Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare have announced that Australia has sent a letter of request (LOR) to the US government for the possible purchase of 24 more Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets for the RAAF.
The announcement coincided with a declaration of final operational capability (FOC) for the RAAF’s extent Super Hornet fleet based at Amberley with 1SQN and 6SQN.
A comprehensive Cabinet Submission detailing multiple air combat capability options was reportedly handed to government in September, but was only presented to the National Security Committee (NSC) – comprising the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Treasurer, Foreign Minister and others as required – in early December.
The options laid out in the cabinet submission included staying with the currently planned AIR 6000 Phase 2A/2B plan to buy up to 72 F-35As from 2014 and declare an initial operating capability (IOC) in 2020, or buying additional Super Hornets to mitigate the risk of a capability gap should the current ‘classic’ Hornets not be able to reach their revised life of type (LOT) in 2022. Despite RAAF and ANAO investigations which show the classic Hornets should be able to fulfil their revised LOT, this would require substantial investment in fatigue management in the near to medium term, and reduced flying hours and combat effectiveness in the out years.
A December 13 ministerial release points out that the LOR does not automatically mean a follow up order will be forthcoming. “The sending of this LOR does not commit Australia to purchase more Super Hornets. It is being sent so that the Government can further consider all options in 2013 with the latest and best cost and availability information. This has been made clear to both US officials and to the Defence industry.”