Additional multinational programmes targeted as government pursues supplier status in bid to boost defence industry

Australia is continuing to examine options for industrial links between its A$3.5-4.5 billion ($2.6-3.3 billion) replacement maritime patrol aircraft requirement and the US Navy's Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) programme.

The step comes in response to a new government policy to pursue supplier status on major multinational programmes in an effort to sustain Australia's national defence aerospace industry. This policy has been heavily influenced by the country's partnership status on the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme.

Australia holds formal observer status on the USN's MMA programme, and plans to replace its air force Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orions with a new aircraft to achieve an in-service date from 2013-15.

Boeing Australia acknowledges "very preliminary" discussions on MMA with the Australian government. "It is too early yet to talk about possible workshares, but Boeing Australia will forcefully advocate our substantial in-country capability for both the potential Australian programme and international sales," says managing director David Gray. "We are interested in joining the design phase."

Boeing Australia and senior air force officials say the selection of the 737 for the MMA requirement places the aircraft in a favoured position for the Australian programme. The service flies two 737-based BBJs as VIP transports and will receive six modified 737 airborne early warning and control aircraft under its A$3.5 billion Project Wedgetail.

Australia is also watching closely the USN's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance endurance unmanned air vehicle programme, the outcome of which could determine the platform selected by Australia for its Air 7000 Phase 1 high-altitude, long-endurance UAV requirement. This is now baselined against Northrop Grumman's RQ-4B Global Hawk.

Australia is also continuing to evaluate a possible 5-10% membership stake in the Airbus Military A400M transport aircraft project, and has until late this year to decide. The air force needs a heavy airlifter, but has not allocated funding for the project until after 2015.

Despite the potential for direct industry involvement on all three projects, the head of aerospace systems acquisition in the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation, Air Vice Marshal John Monaghan, warns that extensive debate on the subject remains.

"It is difficult to assess whether the JSF circumstances are likely to be repeated on other aircraft-acquisition programmes and represent a reasonable model for responding to the globalisation of the aircraft industry," he says.



Source: Flight International