Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

Indonesian manufacturer IPTN has embarked on a desperate political campaign in an attempt to keep its CN-235-330 Phoenix in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) competition for a tactical transport.

Indonesian science and technology minister Bacharuddin Habibie wrote to the Australian defence minister, Ian McLachlan, at the beginning of December 1997, expressing concern that a draft request for tender shown to IPTN by the RAAF project team contained several requirements which, if included in the final tender documentation, would have effectively excluded the Indonesian company. A similar letter was sent by senior IPTN officials direct to the Australian Department of Defence.

Exact details of the problem clauses remain classified. The letters, however, are known to have resulted in talks between Australia's Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel, Bronwyn Bishop, and senior Indonesian officials during the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition which was held in early December.

The Australian Department of Defence had been widely expected to shortlist just two contenders for the project, these being the Alenia-Lockheed Martin C-27J Spartan and the CASA CN-295.

Both aircraft were shortlisted in July1997, along with both the CASA and IPTN versions of the CN-235. A final request for tender is due to be released to the contenders during February.

Political involvement in the Australian project by Indonesia is known to have been met with much anger within key areas of the Australian Department of Defence, who had sought to keep the acquisition separate from the developing political relationship between the two countries.

The lobbying may have come too late for IPTN, however, following moves by the International Monetary Fund to block funds for Indonesia's aerospace industry as part of its multi-billion dollar bail- out for that nation.

According to one Australian Defence Forces official, compliance with the IMF requirement by Indonesia raises questions about the long-term sustainability of IPTN. This will have to be taken into account in the final choice of aircraft to meet the the RAAF transport requirement.

Source: Flight International