Australia has temporarily deferred funding forA$400million ($258 million) of new aerospace acquisition projects, including an airframe upgrade for the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet.

The latest defence budget, released last week, delays funding decisions until later this year for the Australian Army's JP129 tactical unmanned air vehicle requirement, an expansion of the joint-service Project 224 Bunyip electronic intelligence system, and a Jindalee Operational Radar Network systems upgrade. The total value of the temporary deferrals, including army, navy and joint force projects, is more than A$800 million.

The deferrals follow a review of Australia's 10-year Defence Capability Plan (DCP) over the last year because of ongoing funding pressures. Australian defence minister Robert Hill says the decision not to include approvals for the projects in the budget does not mean "deferring the needs". He adds: "It is a question of getting the priorities right and making the right decisions, and we'll be doing that later in the year."

Decisions pending on the proposed F/A-18 upgrade include whether to proceed with a centre fuselage replacement to ensure the aircraft lasts until its planned 2012 retirement.

Defence spending for the Australian 2003-4 financial year is forecast at A$15.42 billion. The Royal Australian Air Force operations budget is A$4 billion, with acquisition expected to reach A$4.28 billion.

Expenditure detailed in the budget includes A$526 million in 2003-4 for the Eurocopter Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter. Budget papers reveal that payments to Eurocopter in 2002-3 were only A$15million, against a target of A$176million.

The budget re-endorses the RAAF's replacement in-flight refuelling aircraft competition, with a tender expected to be released before the end of next month. The target in-service date has been shifted to 2007.

The RAAF also intends to replace the F/A-18's Nite Hawk targeting pod with a new-generation system, and is planning a "supportability upgrade" for the Elta electronic surveillance measures on board the RAAF's Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orion aircraft.

Source: Flight International