Canberra to spend extra A$880 million in bid to keep modernisation plans on track
Australia is to increase its defence spending by A$880 million ($684 million) for its 2005-6 financial year, on the back of increasing operational costs and continuing plans for major capital equipment investment.
Total defence allocations will rise to A$17.5 billion, with new capital equipment spending forecast at A$2.3 billion – down from A$3.6 billion in 2004-5. A further acquisition cut of A$839 million is forecast for 2006-7. Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) operational allocations are forecast at A$4.65 billion, up fractionally from this year's A$4.62 billion. New projects awaiting initial government approval include the Project Air 5428 new pilot training system and the Air 7000 Phase 1 endurance unmanned air vehicle.
An A$1 billion contract for 12 NH Industries MRH90 helicopters for the army is expected to be signed with Eurocopter by 30 June. Budget papers indicate that initial mobilisation payments to this point will total A$163 million, with 2005-6 expenditure forecast at A$138 million.
Additional funding will be provided to expand the air force's Boeing F-18A/B Hornet centre-barrel fuselage replacement programme and to launch a restricted competition to equip them with airborne jammers. The withdrawal date for the RAAF's General Dynamics F-111 fighters is meanwhile becoming fluid. "A plan for withdrawing the F-111 from service in 2010 has been developed and includes a risk mitigation strategy to delay the withdrawal to 2012," the budget papers say. Australia will sign a memorandum of understanding with the USA in December 2006 to acquire Lockheed Martin's replacement F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The document also reiterates government plans to acquire precision-guided weapons for the RAAF and tactical UAVs for the army, but the latter's entry into service will slip by one year until 2009. A mid-life upgrade for the navy's Sikorsky S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopters will be deferred until at least 2010, although a partial sensor upgrade will be completed by 2007.
PETER LA FRANCHI/CANBERRA
Source: Flight International