Tomorrow, the Royal Australian Air Force will mark its 100th anniversary. Ahead of the centenary, RAAF chief Mel Hupfeld said his intent was for the service to be ‘comfortable’ operating in a state of ‘constant competition’ as it moves towards a force combining crewed and uncrewed capabilities.

The Strategist, run by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), reported that Hupfeld said his intent for the RAAF highlighted the need “to be comfortable operating with constant competition,” adding that the service needed “recognise opportunities and seize them wherever possible.”

Hupfeld also said that over the past two decades, the RAAF had been focused on operations in the Middle East but that no longer matched with Australia’s strategic goals, adding that the RAAF needed to invest in airbases and project power in air and space.

The chief also said that future decision making should be less about specific platforms and more centred around what ‘effects’ the RAAF is trying to deliver.

Commenting on potential future sixth-generation platforms, Hupfeld said: “This is where I’d want to get my smart young think-tank people to come in and see what they imagine. Given my experience and the baggage I carry, I have to think really hard to not imagine something like an F-35 with a pilot in the cockpit.

“But it could be a space-based system operating with a ship armed with a directed-energy weapon or a railgun. There are many options we want to look at. Our younger generation aren’t constrained in their thinking like I can be.”

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Hupfeld also had warm words for the F-35 saying: “‘It’s a crucial part of an integrated system tied together with the Super Hornet, Growler electronic-warfare aircraft, the tanker, surveillance aircraft, intelligence databases, space capability enhancements and cyber activities, and more broadly integrating with air warfare destroyers and the army’s air defence systems. The F-35 replaces nothing, but changes everything.”

To mark the centenary, the RAAF is holding a flypast over Canberra of over 60 aircraft including F-35As, F/A-18F Super Hornets, C-130J Hercules, Black Hawk helicopters, and E-7A Wedgetail, and C-17A Globemaster IIIs.

Historic aircraft including the Spitfire, Mustang, Dakota, and P-40 Kittyhawk will also take part in the mass flypast.