But defence department still intends to conduct comparative study of Taurus KEPD-350

Australia is likely to proceed with the acquisition of the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 JASSM cruise missile as main long-range strike weapon for its planned Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. But JASSM funding still depends on the 2004 Australian defence budget.

The Australian defence department says it intends to study JASSM and the Taurus Systems KEPD-350 missile until 2003, despite JASSM winning the Royal Australian Air Force Project Air 5418 stand-off missile competition in 2000.

The RAAF also intends to retire its PGSUS AGM-142 Popeye missiles when the new fighters enter service around 2012. Australia's senior negotiator for involvement in the JSF programme, Air Marshal Ray Conroy, says the RAAF hopes the AGM-142 will enter operational service on its General Dynamics F-111s in 2004 - six years after integration work began. He adds that AGM-142 is not on the US roadmap of weapons configuration developments for the Joint Strike Fighter, but JASSM and the MBDA Storm Shadow are. "I don't think you will be finding us asking the joint programme office to put AGM-142 on that roadmap," he says.

The new round of Air 5418 studies will examine integration issues for JASSM and KEPD-350 on JSF as well as the RAAF's existing Boeing F/A-18A/Bs. The 1999 request for tender for Air 5418 called for the new missile to be carried by the RAAF's F-111s and Lockheed AP-3Cs. Options were sought for F/A-18 integration.

Darren Lovett, desk officer for stand-off weapons in the Australian Defence Headquarters aerospace development group, says the studies will also look at modifications to the KEPD-350 and JASSM to support RAAF-specific littoral strike requirements. "We have identified significant risk issues associated with the littoral weapon [requirement]," he says. Lovett adds the DoD wants to make a decision on the missile "towards year-end".

Lovett says revised RAAF acquisition plans are based on the Air 5418 weapon entering operational service from 2007. He adds consideration has been given to re-opening the Air 5418 competition to the original bidders, including Boeing, Israel Aircraft Industries and Raytheon.

Source: Flight International