How we help the civilian community

The Royal Australian Air Force's main role is to provide air and space power for Australia's security.

While Defence stands ready to support civil communities in times of crisis, State and Territory Governments are responsible for protecting life, property and the environment and coordinating an emergency response or recovery within their own jurisdictions.

Defence may provide support to local and international civil communities when requested by the Government.

Local support

When their resources are insufficient or overwhelmed during a crisis, States and Territories can seek Commonwealth assistance, including Defence assistance, through Emergency Management Australia.

Defence provides this assistance through Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC).

International support

Defence also provides support in times of international humanitarian crises, particularly for our neighbours in the South Pacific and South East Asia.

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief aid is coordinated and provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Defence can assist by transporting humanitarian aid and specialist personnel and equipment - including the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) and Urban Search and Rescue (URSA) teams. The Air Force and Defence may also provide logistics and medical support when requested, such as Aero-Medical Evacuation.

Air Force is incredibly proud of the local and international support we provide as part of a Defence response.

Air Force's speciality services


Air Force personnel are highly trained and experienced, specialising in areas such as Search and Rescue (SAR), Aero-Medical Evacuation (AME), critical medical care, engineering and logistics.

Defence takes Workplace Health and Safety seriously and will only commit personnel who have the appropriate training and experience to safely assist.

Equipment and supplies

Air Force uses three types of aircraft that are purpose built for transporting bulky cargo, including helicopters and vehicles.

The C-17A Globemaster is capable of carrying up to 70 tonnes, and is the largest aircraft in the Air Force fleet. The C-130J Hercules and C-27J Spartan are medium-sized airlift aircraft capable of carrying 19 and 5 tonnes of cargo respectively. These aircraft are all capable of air dropping supplies.

Aero-Medical Evacuation 

Air Force has a world class Aero-Medical Evacuation (AME) capability. The C-17A Globemaster, C-130J Hercules and C-27J Spartan aircraft can be transformed into mobile hospitals to transport critically ill patients.

When configured for AME, the C-17A can transport 54 ambulatory and 36 high dependency stretcher patients. The C-130J and C-27J can carry 97 and 21 stretcher patients respectively. The largest AME in recent Air Force history was from Bali after the 2002 bombings, which involved 22 critically injured patients.

The C-17A Globemaster aircraft was designed with AME in mind. Integrated oxygen and electrical connections reduce the need to carry extra oxygen tanks and power supplies. Compared with the C-130J Hercules and C-27J Spartan, the C-17A Globemaster is faster, quieter, has less vibration and better temperature control. It's also much more spacious, and provides a better clinical environment for the patient and carer. The size of the aircraft cargo bay means other essential supplies can also be carried.

Search and rescue

The Australian Government has an international obligation to provide search and rescue (SAR) for its territories, territorial seas, and the surrounding high seas. This is an area of 52.8 million square kilometres, covering over one tenth of the earth's surface.

SAR in Australia is conducted jointly between Australian Maritime Safety Authority, State and Territory emergency authorities and volunteer organisations. The Air Force can assist when specialist skills or equipment are needed.

AP-3C Orion aircraft have surveillance equipment capable of locating stricken vessels and downed aircraft. Both AP-3C Orion and C-130J Hercules can drop survival equipment and position marking devices to enable search and recovery efforts.


In the event of a bushfire, State and Territory Governments are responsible for protecting life, property and the environment and coordinating an emergency response or recovery within their own jurisdictions.

Australia has well-practiced processes for using civilian fire-fighting aircraft during a bushfire. This is coordinated by the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), which was formed in 2003 to provide a cooperative national arrangement for combating bushfires. This aircraft fleet complements aerial firefighting resources arranged directly by State and Territory Governments. The NAFC receives funding support from the Federal Government and plays a key role in developing national protocols for aerial firefighting, and ensuring aerial firefighting resources are shared between emergency service and land management agencies.

Defence does not maintain aircraft or equipment for aerial bush firefighting, and has not been directed by Government to establish any such capabilities. Defence focuses on providing support that aligns with its core qualifications, skills and resources. Ground based and aerial bushfire fighting is a highly specialised field requiring dedicated equipment and training that, in general, Defence does not have.

When requested by Emergency Management Australia, Air Force may be able to provide logistics support to State firefighting agencies such as refueling civilian firefighting aircraft and providing water for firefighting efforts at Bases. We can also provide accommodation and meals to State and Territory firefighting personnel to reduce travel time and increase rest periods between shifts.

Air traffic control and communications

Air Force can provide mobile communications support during disaster relief operations, including radio systems, information systems and air traffic control systems, from established Air Force bases and remote locations anywhere in the world.

Our Air Traffic Controllers are highly trained to provide integrated civil/military air traffic services - making them adaptable and able to manage traffic flow at airports to ensure emergency assistance is received and moved quickly.

The rapid establishment of reliable communication systems makes it easy to exchange information, which is critical to the effectiveness of humanitarian operations.