Australia is exploring participation in the UK Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) research programme, according to UK industry officials.

UK industry representatives involved in FOAS have been meeting delegates from the Australian Government-run research agency Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), to discuss possibilities for co-operation on the programme.

According to Mike Ryan, director of UK advanced design company Avpro, a memorandum of understanding could be signed with Australia in the next few months.

"The UK would like to have Australia involved- [but] rather than the Australian Government putting money into the programme, it may initially provide manpower and facilities," says Ryan.

"The Australians are interested in FOAS. They are interested in as much new technology as they can get hold of," says another senior UK industry official.

The interest is connected with the possible replacement of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) General Dynamics F-111 fleet. According to current planning, these aircraft should remain in service until 2020 - three years after the planned retirement of the UK Royal Air Force's Panavia Tornado GR.4 fleet, which is to be succeeded by the FOAS concept.

However, the RAAF is understood to be facing problems with the F-111, with maintenance having become more difficult since the US Air Force decided to retire its F-111s.

British Aerospace (BAe)is trying to use this possible requirement to push the Eurofighter Typhoon as a replacement, not only for Australia's Boeing F/A-18 fleet, but also for the F-111.

Avpro and BAe are working with the UK's Farnborough-based defence evaluation and research agency DERA, on various elements of the FOAS concept.

Among the ideas being investigated are the use of either existing aircraft, or a new, stealthy airframe, to act as a 'mothership' for a flight of stealthy unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) armed with air-to-ground weaponry.

Source: Flight International