The fate of Australia's future air combat capability requirements should be clearer by the end of April, when a review looking out to 2045 ordered by the country's new Labor government is due for publication. The process follows the controversial A$6.6 billion ($6 billion) order for 24 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets placed last year by the former coalition government to replace the Royal Australian Air Force's ageing General Dynamics F-111 fleet from 2010 and provide a stopgap ahead of the delivery of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Australian government in mid-February established a steering group led by Neil Orme, first assistant secretary policy development at the Department of Defence, and also comprising RAAF, DoD and government personnel, to conduct a two-stage review.
The first stage will assess the country's air combat capability requirements from 2010 to 2015 look at the feasibility of retaining the F-111s beyond 2010 include a comparative analysis of aircraft available to fill any gap following their withdrawal and assess the status of Australia's plans to acquire the Super Hornet.
Stage two, which calls for public submissions, will look at trends in Asia-Pacific air power out to 2045, and the relative capabilities of current, fourth and fifth generation combat aircraft, including the JSF. It will also assess complementary options, including unmanned combat air vehicles consider the case for and against acquiring Lockheed's F-22 Raptor and look at plans for the transition from the existing F-111/F/A-18 fleets to the future fleet, including weapon systems, personnel, enabling systems and infrastructure.
The group's findings will be incorporated into a new Defence White Paper, which the government is aiming to publish by the end of this year and which will guide future defence planning.