Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

The Australian Defence Force is to explore the acquisition of a tactical laser as a "leap-ahead" solution for its longstanding Project 117 ground-based air-defence system requirement.

The project is to be delayed by at least three more years, however, with acquisition funding approvals moved to 2004 and the in-service target date shifted to 2008-9.

Senior Defence Force capability-development officials say the tactical-laser option will be considered in parallel with renewed studies of medium- to long-range air defence missiles over the next 18 months. They add that revised planning calls for capability definition work to be finished by mid-2001 and project funding studies to be completed by mid-2003.

Israeli company Rafael says it will use the project strategy change as an opportunity to explore Australian third-party involvement in the Israeli-US Army Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) concept demonstration project.

A prototype THEL, developed by TRW with Rafael, Israel Aircraft Industries and Tadiran, is to be tested against Russian Katyusha rockets this year at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Israel is to deploy a fixed THEL variant on its northern border, while the US Army is considering a variant for use by mobile forces.

Australia's Project 117 has undergone two major overhauls in the past 12 months, with funding reduced from A$1.2billion ($727.3 million) to A$300 million. Funding decisions were shifted by a year to 2001, while an ongoing review of all major procurement programmes has added to the delays.

The Australian Army hopes to secure funding this year for an urgently needed life extension for its Rapier surface-to-air missile under a project called Land 140.

Market survey responses were given by Rosvoorouzhenie, offering the Tor-M1, Buk-M1, and S-300PMU1. Boeing proposed its Avenger system while Raytheon offered a ground-launched AMRAAM variant.

European proposals comprised the Eurosam SAMP/T, Euromissile Roland M3S, Alenia Difesa Spada 2000, Bofors BAMSE, Matra BAe Dynamics Rapier FSC/Jernas, Oerlikon Aerospace ADATS and Thomson-CSF Airsys Crotale NG. South Africa's Kentron also responded, offering the SAHV missile system.

Source: Flight International