Paul Phelan/Cairns

Australian Defence minister Kyle McLachlan has spelled out the aims of a far-reaching study into the air force's future fighter requirement, suggesting that a discussion paper on the subject will address a broad range of possible technical solutions.

McLachlan says that the Government will launch a public discussion paper this year on replacement options for the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) Boeing F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighter fleet.

McLachlan told an Air Power Conference in Canberra on 30 March that the paper would canvass the strategic reasons for the project and the technological, force-structure, industry, budget and risk issues.

Replacement of the Hornet, which has been in service for 13 years, is scheduled to take place between 2010 and 2015. McLachlan asserts that an interim upgrade of the RAAF's F/A-18s would be needed whatever the outcome of current studies on upgrades and replacement options.

"We must decide the correct balance between upgrading the sensors and combat systems of the F/A-18 and acquiring new equipment," he said.

McLachlan outlined a study that will look carefully at comparisons of current options with emerging technologies.

"The decision on a replacement fighter is highly important, both for our own defence needs and for our standing in the region. For example, should we buy high-cost re-usable stealth platforms to defeat enemy sensors? Or would the better option be lower cost platforms projecting force at great distance, thus lowering the risk of losing aircraft and crew?"

The minister does not rule out consideration of an uninhabited combat air vehicle. "I cannot say what will replace the Hornet at this stage. I do not even want to prejudge whether it will be a piloted aircraft," he told the conference.

Source: Flight International