Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

Australia has shelved its Project Echidna requirement for an integrated family of electronic warfare (EW) self-protection suites for Australian Defence Force aircraft. The move is included in a review of all defence acquisition projects worth more than A$50 million ($33.3 million).

The review, established in mid-December by the Australian Defence Executive, is expected to see the demise of the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) A$1.5 billion Light Tactical Airlifter requirement and has forced a major rethink for some proposed aircraft upgrade programmes. These include a mid-life upgrade for the Royal Australian Navy's Sikorsky Seahawk helicopters and proposed avionics and sensor upgrades to RAAF General Dynamics F-111G strike fighters.

The review is described by senior department officials as "open heart surgery" on Australia's acquisition plans. The study aims to claw back a A$2.3 billion hole in the 1998-2002 Defence Five Year Development Plan.

At least 30 projects are affected by the review, which is to identify 12 "golden projects" to receive funding in the 2000-1 Australian financial year. It is to report by mid-February to enable approvals by defence minister John Moore.

Early winners in the review, however, include the RAAF's Project Wedgetail airborne early warning and control requirement, which is expected to be endorsed as the top priority Australian acquisition project for the next two years.

The review is understood to be considering bringing the RAAF's in-flight refuelling requirement forward for early approval to provide additional flexibility in using Australian air assets in expeditionary roles.

The study is also expected to place high priority on securing funding approvals for the RAAF's Follow On Stand Off Weapon requirement, for which tenders closed on 18 January, and for a warstock acquisition of Matra BAe Dynamics ASRAAM missiles for Australia's Boeing F/A-18s.

The suspension of Project Echidna was this month announced to the bidding teams led by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Tenix Defence Systems. A review of how to proceed with individual aircraft electronic warfare requirements will begin next month.

Source: Flight International