The Australian Department of Defence is exploring a possible restructuring of its Joint Project 66 (JP66) air defence targets project into a series of distinct phases meeting specific training requirements.

The potential restructuring follows preliminary market survey results, which indicate no single system is likely to be capable of fulfilling the expected range of training needs for all three Australian services.

The project is structured as a single-phase acquisition with an initial budget allocation of A$30 million ($38 million), but incorporates training requirements ranging from very low-level air defence to ship self-defence against supersonic sea skimming missiles.

Decisions on the proposed restructuring are expected in April, ahead of the preparation of options studies between May and August. Those options will be considered by senior Australian defence acquisition committees in February 2006. Formal government funding approvals are set for November 2007, with the first of the new systems to enter operational service between 2008 and 2010.

Australia uses a combination of BAE Systems North America MQM-10E Kalkara subscale target drones and manned aircraft with towed targets to meet its training requirements.

According to squadron leader David Riddel, JP66 desk officer, the Kalkara is expected to reach its end of life between 2008 and 2011. However, it is already "struggling to meet all of the varied user requirements" due to changing requirements since its purchase.

Riddel says that any potential subscale drone component of the project will be looking for increased capabilities compared to the Kalkara. He says that drone operations in Australia face "possible future restrictions on the use of airspace for weapons training".

This "may require a greater UAT [unmanned air target] endurance to transit to firing areas well out to sea, or possibly launching the UATs at sea itself, perhaps from the decks of leased merchant ships".

Acquisition solutions currently being explored include purchase of off-the-shelf systems, purchase of "Australianised" off-the-shelf systems "where the adaptation is financially viable", or "a full-spectrum, needs-specific developed solution. Already without completing the user requirements document, we expect that our requirements can only be satisfied by a family of targets and not an individual type of UAT."

Final decisions on the type of capability sought will include evaluation of overseas training options, as well as models that would allow for Australia to become a financial stakeholder in niche air target areas.

The JP66 project office is studying the option of whether it is viable for Australia "to share the financial burden of a particular class of UAT by leasing out our range facilities to foreign customers".

Source: Flight International