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Excerpts from a major article in Flight International:
Quelling Australia's defence concerns
Quelling Australia's defence concerns
"Australia has big military aviation challenges," says Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia. "They need to reconcile budget constraints, the need to procure the best systems to do particular jobs, and the logistical and training constraints of the country's strategic relationships. In other words, they need to procure the optimised systems for intercept, coalition war fighting, surveillance, maritime patrol and transport."
Some sense of the challenges facing the RAAF as it modernises can be gleaned from the Department of Defence's Projects of Concern list, where one can find virtually every current military aircraft acquisition programme in Australia. Created in 2008, the objective of the list is to help the DoD and industry focus on resolving problems, be they in scheduling, cost, capability delivery or project management.
In early February, the NH Industries MRH90 transport helicopter joined the other high-profile programmes on the list. These include aircraft programmes such as the Boeing 737 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft, the Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT), the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 air-to-surface standoff missile, and an electronic support measures upgrade for the RAAF's Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.
MRH90s on order for the Australian navy and army are behind schedule, with the maritime version delayed by 12 months and the army's by 18 months, minister of defence Stephen Smith and minister for defence materiel Jason Clare confirmed in early February...
Australia has ordered 46 MRH90s to replace the army's Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks and the navy's Westland Sea Kings. Canberra has so far accepted 13 MRH90s, which are being used for testing and initial crew training...
As for the Wedgetail, four aircraft have been delivered in an initial configuration. Electronic subsystems will be added during the second quarter of 2011, says the RAAF. Final acceptance of all six aircraft and ground support systems is expected by the end of the year, with initial operating capability likely in December - although the aircraft has yet to be removed from the Projects of Concern list...
As of late 2010, a BAE Systems Australia programme to upgrade the AP-3C Orion was 18 months behind schedule. In October 2010, the DoD said the project was in the design phase before integration and a number of risks with potential to affect the delivery schedule remained, although the project has been on schedule in recent months. Nonetheless, improved "obsolescence management" by the RAAF means the delay is unlikely to result in a capability gap. The objective of the upgrade is resolving "obsolescence and sustainment" issues pertaining to the aircraft's data management system, electronic support measures and ground support systems. BAE "accepts that it will be 18 months late delivering this project...
As for the F-35A - of which Australia could buy 100 to replace its fleet of 1980s-era F/A-18A/Bs - then acting minister of defence Jason Clare said in early January that he was pleased with programme changes announced by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Under the revised F-35 plan, the US Marine Corps' short take-off and vertical landing F-35B was moved to the back of Lockheed's production system because of persistent development problems. "Australia's variant is less expensive and less complex than the other variants," said Clare. "The restructuring announced by Gates means it is now at the front of the production queue."
Canberra approved the acquisition of an initial 14 F-35As in 2009, with the first two aircraft to be delivered in 2014. The first 10, however, will initially be based in the USA for pilot and maintenance training. The following four will arrive in Australia in 2017, where they will undergo further tests.
"The F-35 meets our long-term needs," says [Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Mark] Binskin. "We've had an extensive look at the F-35, and have people embedded in the project. By de-coupling the USMC's F-35B, the focus is on the F-35A. This was good news for us, and we expect the aircraft will meet the timelines we need to introduce it into service."..
At the war-fighting end of the spectrum, the RAAF's first squadron of Super Hornets, comprising 12 aircraft, became operational in late 2010. So far, Australia has received 15 of 24 Super Hornets. The remaining nine will be progressively introduced this year. The Super Hornets replaced Australia's iconic but ageing General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark bombers, which were retired in December. Binskin is sure the Super Hornet is capable of filling the F-111's shoes and feels the F-111 capability was degrading relative to threats the aircraft could face around the world...
Binskin feels the RAAF now has the most capable "classic Hornet" in the world but the introduction of the F-35A later this decade will see them retired before 2020 [emphasis added, on verra]. The Super Hornets, however, will serve beyond 2020 - although Binskin does not see Australia acquiring more than the planned 24...