The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is hoping to secure initial funding in financial year 1998/9 to replace or upgrade its fleet of Boeing 707-300 tankers.

According to local defence sources, Australia wants to advance its tanker replacement into the next five-year procurement cycle, because of rising concern over 707 noise and emission levels and the cost of maintaining the aircraft. The RAAF is studying solutions, and a report is expected to be submitted by the middle of the year.

Options fall into three categories. They consist of upgrading its four 707 tankers and single VIP variant, acquiring and converting secondhand aircraft, or ordering new replacements.

Proposed improvements to extend the operational life of the 707 fleet include hushkitting the aircrafts' Pratt & Whitney JT3D engines to comply with civil Stage 3 requirements, or, alternatively, fitting new CFM International CFM56-2 turbofans.

Secondhand aircraft being looked at include McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 tri-jets, or surplus US Air Force Boeing KC-135 tankers re-engined with CFM56s.

Another possibility being studied is selecting a common airframe for the RAAF's planned airborne early-warning (AEW) aircraft and replacement tanker.

This is understood to have been a factor in Raytheon E-Systems' selection of the Airbus Industrie A310 widebody as the airframe for its AEW bid.

Aside from the proposed multi-role tanker/transport version of the A310, other possible contenders include a tanker variant of the Lockheed Martin C-130J transport on order for the RAAF, or Boeing's planned tanker/transport derivative of the 767.

Depending upon the type of aircraft selected, the RAAF requires around six tankers from 2000/1. This number could increase to as many as 12 airframes if the need for a VIP aircraft/transport is included, say defence sources.

Source: Flight International