AUSTRALIA’S MINISTER for Defence, the Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP, announced details on February 18 of the new government’s intention to review the adequacy of current planning for Australia’s air combat capability through to 2045. The first stage will assess air combat capability requirements from 2010 to 2015. It will also examine the feasibility of retaining the F-lll in service beyond its scheduled retirement date of 2010. A comparative analysis will be undertaken of aircraft available to fill the gap that may be left by the withdrawal of the F-lll, and the status of plans to acquire the F/A-18F Super Hornet will be reviewed.
Australian ordered 24 F/A-18Fs last year (see Australia Signs Super Hornet Deal, July 2007, p29) as a stop-gap to fill the void left by the retired F-llls, before the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) enters service. However, even though the contract has already been awarded and manufacture commenced (see News Briefs), the new government is now looking at whether this was the best option and may even consider cancelling the deal.
A senior defence official, Stephen Gumley, informed a Parliamentary committee on February 20 that a cancellation fee of at least AUS5400 million (US$367 million) would be incurred if the deal was scrapped. He also said that this would increase by AUS$80-100 million (US$73-91 million) for each month that goes by.
Under the second stage of the review, trends in Asia-Pacific air power through to 2045 will be considered, together with the relative capabilities of current and projected fourth and fifth generation combat aircraft, such as the JSF. Australia’s plans to acquire JSF will be reviewed, together with the implications of the Super Hornet purchase with regard to its impact on acquiring the JSF. The options for achieving an all-JSF fleet, should that prove desirable, will be looked at, and advice will be taken on the optimum number of aircraft in the context of the overall air combat system. This stage of the review will also examine the case for and against acquiring the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor and assess complementary options such as unmanned air combat vehicles.