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Labor promises reforms as Spartans ‘can’t fly into battlefields’

written by Charbel Kadib | October 10, 2022

A RAAF C-27J Spartan aircraft provided maritime surveillance to help detect and deter illegal fishing activity in the Pacific. (Defence, LSIS Nadav Harel)

Labor has highlighted the Spartan’s inability to land on battlefields as an example of mismanagement of Defence projects by the previous Liberal Federal Government.

The Albanese Government said it found that at least 28 projects are behind schedule by a cumulative 97 years, while 18 were also over budget.

It claimed the blowout in costs reached $6.5 billion and pledged a raft of reforms to stop future complications.

Australia currently has 10 Spartans operated by No. 35 Squadron from RAAF Base Amberley, which now focuses on peacetime operations such as search and rescue and aeromedical operations.

The RAAF initially bought the aircraft as a replacement for the Caribou, to fit in between the Chinook and larger Hercules and C-17 Globemaster.


Despite the first arriving in 2015, problems with its electronic self-protection system, designed to keep it safe under fire, mean it still has not achieved Final Operational Capability (FOC).

Air Vice-Marshal Catherine Roberts, who previously headed air force capability, said in 2019, “The C-27J program has been challenging and… there have been significant delays in terms of achieving the capability outcomes that were originally determined.”

However, she argued that the aircraft would still play a “significant role” in Australia’s defence capabilities.

Last year, Defence acquired four more Chinooks to bolster its capability in battlefields.

Other programs of concern listed by Labor included:

  • $44 billion Hunter Class Frigate program — construction delayed by four years and expected cost is $15 billion higher than initially anticipated;
  • $3.7 billion Offshore Patrol Vessel project — running one year behind schedule;
  • $356 million Evolved Cape Class patrol boats — running nearly a year behind schedule;
  • $970 million Battlefield Command System — three years behind schedule.

According to the Albanese government, these “significant and systemic issues” are the result of mismanagement from the former Morrison government.

“Money was being flushed down the toilet while the former government regaled in how much they were spending on defence,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles said.

“We face the most challenging strategic circumstances since the Second World War — this, along with the serious pressures facing the economy mean we need to be more responsible about how we manage critical projects, particularly as we reach record spending within Defence as a per cent of GDP.

“It’s not as though we can go onto the battlefield and overwhelm our adversary by waving a copy of the budget papers in their face.”

To address these issues, the government has pledged to:

  • Establish an independent projects and portfolio management office within Defence;
  • Require monthly reports on projects of concern and projects of interest to the Minister for Defence and Minister for Defence Industry;
  • Establish formal processes and “early warning” criteria for placing projects on the projects of concern and projects of interest lists;
  • Foster a culture in Defence of raising attention to emerging problems and encouraging and enabling early response;
  • Provide troubled projects with extra resources and skills; and
  • Convene regular ministerial summits to discuss remediation plans.

Deputy Prime Minister Marles has also committed to “prudent management of the defence budget” to ensure timely delivery of key next-generation capability, including the nuclear-powered submarine fleet promised under AUKUS.

“In doing so, we are building a potent and capable Defence Force which will keep our country safe in the future,” he said.

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Comments (15)

  • Steve


    Why doesn’t Marles remind us that the C27 was ordered in haste by the Gillard government just prior to the 2013 election just as the US FMS offer was about to expire. By then it was clear that the USAF did not want to proceed with its own C27 purchase and we were left with a fleet orphaned of US support and the communication interoperability. True we tuned back to Italy as the OEM but we lost the interoperability for Army operations.

  • Gary Smith


    So the Government is blaming the Coalition for the shortcomings of the C-27. Funny how they conveniently fail to mention that the project was signed off by Stephen Smith when MINDEF.

  • Some of the comments about the C27J does nott make a lot of sense. Apparently the lack of a self defense module in the C27J means it cannot operate in the battlefield, yet the Caribou that it replaced never had a Self defence capability. Yet it operated in Vietnam on the battlefield. In fact the The MC-27J is a variant for multi-mission purposes, including Command and Control, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (C3-ISR), Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) and Combat Support operations, using roll-off/roll-on systems for different sensors and equipment: AESA Search Radar; Elettro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) system; Electronic Support Measures (ESM); palletized Mission System; enhanced Communications System including datalink and SATCOM capabilities; Store Management System to employ Precision Guided Munitions (PGM – one hard point under each wing); palletized fire support system with a high accurate gun able to fire through the LH rear door, that[107] can be installed and rapidly uninstalled when not required. The MC-27J can support special forces and ground troops with direct fire, performing armed ISR, Close Air Support (CAS) and Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR).[107].

    The MC17J also has a defensive aids suite So why cannot the RAAF buy the MC27J self defense aides suite?? Surely that would overcome the issue that apparently stops the RAAF for using it on the battlefield!

    Currently orders for the C27J standd at Australia (10), Bulgaria (3), Chad (2), Greece (8), Italy (12), Kenya (3), Lithuania (3), Mexico (4), Morocco (4), Peru (4), Romania (7), Slovakia (2), Zambia (2), United States (21), and an undisclosed country (2)

  • Gordon Mackinlay


    The ten C-27J were ordered in 2011, by the Gillard Labor Government. At the time they were told it was a inadequate goverment, but they went ahead anyway. Mackinlay.

  • Mike Borgelt


    The C-27J is a useless piece of junk. Can’t do the job of a Caribou or a C-130. Just buy another bunch of Chinooks.

  • Scott


    Labor, after cutting Defence spending so deeply (lowest budget since WW2) last time they were in Government forcing Defence to essentially cancel capability is complaining about schedule?

    The same Labor Party that after 13 years of Government in the 80’s/90’s gave us a Defence Force “Fitted for but not with” actual war fighting capability?

    The same Labor Party that signed off on purchasing the C-130J Hercules with *NO* Aircraft Self-Protection (Missile Approach Warning System, inert fuel tanks, flares…) , saying it would just be a peace-time airlifter?

    To quote former Labor Minister Peter Garrett “Short memory …. must have a short memory”


    • Shane


      You want to speak about short memories? Okay, then try and justify Howard’s buying the M1A1 Abrams.

  • Steve


    Note the Breaking Defense read on this:

    In particular it was the Gillard Govt rushed decision just before the US FMS offer closed in mid-2013, just before the Federal Election that procured the Spartans even by then it was clear the USAF had decided it did not want them as Battlefield airlifters. USAF the gave them to the US Coast Guard and a few to US Special forces. Thanks to the ALP, RAAF was foisted with C-27s with hardly any US battlefield communications – we got orphans. Then Marles has the gall to blame the coalition.

  • Gary Smith


    How much of the ‘blow out’ costs can be attributed to Exchange Rate fluctuations seeing as Defence operates on a No Win / No Loss contract basis? Also, strange how MINDEF forgets to mention that the C27 was signed off by one Stephen Smith MINDEF at the time AFTER the US had announced that is was mothballing the platform.

  • Mark


    Mor oversight and reporting. That should speed things up!

  • George Racz


    Defence funding mismanagement is akin to treason and should be harshly punished. Covering for the Morrison government probable deliberate mismanagement is equally treasonous.

  • Nicholas


    Just imagine if a senior Manager of, say a bank stood up to make a public speech, and then spent part of the time bad mouthing his predecessor and saying it’s not his/her fault for the things that have gone wrong.

    They would most likely be sacked. Why can’t politicians understand this?

    They open themselves to ridicule and its one of the reason that most people have no respect or trust for politicians. Albanese said his team would not do this..

    Sad that this uttering was as accurate as blaming the Libs for short comings on a plane ordered by Labor…

  • Warren Bishop


    It is a bit rich for the Albanese Labor Government to criticise the previous NLP Government for the C-27J program, given it was the Gillard Labor Government that approved the acquisition.

  • Greg


    Lessons learned. And forgotten. And relearned. And forgotten. For decades. Billions wasted. Defence acquisition and project management would be laughable if it wasnt so almost treasonously incompetent.

  • Sean


    I don’t see the submarine program listed as a concern? How can that be – it’ll likely make any other concerns moot.

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