Amphibious operations and maritime utility helicopters could be transferred to army

The Royal Australian Navy is signalling interest in unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) as part of long-term planning for its aviation arm beyond the present 10-year Defence Capability Plan (DCP).

Amphibious operations and maritime utility helicopters could also be transferred by the RAN to the Australian Army as part of longer-term Australian Defence Force (ADF) fleet rationalisation planning.

The concepts are revealed in the RAN's 30-year strategic development document - known as Plan Blue - which is intended to provide generic guidance on possible requirements beyond the DCP released by the Department of Defence in June.

Plan Blue says the RAN expects to introduce its first unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) into service after 2010. "These aircraft will shoulder much of the surveillance effort as well as hazardous target identification and battle damage assessment duties.

"It is conceivable that towards 2020, armed UAVs or UCAVs could enter naval service," it says.

Canberra has been considering UCAVs as part of its replacement programme for the Royal Australian Air Force's Boeing F/A-18 and General Dynamics F-111 fleets. Identification of UCAVs in Plan Blue comes after two years of RAN exploration of afloat air-power concepts, including early design work on a "littoral support ship" capable of operating 20 F/A-18s.

The plan says that RAN naval aviation development over the next 15 years will concentrate on the Sikorsky S-70 Seahawk and Kaman SH-2G(A) Seasprite helicopters. It says that seven amphibious support Westland Sea Kings will be replaced by 2015 with a new utility helicopter, with a "common type warfare/utility helicopter" operational by 2025.

The RAN has been exploring a second Sea King structural upgrade, with funding approval for the project scheduled for the 2007 defence budget. The Sea King future is also being considered as part of the ADF's helicopter requirements review. This also affects Australian Army plans to acquire 12 troop lift helicopters by 2007.

Plan Blue says that, by 2015, "amphibious and utility work will be undertaken by another helicopter type that will be army, navy or jointly operated."

The plan reveals RAN interest in UAVs forming part of its future mine warfare and coastal patrol fleets and expected to enter service around 2025.

Source: Flight International