The Australian Department of Defence is forecasting a sustained rise in aerospace procurement to more than A$1 billion ($517 million) a year within four years under its new Defence Capability Plan released last week.

The final version of the plan raises the overall value of Australia's proposed new projects to A$50 billion by 2011, or an increase of A$8 billion over previous projections.

Aerospace procurement will rise to more than A$2 billion a year by 2009 because of the Royal Australian Air Force's Air 6000 new fighter programme. Total aerospace spending to 2011 is forecast at A$24 billion, accounting for half of all proposed new spending.

Previously announced plans for a Northrop Grumman RQ-4AGlobal Hawk unmanned air vehicle acquisition are reiterated, but the budget is revised downward $150 million from the $250 million forecast in an earlier version of the capability plan provided to the Australian Senate in April.

The plan also reveals planning for a hyper-spectral sensor surveillance system and preliminary planning for helicopter in-flight refuelling to support amphibious operations. It identifies the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey as an option for the RAAF's revised light tactical airlifter requirement, but says ongoing studies need to be finished before a new tender commences.

The plan does not indicate whether the proposed hyper-spectral surveillance system would be based on space or airborne sensor, or a combination of both, nor whether it will include a specific airborne platform element. The project is to be put forward for initial government approval in May 2005 followed by funding approvals, forecast at A$75 million, in May 2009. The initial phase will study "the potential uses and counter-uses of advanced hyper-spectral imaging techniques". Phase 2 will provide an operational capability.

The development of a helicopter in-flight refuelling capability is to be explored as part of a follow-on upgrade to the Royal Australian Navy's two amphibious landing ships. A decision to proceed will be made in 2005.

The upgrade of the RAAF's de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou transports has been scaled back to focus on airframe and avionics requirements, but walks away from the option of a full upgrade. The plan says the upgrade will "include urgent long lead-time spares and clearance of the backlog of critical engineering change proposals- The phase does not include any provision for revised engine solutions".

Source: Flight International