Peter La Franchi/SYDNEY

The USA is offering to lift restrictions on technology release to Australia as part of a Department of Defense (DoD) push to establish closer interoperability arrangements with key allies.

The move comes at a time when a series of sales have been held up due to customers' worries about access to sensitive technology. Israel is voicing concern that it will not receive access to software source codes for the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow, while similar issues affect negotiations with the United Arab Emirates for Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 60s. Greater accessibility is required if the planned Joint Strike Fighter is to proceed as the full international programme.

In Australia, the thaw is expected to have an immediate impact on the release of software source code for the Royal Australian Air Force's Project Wedgetail airborne early warning and control programme. Key details are to be presented to Canberra this week as part of the annual Australia-US Defence Acquisition Committee talks.

The US team, led by David Oliver, US Principal Under Secretary, Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, is expected to unveil a framework to phase out controls on technology transfer to Australia. Restrictions on software release have become a source of tension between the USA and Australia in recent years.

The problems dramatically escalated last year during preliminary Wedgetail negotiations between Boeing and the Australian Defence Acquisition Organisation. Boeing had to concede that it was prevented from meeting the full Australian technical requirement, despite repeated Pentagon assurances that releasability would not be an obstacle.

In an address to a bilateral Maritime Co-operation Conference on 3 February, Oliver said that the Pentagon recognised a thaw is necessary if the USA expects Australia to continue as a key ally.

Oliver says the restrictions are "foolish" and conflict with US strategic goals for its relationship with Australia.

Oliver says a joint DoD/State Department working group had been established to examine the broader spectrum of controls applied to Australia and the steps necessary to lifting them.

Source: Flight International