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Australia prepares for further delay to Wedgetail project

The Australian government, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Defence Materiel Organisation and Boeing held a summit in Canberra in late November to address growing concerns with the nation's 737-based Wedgetail airborne early warning and control programme after it emerged that first deliveries are likely to slip again.

The programme is already running over two years late, and problems with the Northrop Grumman multirole electronically scanned array radar and BAE Systems Australia electronic support measures package are pushing first deliveries back to July 2009.

Boeing Australia says it is still working towards getting the first two of six aircraft to the RAAF that month, but the government says a November delivery is becoming more likely.

"We are reviewing the schedule with our customer to determine the best way forward in delivering the first two aircraft to support initial training activities by the RAAF," says Boeing Australia. "We remain committed to delivering an AEW&C system that meets the operational needs of Australia."

Boeing declines to comment on the latest problems. However, a spokesman for Greg Combet, Australia's parliamentary secretary for defence procurement, says it involves the same problems as before. Productive discussions have been held on the way forward and everyone involved is committed to delivering the capability, says the government, which expects to make an announcement in the coming weeks.

Australia has this year cancelled its Kaman SH-2G(A) Super Seasprite and Boeing/Israel Aerospace Industries tactical unmanned air vehicle programmes after encountering technical problems and major overruns, but sources believe the Wedgetail programme will not suffer the same fate, as it is considered too important a programme for Australia. "It is a vital capability for the Australian Defence Force, and we need it to succeed," says Combet.

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