Australia has selected Lockheed Martin’s AGM-158 JASSM over Boeing’s SLAM-ER cruise missile for its fleet of Boeing F-18 Hornet fighters. The country has, however, shelved earlier plans to also equip the Royal Australian Air Force’s Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orions with the selected long-range weapon, citing cost and risk factors.
The selection of a long-range missile was necessitated by the planned retirement of Australia’s General Dynamics F-111 strike aircraft from 2010, which would have left the country without an air-to-ground strike capability until Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is delivered from 2013. The Joint Project 5418 follow-on stand-off weapon project was launched in August 2004, with the contest coming down to the JASSM and SLAM-ER weapons after German/Swedish company Taurus Systems decided not to offer its KEPD 350 missile for the requirement. Selection of JASSM is a “prudent decision to ensure Australia retains its strike capability”, says the government. The new weapon will be operational on the Hornet fleet by December 2009, it says.
Meanwhile, new Australian defence minister Brendan Nelson is proposing to bring forward the retirement of the Royal Australian Navy’s Westland Sea King helicopters to within the next five years. Nelson wants to push the replacement through cabinet and says the procurement should be given the “highest priority”. The performance of Australia’s Sea King fleet has been under the spotlight since an April 2005 fatal crash on the Indonesian island of Nias. An enquiry into the accident has revealed concerns about safety of the helicopters, coupled with maintenance issues.
EMMA KELLY / PERTH
Source: Flight International