Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

The Australian Department of Defence is to restrict involvement in the initial phases of its revised programme to develop self protection suites for Australian Defence Force (ADF) aircraft to just BAE Systems Australia and Tenix Defence Systems.

The strategy, approved by the Australian Defence Capability and Investment Committee last month, is drawing flak from domestic and international electronic warfare (EW)companies which are warning that the move may result in reduced technology access for the ADF in the future.

The strategy replaces two earlier EW competitions conducted as part of Australia's on-off Project Air 5416/Project Echidna. Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Tenix were shortlisted for that competition, which was terminated in May.

Now, BAE Systems Australia and Tenix have been invited to bid for study contracts worth a total of A$6 million ($3.5 million) to perform initial specification design studies for the Australian Army's Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters.

The plan will also act as a focus for further investment in Australia's ALR-2002 radar warning receiver, intended for Royal Australian Air Force General Dynamics F-111s and under consideration for its Boeing F/A-18 Hornets as an alternative to the Raytheon ALR-67(V).

The latest package is estimated by the Department of Defence to cost A$30-60 million over five years. The proposal does not include funds for equipping the Black Hawks with EW sensors and decoys, but does include money for cockpit ballistic protection.

The BAE and Tenix studies are to be followed by the development of aircraft integration plans, then a competitive tender for upgrades. Australian analysts say no tender is expected before 2002-3 even if government funding is provided in next year's defence budget. This will delay the start of Black Hawk work until at least 2005.

The Project Echidna office says: "The results of the initial design study will be used to inform the source selection process for any follow-on project phases."

It says the decision to restrict the project to BAE and Tenix follows rationalisation of Australia's EW industry over recent months. The two companies have "developed specialist electronic warfare self- protection expertise that is without parallel in Australia", it adds.

"The reduced scope of the project provides the opportunity for the Australian EW industry to fully support the requirements of prime contractors and to complement recent EW self-protection activities awarded to these companies." The project office says other suppliers will be "free to offer their services" to BAE and Tenix.

European and US EW industry analysts warn the programme's restriction could result in the loss of international interest in meeting Australia's requirements and may force compromise solutions not geared to regional requirements.

Source: Flight International