Peter La Franchi / Canberra

Government reveals latest military procurement plans

Australia is to reduce the number of rotary-wing types in military service by around half as part of the latest in a line of defence procurement plans.

Undersecretary for defence materiel Michael Roche says plans include releasing a draft tender for a permanent replacement of the Royal Australian Air Force's in-flight refuelling fleet by the end of next month, after a proposed interim tanker replacement was abandoned in March; seeking initial Australian government approval for the RAAF's Air 6000 future fighter programme within six months; and implementing further reforms of the Australian Department of Defence's capability development and acquisition systems.

Priority is to be given to resolving ongoing problems in software development, particularly in airborne systems. Australia will also push Kaman to deliver 11 SH-2G(A) Super Seasprites to full specification despite being three years late because of problems with the integrated avionics and sensor suite.

Roche says: "We have not changed that position on capability for Seasprite. It will be late, it will be within budget. We will get what we paid for on the support contract and we will get the original capability."

Roche adds that a common replacement helicopter "will see us going from nine types of helicopter to about half that...fewer helicopter types will also see reduced infrastructure and training costs".

As well as the SH-2G(A)s, Australia is also buying Eurocopter Tigers, and has acquired additional Boeing CH-47D Chinooks. The mainstay of the army fleet is the Sikorsky S-70A Black Hawk while the Royal Australian Navy operates Sikorsky S-70B Seahawks.

RAN Westland Sea Kings are due to be replaced under the Air 5046 programme while its Eurocopter AS350B Squirrels are to be retired as part of the planned outsourcing of rotary-wing training.

Roche's comments are seen by some analysts as indicating that Air 5046 is again focusing on acquiring additional Black Hawks after studying alternatives including the NH Industries NH90. Others argue that the competition is likely to be the start of a long-term Seahawk replacement plan, with this possibly including scrapping a proposed mid-life upgrade for those aircraft.

Source: Flight International