PETER LA FRANCHI / CANBERRA
Australia considers alternatives to strike fighters ahead of Air 6000 decision
The Royal Australian Air Force has asked Boeing for an "unsolicited proposal" for an undisclosed number of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as an immediate replacement for its 35 General Dynamics F-111C/Gs, which have structural problems.
The offer could be considered by the Australian cabinet in April in parallel with a decision on joining the Joint Strike Fighter programme.
The RAAF request is separate to its A$6 billion ($3.2 billion)-plus Air 6000 new fighter project and is restricted to Boeing.
The RAAF sought the Boeing proposal in late February after fatigue tests revealed new F-111C wing structural problems. It initially suspended all F-111 operations but has since allowed some aircraft to resume flying.
Australian Department of Defence sources say the fatigue problems have raised "very real" concern about whether the aircraft can meet the planned 2012 out of service date without a major structural refurbishment.
BAE Systems has also presented an unsolicited proposal of 12-20 leased Eurofighter Typhoons as an interim F-111 replacement, as part of wider Air 6000-related offers.
BAE chief executive John Weston wrote to Australian defence minister Robert Hill in mid-March offering an interim lease of Typhoons already in production for the UK's Royal Air Force.
Hill's office last week acknowledged receipt of the BAE proposal, but says it has been forwarded to the Air 6000 project team rather than being considered by cabinet. The minister's office declines to comment on the RAAF's solicitation of a Boeing proposal.
Boeing says only that it is supporting the Air 6000 studies with various products, including the F/A-18E/F. It adds that all F/A-18 users are potential Super Hornet customers. The company has received US State Department approval to offer the fighter to Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Switzerland and Spain.It is hoping for the first international orders "by summer".
Source: Flight International