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Australia adds AP-3C upgrade to Projects of Concern list

Australia has added a BAE Systems programme to upgrade the electronic support measures systems on its Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft to its Projects of Concern list, following an 18-month delay to the completion of the project.

"The advice to me from the Defence Materiel Organisation is that BAE Systems, awarded the prime contract in 2007, is currently 18 months behind the delivery schedule of the upgraded electronic support measures equipment," says Jason Clare, Australia's minister of defence materiel.

The defence ministry notes that the AP-3C project is in the design phase before integration, and that a number of risks that could affect the delivery schedule remain, although the project has been on schedule in recent months. Nonetheless, improved "obsolescence management" by the air force means the delay is unlikely to result in a capability gap, it adds.

Project AIR 5276 Phase 8B is part of a block upgrade for the Royal Australian Air Force's AP-3Cs. Its objective is the treatment of "obsolescence and sustainment" issues involved with the aircraft's data management system, electronic support measures and ground support systems.

Acoustic and datalink system upgrades will also be considered, "to ensure the AP-3C capability edge is maintained until the aircraft's planned withdrawal date".

BAE Systems says it "accepts that it will be 18 months late delivering this project. This is because of the unavailability of experienced resources at the initial start-up phase of the programme due to extensions in the [Boeing 737-based] Wedgetail programme, and a significant growth in the system engineering and software development activities compared to original estimates."

BAE Systems Australia notes that in the last two years it has "worked very hard and invested additional resources to get our performance back on track". The project has been on schedule since July 2009, it adds.

BAE is a contractor on the Wedgetail airborne early warning and control system programme, which also remains on the Projects of Concern list. Boeing delivered the RAAF's first of six Wedgetail aircraft in 2003, but the programme fell three years behind schedule because of problems with structural modifications and radar performance.

Established in 2008, the Projects of Concern list is intended to help government and industry leaders focus on solving issues involved with listed projects, which face significant challenges with scheduling, cost or capability delivery.

The current list includes 11 projects, including three aircraft programmes. This includes the Airbus A330-based KC-30A multi-role tanker transport.

Speaking about the latter programme, Clare says: "I toured the aircraft conversion centre in Brisbane and was briefed on progress. Our focus is now on working with Airbus Military in Spain on developmental activities to support timely completion and of testing and supporting activities."

Airbus Military expects to deliver the RAAF's first two KC-30As before the end of the year.

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