The Australian Department of Defence (DoD) will next month release a restricted tender for the lease of up to five in-flight refuelling tankers as an interim replacement for its ageing Boeing 707 tanker/transports.

The interim service is intended to tide over the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pending the launch of a separate competition next year for a new permanent tanker and strategic transport fleet to enter service in 2006. The RAAF plans to secure funding for a permanent 707 replacement capability in the May 2002 defence budget.

The lease programme will be cost-capped at A$30 million ($15.2million) a year or A$150 million over the proposed five-year lease period. The RAAF is to phase its four 707s out of service by the end of 2003.

A restricted pre-qualification for the interim competition closed on 13 July, with 30 companies invited to attend a closed briefing in Canberra last week.

Australian DoD briefing papers obtained by Flight International show that the interim service is required to provide a minimum 900h/yr with 512h to be dedicated air-to-air refuelling training for RAAF Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornet and BAESystems Hawk 127 crews. The RAAF will crew the leased aircraft and manage operational tasking. It is also seeking to use its line maintenance personnel.

The tender will close on 17 October and a preferred supplier recommendation is due to go to the Australian Defence Capability and Investment Committee in January. The first new aircraft would need to be available by late next year to ensure no loss of capability as the 707s are phased out. The Airbus A310 and A330, and Boeing 707, 737 and 767 are likely platforms. Turboprop-powered aircraft have been ruled out.

Companies at the briefing included Boeing, Brown and Root Services, EADS, Israeli Aircraft Industries, Jet Air Cargo, National Jet Systems, Northrop Grumman, Omega Air, Qantas, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, Serco and Thales. ABN Amro, ANZ Investment and Westpac banks also attended.

Source: Flight International