A number of new air related project phases have been included in the latest update to the Defence Capability Plan (DCP), released by Defence Minister Stephen Smith on December 17, including acquisition of a fourth squadron of F-35 JSFs, a ‘multi-mission’ UAS, and upgrades to the Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft and Tiger ARH helicopter.
Update 2 of the 2009 DCP returns to a 10 year planning horizon, and hence sees the incorporation of longer term projects such as a mid-life upgrade program for the Wedgetail AEW&C platform, but also introduces the Sea 5000 Next Generation Combatant program to acquire eight frigates to replace the Navy’s existing Anzac class vessels, and Land 159 to replace small arms such as the Austeyr rifle.
Most significant of the newly listed air related projects is Air 6000 Phase 2C, to acquire an undefined number F-35 JSFs for a fourth operational squadron.
“The decision to acquire the fourth operational JSF squadron will be considered in conjunction with a decision on the withdrawal of the F/A-18F Super Hornet in the 2015-16 to 2017-19 timeframe,” the DCP notes. Delivery of these aircraft would not occur until the FY2021-22 to FY2026-27 timeframe, with IOC over the same period.
Under the DCP, first F-35 deliveries to the RAAF are still scheduled for 2014, with an IOC of 2018. Fourteen F-35s are to be acquired under Air 6000 Phase 2A/B Phase 1, with approval to acquire “at least” a further 58 under due in the 2012-13 financial year. The first 10 F-35s will stay in the US “for some time as part of the initial JSF pilot training scheme”. The next four F-35s are due in Australia in 2017, the DCP says, “to commence dedicated Australian operational test activities, primarily to ensure effective integration with other ADF air and ground systems.”
The DCP affirms plans to acquire “up to” 100 F-35s for the RAAF in all.
The DCP for the first time also lists Air 6000 Phase 3 to acquire “the JSF’s initial principal strike weapon, the Small Diameter Bomb” plus 25mm gun ammunition and possibly dispensable countermeasures; plus Air 6000 Phase 5 to acquire within and beyond visual range air-to-air missiles for the F-35 and Super Hornet, presumably the AIM-9X and AIM-120.
Another new project is JP 3023 to acquire a maritime strike weapon for the F-35. “Such weapons are likely to have long range, be fully network-enabled, be low observable, have their own sensors, be interoperable with Australia’s allies, and are also likely to have a high level of utility against well-defended fixed and mobile targets on the land,” the DCP observes. Delivery would be from early next decade.
Long held plans to acquire a high altitude long endurance Multi-Mission Unmanned Aircraft System (MUAS) have also been defined in the DCP under Air 7000 Phase 1B. Up to seven MUASs would be delivered in the FY2022-23 to FY2023-24 timeframe. These will complement the eight Boeing P-8 Poseidons expected to be acquired under Air 7000 Phase 1A for delivery from FY2017-18 to FY2019-20 in replacing the RAAF’s AP-3C Orion fleet.
Interestingly, despite a push from within and outside the ADF to consolidate them, under the DCP the various ADF pilot and aircrew training projects – Air 5428, Air 9000 Phase 7 and Air 5232 – remain independent of each other.
Other new air projects in the DCP are Air 87 Phase 3 – Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter Upgrade; Air 5077 Phase 5A Combined Test Environment & Phase 5B Mid-Life Update for the Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft; and Air 5333 Phase 2 Vigilare upgrade.
In all the updated DCP contains 150 projects and phases worth $140 billion in 2010 dollars. It can be viewed and downloaded here.