Real-time mapping from the Australian Government Department of Defence’s Air Warfare Centre has provided crucial information for the Tongan Government to assess their response following the volcanic eruption on January 15.

The Air Warfare Centre’s No.83 Squadron analysed images and data after two No.11 Squadron’s P-8A Poseidon aircraft flew overflew the Polynesian archipelago to help determine the extent of the damage. Leading Aircraftman Bradley Bleeker was one of No. 83 Squadron’s analysts who reviewed the imagery.

Assessing the damage of Tonga’s critical infrastructure

“Our key role was to assess the damage to critical infrastructure and several of Tonga’s remote settlements,” he said. “Particular focus was put on airfields and ports to determine whether it would be safe for Australian Defence Force and other aircraft and shipping to deliver humanitarian assistance.

“This was my first time supporting a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission, and it felt good to be able to help the Tongan people.”

The P-8A’s tactical coordinator, Flight Lieutenant Sonik Patel added that the team would play just one part in informing and enabling wider relief operation: “Our role was to capture imagery to enable damage assessments of the Tongan islands, so other ADF assets and government agencies could identify the best way to meet the request for assistance,” Flight Lieutenant Patel said.

“Humbling, yet rewarding”

“My role was to coordinate sensor operators and other mission specialists to ensure that we made the most efficient use of the aircraft. As a crew, we collected as much useful information as possible to inform the people and agencies that need it. This has been an incredibly humbling, yet rewarding operation to be a part of and my thoughts go out to the people of Tonga.”

The Department of Defence continues to coordinate efforts with the Government of Tonga and other international partners to provide the best support possible to the Tongan people.

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