Australia is signalling it may seek more time from the USA to decide on participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)system development and demonstration phase. The USA is seeking a firm commitment from Australia next month.

The Australian Cabinet's National Security Council (NSC) is due to consider the issue within the next five to eight weeks. In parallel, the NSC will consider whether to retire early the Royal Australian Air Force's General Dynamics F-111 fleet and proceed with an interim strike fighter replacement programme.

Australian defence minister Robert Hill said last week that, despite the US request, "I don't think we can be driven by deadlines. We understand that they have asked us for a response by that date. We are carrying out our investigations and we try to do everything as expeditiously as possible, but this is a very complex issue."

Hill also revealed Dassault has made an unsolicited Rafale proposal for an interim F-111 replacement, alongside a Eurofighter lease offer from BAE Systems and a Boeing F/A-18E/F proposal.

Meanwhile, Australia is re-winging its F-111s pending NSC decisions on the type's retirement. The fleet was grounded in February after wing fatigue problems were discovered.

RAAF commander Air Marshal Angus Houston told Senate hearings earlier this month that replacement wings are being acquired from decommissioned USAir Force F-111s.

Four replacement wing sets had been received when the wing problems were identified, while another seven sets had been delivered in the past three months. "We expect to get a delivery of all the other sets, one every fortnight, until we get 26 wing sets," says Houston.

Eight F-111Cs and seven F-111Gs will be re-winged using the USAF-standard short-span wings rather than the long-span equivalents fitted to Australia's aircraft. Houston says: "The short wings have a much longer life than the long wings and they will take us through to whatever withdrawal date the government requires."

Source: Flight International