Fifteen of the country’s 25 largest defence projects have suffered delays due to COVID-19 but none have reported any impact relating to capability, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) disclosed in its annual Major Projects report released on 30 November.
Average schedule delays of three to six months were due to supply chain disruption, workforce limitations and contractor delays. However the full impact on the 25 contracts, featuring total acquisition costs of S$78.7 billion, was still being assessed under evolving pandemic circumstances overseas, the ANAO was advised by Defence.
Total schedule slippage for the 25 selected projects as of June 2020 was 507 months on original schedule – 144 months lower than the previous 12-month period.
The single Project of Concern remained the Airbus MRH-90 Taipan multirole helicopter, first placed on the list in November 2011 due to contractor performance relating to significant technical issues.
Service release of an enhanced cargo hook system compatible with ADF equipment was granted in October 2020 while operational test and evaluation continued on a new cabin gun mount allowing covering fire while soldiers are rappelling from the aircraft. Final Operational Capability (FOC) for the 47-aircraft fleet is currently scheduled for December 2021, Defence stated.
As of September Australia had received 30 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, five of them still at the International Pilot Training Centre in Arizona.
Delivery of the 72nd and last is scheduled for August 2023, and Defence warned that the program “may be affected by technical deficiencies, delay in delivery schedule, funding or program issues, or delays in delivery of an effective training system”, the ANAO report said.
Residual activities concerning the RAAF’s C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifter remain outstanding after two failures by the 10-strong fleet to achieve FOC.
This work includes fitment and certification of Mode 5 Identification Friend or Foe, and a decision by the RAAF on retention, replacement or upgrade of the Missile Approach Warning System following a review of the aircraft’s capability requirement due no later than December 2020.
IOC for the $970 million Battlefield Command System has moved from September 2021 to April 2023 following the Commonwealth’s inability to provide all the required Government Furnished Material, and contractor delays in meeting contract milestones, the ANAO reported.
Although all three Hobart-class air warfare destroyers have now been commissioned, the ANAO report disclosed that procurement of the Radar-Electronic Attack (R-EA) capability had been deferred “because currently available technology does not represent a cost-capability benefit.
“The R-EA budget has been preserved to support a more capable system being installed in the AWDs when available,” the report disclosed.
Two key acquisition projects were included for the first time in the Major Projects Report. Hunter-class frigates (SEA 5000 Phase 1) and Attack-class submarines (SEA 1000 Phase 1B) are both in the design stages with capability requirements being refined and as such no materiel scope delivery has yet been approved.