RAAF's F/A-18 ready for night mission out of RAAF Base Darwin (photo : Australian DoD)
Australia is pressing ahead with the acquisition of an air traffic management (ATM) and control system and Anzac frigate communications upgrade, but the government also restructured an F/A-18C/D upgrade project to reduce costs.
The work to refurbish the Boeing F/A-18s is expected to cost A$250-300 million ($246-296 million). The goal is to keep them flying until the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter arrives. The defense ministry says the deal saves A$500 million over an earlier approach that saw the program broken into parts.
The F-35 is due to reach initial operational capability in the 2017-18 or 2020-21 timeframe, says the government’s latest defense capability plan (the first Australian F-35s are due for delivery in 2014). A decision is due between 2015 and 2018 on whether to buy aircraft for a fourth squadron.
The cost for AIR 5431, the ATM effort, is estimated at A$650-900 million, with the initial phase to cost A$100-150 million. Further program reviews are expected in 2012-13 and 2014-15.
The frigate program, called SEA 1442 Phase 4, should increase the communications speed available to the ships and cost A$300-500 million.
The latest update to the capability plan, which charts project goals for the next 10 years, also highlights a Wedgetail fleet upgrade, with a go-ahead decision due in 2020-21 and fielding around 2026-27. The plan also states that the long-range maritime surveillance unmanned aircraft program is now due for approval around 2017-18, with fielding envisioned during 2024.
The document also reveals Australian plans to acquire a maritime strike missile for the F-35, with the weapon to become operational early in the next decade.