The Air 5418 Phase 1 project to integrate the Lockheed Martin AGM-154 JASSM missile with the RAAF’s fleet of F/A-18A/B Hornets has been added to the government’s growing list of Projects of Concern.
The JASSM project is now running more than 12 months late due to ongoing integration issues with the missile to the Hornet’s OFP software. Although the US Navy, as the Hornet’s ‘parent’ service, is taking the lead on this work at its test facility at China Lake in California, the JASSM is a USAF weapon which the USN has not ordered, and therefore much of the integration work is developmental.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith took the unusual step of publicly criticising ADF management over its handling of the project. “Government has not been kept properly and fully informed as to the progress with respect to this major project,” he told Defence’s Senior Leadership Group on November 26. “It is essential for government to be appropriately informed about the delivery of complex and important capabilities so that appropriate steps can be taken to manage issues that emerge in relation to cost, capability or schedule.”
A list of questions submitted by Australian Aviation to the project team remained unanswered, but Defence insiders say a test shot of an inert missile is due to be conducted from an RAAF Hornet at China Lake by December 3 and, if successful will be followed by a live shot at the Woomera Test Range early next year.
Smith added that, now that the project is on ‘the list’, “Defence will ensure that this project now receives additional scrutiny and senior officer oversight in the lead up to the test firing and in the development of subsequent advice to government.”