying hours and 400 sorties.