• The M-55A Peregrines will fly from the Cocos (Keeling) islands.
@Cocos_Airport via Twitter
    The M-55A Peregrines will fly from the Cocos (Keeling) islands. @Cocos_Airport via Twitter

Infrastructure works to support RAAF’s incoming M-55A Peregrine EW aircraft under Air 555 Phase 1 remain on schedule despite the pandemic, according to Defence.

The Peregrines will primarily operate out of RAAF Edinburgh in SA with three forward operating bases in Townsville, Darwin and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The main operating base at Edinburgh will be integrated into the existing ISR precinct, and the forward operating bases will include data handling, minor aircraft maintenance capabilities, and the storage of self-protection flares. Lendlease has been contracted for the works at RAAF Edinburgh.

In a public hearing of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, Brigadier Matt Galton, Director General of Capital Facilities and Infrastructure for Defence, said that the $290 million project remained on schedule despite pandemic-related border closures and the significant logistics involved in supplying materials to build supporting infrastructure in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

“We're yet to approach the market for a head contractor for the works on Cocos (Keeling),” BRIG Galton said. “But when we do, pending the committee's approval of the project, that will be sourced on the open market. So, any builder from across the country will be able to put in a bid for that, and we'll do a value-for-money assessment, and that'll be who gets the job.

“Being 2,700-odd kilometres off mainland Australia, the logistics effort to get there and to support a workforce over there is significant. But the works themselves are certainly not unique or complicated necessarily.”

“We'll be expecting them to actually investigate: utilisation of capacity on the island, and to minimise the impost of basically bringing in mainlanders, adding to the power draw and adding to the water use et cetera on the island,” Wing Commander Chris Pozzi, Defence’s Project Director for Air 555 Phase 1 Facilities Works, added. “The scale of the facilities is not large, and we are seeking to design it in the simplest manner for a rapid in-and-out build.”

The Cocos (Keeling) airport is also being upgraded to support the incoming P-8A Poseidon capability.

According to Brigadier Galton, the pandemic has only strengthened the existing impetus to source local content.

“The more content we can get from within SA, obviously the less chance there is that there would be COVID impacts,” BRIG Galton said. “As it stands now, with the current restrictions that are in place, we see that the schedule that we have now is an achievable one.”

Construction is expected to begin next month and finish in December 2024.

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