Australia's Defence Materiel Organisation is examining the feasibility of integrating Kongsberg's Penguin anti-ship missile with the Royal Australian Navy's 16 Sikorsky S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopters. The weapon was originally selected for the navy's troubled Kaman SH-2G(A) Super Seasprite fleet, which is now not expected to deliver full functionality until 2010-11.

To be performed under Project Air 9000 phase 3E, the Penguin/Seahawk integration effort was among 24 new acquisition projects outlined in Australia's recently released Defence Annual Report 2006-7. Initial studies were launched in June to determine capability shortfalls and identify potential upgrade options and the Department of Defence expects them to be concluded early next year.

The DoD says a timescale for integrating the missile will be determined following the studies, along with the selection of a suitable contractor to conduct the work should it decide to proceed. Australia's Seahawks have already been upgraded with forward-looking infrared sensors, electronic countermeasures suites and self-protection equipment.

Australia and Kaman meanwhile continue to address problems with the Super Seasprite programme. Ten of the navy's 11 helicopters have been delivered, including nine provisionally accepted in an interim training configuration.

The RAN suspended routine operations of the aircraft in March 2006 due to safety and reliability concerns with its automatic flight-control system, but a government review earlier this year spared the project from cancellation, subject to a successful remediation programme.

The annual report describes the Super Seasprite as presenting a continuing high risk, citing problems with the type's integrated tactical avionics system capability, automatic flight-control system certification, software development, system integration and interference with the ship-helicopter interface.

Source: Flight International