Australia will replace the central barrel fuselage for up to 10 of its Boeing F/A-18A/Bs in Canada, but plans to upgrade more of the type have been postponed pending an ongoing review of the country's defence capabilities.
"We are looking at something not much more than, if any more than, 10 centre barrels," Air Vice-Marshal Clive Rosser, head of aerospace systems in Australia's Defence Materiel Organisation, said at a parliamentary joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade.
The country's defence ministry confirms that the programme will proceed, but declines to say if it will also upgrade the other F/A-18s in the Royal Australian Air Force. Canberra inducted the fighters in the 1980s, and had planned to replace the centre fuselage on 49 of the aircraft due to fatigue issues and to extend their life until 2015.
Rosser points out that the work is being done in Canada as Australia is likely to stop the upgrade programme at 10 aircraft. "It might have made sense to do this work in Australia for 49 aircraft, but not for only 10," he told the committee. It would cost about A$11 million ($9.5 million) to upgrade each aircraft, he says.
This is part of an ongoing life-extension programme, which includes fitting the Australian Hornets with Raytheon's ALR-67(v)3 radar warning receiver, Northrop Grumman's Litening targeting pod, and Lockheed Martin's AGM-158 JASSM stand-off missiles.
Replacing the centre fuselage will be crucial to extending the life of the F/A-18s, which are needed beyond 2010 when Australia plans to decommission its fleet of General Dynamics F-111s. It has also ordered 24 F/A-18E/Fs Super Hornets as an interim measure to prevent any drop in air capability before the delivery of the Lockheed Martin F-35 begins around 2015.
Industry sources say that Australia's defence capability review, which will be released at the end of the year, could recommend the purchase of additional Super Hornets if there is any indication that F-35 deliveries might be delayed beyond 2015.
Source: Flight International