Australia Unveils Comprehensive Airpower Review
In “Retired RAAF Vice-Marshal: Abandon F-35, Buy F-22s,” DID covered the controversy over the F-35A Lightning II’s suitability for Australia’s strategic needs, amidst a flurry of criticism from opposition party critics, the media, and even retired military officials. Australia’s Liberal Party government under Prime Minister John Howard went ahead and signed the F-35 Production MoU in November 2006, which doesn’t commit them to buy the aircraft just yet. Then it went ahead and submitted a USD $3.1+ billion order without a competition process for 24 Super Hornets, in order to address Australia’s air capability gap until the F-35As arrive.
In November 2007, Australia elected the Labor Party to government, though the Liberal Party still holds a balance of power in the Senate. Now, the rumblings of opposition have turned into a formal review – and everything appears to be up for grabs, including the F/A-18F contract, Australia’s F-35 buy, and a potential request for an export version of the F-22 Raptor. The review will be conducted in two stages…
“The first stage will assess;
# Australia’s Air Combat Capability requirements in the period 2010 to 2015
# The feasibility of retaining the F-111 aircraft in service beyond 2010
# A comparative analysis of aircraft available to fill any gap that may be left by the withdrawal of the F-111
# The status of plans to acquire the F/A-18 Super Hornet
The second stage of the review will consider trends in Asia-Pacific air power until 2045 and the relative capabilities of current and projected fourth and fifth generation combat aircraft such as the Joint Strike Fighter. The review will also examine the case for and against acquiring the F-22.
The review team will also consider industry issues relevant to the development of Australia”s future air combat capability.”
Updates and Key Events
March 17/08: Australia to keep the Super Hornet. Australia’s new defence minister announces several decisions in the wake of the ACCR’s Part A. One is that the decision to retire the F-111 by 2010 was made in haste, but is now irreversible. Another is that an air capability gap will exist due to the F-111s’ retirement, and the decision to pursue the F-35. As such, “No other suitable aircraft could be produced to meet the 2010 deadline the former Government had set.” Savings may be possible on support costs, and the analysis took note of options like the EA-18G electronic warfare variant, but no firm decisions have been made on either topic. Australian DoD | Opposition Liberal Party release | ABC news [with video] | The Age | News Australia | Sydney Morning Herald | Aviation Week | Defense News | Flight International.
March 13/08: Air Power Australia makes its air combat capability presentation public: “Ministerial Submission: Strategic Needs and Force Structure Analysis: The Thinking Behind the F-22A and Evolved F-111 Force Mix Option” [PDF, 6.9 MB]
- ACCR official pages: Ministerial release | Terms of Reference | ACCR mini-site.
- DID FOCUS – “Retired RAAF Vice-Marshal: Abandon F-35, Buy F-22s (updated)” has a full chronicle of the controversy to date, including Liberal Party/DoD rationales, past Labor Party positions (in favor of the F-22, against the F/A-18F, F-35s to be bought during later production lots), past studies that examine the very issues noted above, media reports, et. al. This article is a “DII Q.V.” article, which means it is public access.
- Air Power Australia’s strategic procurement analysis of the F-35A [PDF, 6.7MB], was submitted an earlier Parliamentary committee, and offers a comprehensive look at the issues on the terms laid out by the ACCR’s terms of reference. It may be fairly said to have helped spawn the current review.