AMRAAM purchase complete RAAF missile upgrade

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Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

The Australian Department of Defence has concluded separate deals with Matra BAe Dynamics and Raytheon Company for the acquisition of ASRAAM and AIM-120B AMRAAM missiles for carriage by the RAAF's F/A-18s.

The two deals total more than A$130 million (U$S80 million). The ASRAAM deal will see the missile entering service from 2001, while the AMRAAM buy, worth nearly A$30 million, will provide an initial training capability at the same time.

Australia is planning to make a separate warstock purchase of AMRAAM early in the next century, with the RAAF seeking funding approval as part of the country's defence budget for the financial year 1999-2000.

The initial AMRAAM training capability will operate alongside the RAAF's existing warstocks of AIM-7M Sparrow missiles.

Australia lodged a Foreign Military Sales application for AMRAAM with the US Department of Defense in March 1998, and the deal is understood to have been concluded in October.

The Australian AMRAAM acquisition represents the first introduction of that missile type into service by a nation in the Southern Asia-Pacific region. Australia selected ASRAAM last February to replace its ageing AIM-9M Sidewinder inventory.

A major driver behind both missile acquisitions has been concern that the RAAF has lost weapons superiority in the region after Malaysia's introduction into service of Vympel R-73 infrared short-range and R-77 active medium-range missiles.

The timing and acquisition strategy for the Australian missile projects were much revised in late 1996 following the first encounter between RAAF F/A-18s and Malaysian MiG-29s as part of the Exercise Churinga 96 Integrated Air Defence Exercise.