• A Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet, F/A-18A Hornet and an A27 Hawk 127 participate in a training activity over Lake George in the ACT. Credit: Defence
    A Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet, F/A-18A Hornet and an A27 Hawk 127 participate in a training activity over Lake George in the ACT. Credit: Defence

The numerous major Defence acquisition projects currently underway in the Air domain are by and large on track to deliver capability against present schedules.

Nigel Pittaway | Melbourne

In September last year, the final Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky MH-60R was delivered under Air 9000 Phase 8, ahead of schedule and on-budget. In mid-November the first of an initial 12 Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft was delivered to Australia and next year will see delivery of all 12 Boeing EA-18G Growlers under Air 5439 Phase 3 as well as the first Pilatus PC-21 for the ADF’s Pilot Training System (Air 5428).

Recent deliveries have also included the seventh and eighth Boeing C-17A Globemaster airlifters, which arrived at the end of 2015, and the third Leonardo (Alenia) C-27J Spartan to Australia (two others support training in Texas) under the aegis of the wider Air 8000 program.


There has been progress in those areas but the steepness of the ramp up ... is going to remain a challenge for us.”


Under Air 8000 Phase 2, Spartan training will be migrated to Australia in the middle 2017 and the capability is on track for IOC, as planned, by the end of this year, however there are challenges in the sustainment space.

“Challenges remain,” commented Air Commodore Mike Kitcher, Director General Capability Planning at Air Force Headquarters. “The delivery schedule has been delayed a little but is now stable for all 10 aircraft. Ramping up the ability to sustain the platform was expected to be a challenge – and it remains a challenge.

“The sustainment system is working, but there will be some work to be done between IOC and FOC to get it to the level to generate the rate of effort we intend to generate. We expect a marked improvement when we see US-based C-27J training move to a single Australian operating base in 2017.”

Deliveries in 2017

The first PC-21s are due to arrive in Australia in the first quarter of next year and AIRCDRE Kitcher says he is confident that Air 5428 remains on track to reach IOC and begin fixed wing pilot training early in 2019.

Likewise, the Growler acquisition under Air 5439 Phase 3 will see the first four aircraft delivered to Australia in the first quarter of 2017 and all 12 aircraft will have arrived before the end of the year.

“We’ll have all the jets and all the people back in Australia by mid next year, 6 Sqn will stand up with 12 Growlers, and we’re on track to declare IOC as planned in mid 2018,” AIRCDRE Kitcher explained to ADM.

“There is also a lot of progress on the Mobile Threat Training Emitter System (MTTES) capability which will allow Growler to train against threats, and also Advanced MTTES, which is looking at integrating CEA-type radar technology into the MTTES system.

“Beyond that is Advanced Growler (Air 5439 Phase 6), which will look at updating the current capability to the US Navy-common Advanced Growler configuration, one of the key components of which is the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ).”

AIRCDRE Kitcher said that Australia is looking at options for a co-development program with the US Navy for the NGJ.

Towards the future, the first two F-35As being acquired under Air 6000 (New Air Combat Capability) are flying at Luke AFB in Arizona, along with a growing cadre of Australian pilots. Maintenance personnel are due to begin at Luke in mid 2017, and the first two aircraft are due to arrive in Australia in late 2018. Despite challenges remaining in the international JSF program, AIRCDRE Kitcher says he is also very confident RAAF IOC will be achieved by the end of 2020, per the current schedule.

“Certainly our challenge now is the ramp up of capability in Australia, and I think that training an adequate number of maintenance technicians, together with getting the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) and sustainment system up and running in Australia to support the capability will be a key milestone,” he explained. See box on P93 for more on Australian based F-35 sustainment arrangements.

“There has been progress in those areas but the steepness of the ramp up, where we will basically introduce four squadrons in four years is going to remain a challenge for us.”

Project Air 7403 Phase 3 is acquiring two additional Airbus KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and both aircraft – ex Qantas A330-200s – are currently at Airbus Defence & Space’s facility in Spain. The first aircraft is undergoing conversion and will be delivered in early 2018, followed by the second 12 months later, which will also have a modified (VIP) interior and communications suite under a further $190 million contract, to enable government business to be undertaken while airborne.

“The second aircraft will do a reasonable amount of Government transport tasking, but there will be no degradation of tanking capability whatsoever, all seven KC-30As will remain first and foremost an air to air refuelling platform, capable of both hose & drogue and boom operations,” AIRCDRE Kitcher said.

Further into the future is the acquisition of seven Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft, under Air 7000 Phase 1B. The timeline is largely dependent upon the US Navy’s operational test and evaluation process, but the RAAF will not begin buying aircraft until early next decade and the Project Office is confident any slippage in the US Navy schedule can be accommodated. The RAAF is planning to acquire the next iteration of Triton, the ‘Multi-Intelligence’ variant, which will be the first major upgrade to the baseline US Navy platform. Consideration is being given to joining a co-operative development program, similar to the Poseidon initiative.

“There will be a Government decision in a year or so as to whether we will formally proceed but, based on what we are seeing with the P-8A program, I think it will be a positive strategy to follow,” AIRCDRE Kitcher said.

Future battlespace management

One of the first major projects to adopt a programmatic approach to development and acquisition, in accordance with the recent First Principles Review, is Air 6500, which is a large program to replace the existing Air Battle Management System, the fixed Regional Operations Centres (ROC), the mobile ROCs and the Lockheed Martin TPS-77 radars, as well as adding kinetic and non kinetic effectors. The $3-4 billion project will also take into consideration other projects, such as Land 19 Phase 7B (Future Ground Based Air Defence Capability).

“It’s early days yet and there’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge, but by approaching it as a program rather than ‘stovepipe’ projects, we will get a better outcome for Defence,” AIRCDRE Kitcher concluded.

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