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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 22011


Mr Beazley asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 11 February 2003:

(1) Does the Minister's departmental annual report list fast-jet pilot shortages and equipment shortages driven by logistics shortfalls, as problem areas for the Tactical Fighter Capability; if so, (a) how long is the logistics shortfall, (b) will the Minister detail and quantify the scope, cost and capability impact of these problems, (c) what plans are proposed, or in place, to fix these issues and (d) when will they be resolved.

(2) What are the current and planned projects for the F-18, including costs, capability enhancement sought and schedules.

(3) What are the costs, scope and schedules of current projects compared with the original approvals.

(4) What are the current limitations on deploying the F-18 to a hostile air defence environment.

(5) When will these projects change these limitations.

(6) What studies have been undertaken to check the sustainability of the F-18 fleet out to its planned withdrawal date and what further studies are underway or planned.

(7) What has been the trend over the last decade in the cost of operating the F-18 fleet and what is the projected cost of operating the F-18 fleet to its withdrawal date.

(8) What is the current estimate of the annual cost growth due to aircraft ageing for the F-18 fleet.

(9) What are the risk factors that might impede the retention of the F-18 out to a planned withdrawal date.

(10) What studies have been undertaken concerning an interim combat aircraft to replace the F-111 or F-18 aircraft prior to the introduction of the Joint Strike Fighter.

(11) What would be the cost of an interim combat aircraft and how does this compare with the cost of maintaining the F-111 and F-18 fleets to planned withdrawal dates.

(12) By what sum would the remaining through life costs of the F-111 and F-18 fleets need to rise to make it more cost effective to seek an interim solution.

(13) What contingency plans are in place should either the F-111 or F-18 prove not to be sustainable out to their planned withdrawal date.


Mr Brough (Minister for Employment Services and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) —The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1) The 2001-02 Defence Annual Report states that “fast-jet pilot shortages and equipment shortages driven by logistics shortfalls have limited the ability to sustain and conduct concurrent operations beyond the set targets”.

(a) The logistics shortfall is represented as a classified dollar figure and cannot be publicly released.

(b) As described in the annual report, the impact of the shortfall is to limit the ability of the Tactical Fighter force to sustain and conduct concurrent operations beyond the targets set.

(c) (i) When insufficient fast-jet pilot candidates are available from the training organisation, candidate pilots are reroled from other flying squadrons. In addition, some initiatives are being introduced for 2003 to improve management and availability of fast jet pilots. Numbers are now approaching 93% of requirements.

(ii) Equipment shortages are currently under review.

(d) (i) Pilot numbers have almost recovered to planned levels now.

(ii) These are currently under review.

(2) The following projects are focussed on enhancing F/A-18 capability:

Project

Scope

Cost

Schedule

Air 5376 Phase 2.1

Upgrade F/A-18 radar for enhanced target detection.

$1605.9m

In contractPartially completeISD FY02/03

Air 5376 Phase 2.2

Upgrade F/A-18 displays, datalink and helmet mounted cueing for enhanced targeting and situational awareness.

Partially In ContractISD FY05/06

Air 5376 Phase 2.3

Upgrade F/A-18 self-protection capability including radar warning receiver, jammer and countermeasures dispensing set.

YOD FY02/03ISD FY07/08

Air 5376 Phase 3.1

F/A-18 airframe structural refurbishment to enable aircraft life of type to reach planned withdrawal date.

Approved $46.3mUnapproved $200-250m

In ContractISD 2007

Air 5376 Phase 3.2

F/A-18 airframe structural refurbishment to enable aircraft life of type to reach planned withdrawal date.

YOD FY03/04ISD 2010

Air 5400

Replace air-to-air weapons with new short and medium range missiles to enhance F/A-18 air defence capability.

$506.5m (Dec 05)

In contractISD FY03/04

Note: ISD = In Service Date, YOD = Year of Decision

(3) The following are project cost, scope and schedule comparisons for F/A-18 projects:

Project

Current

Original

Cost

Scope

Schedule

Cost

Scope

Schedule

Air 5376 Phase 2.1

$1605.978m (Dec 02)

See Q2

ISD Aug 03

Variations have occurred due to Price and Exchange, and a Real Cost Decrease of $97.103m

No Change

Complete Apr 03

Air 5376 Phase 2.2

ISD FY05/06

Complete FY06/07

Air 5376 Phase 2.3

ISD FY07/08

CompleteFY07/08

Air 5376 Phase 3.1

$46.277 (Dec 02)

Varies with accumulation of fatigue accrual

$45.350m (Jul 01)

No Change

Varies with accumulation of fatigue accrual

Air 5400

$506.5m (Dec 02)

ISD FY03/04

Since original approval, variations have been due to Price and Exchange, a Real Cost Decrease (scope reduced) of $28.7m, and a Real Cost Increase (contract options taken up) of $58.0m

Original scope included Helmet Mounted Cueing System. This has been transferred to Air 5376 with a reduction in cost. Some contract options were taken up resulting in a real cost increase.

FY01/02

Note: ISD = In Service Date, YOD = Year of Decision

(4) The limitations on deploying F/A-18s to a hostile air defence environment are sensitive and cannot be revealed.

(5) Limitations will reduce following completion of relevant projects described in the answer to Part (2).

(6) Studies undertaken to check the sustainability of the F/A-18 include the “International Follow-On Structural Test Project”, which in collaboration with Canada, has been undertaken to establish the structural life of the F/A-18. The results obtained from this program on the important centre-fuselage section of the aircraft have been used to develop structural management strategies to meet the planned withdrawal date of the fleet. The test project has also established the structural management procedures for other parts of the aircraft and further testing is currently underway to provide this information for parts of the wing. Other ongoing studies include:

Studies

Outcome

AIR 00/100

This task will enhance the capability of the RAAF's F-111, P-3C and F/A-18 flight simulators to provide training to pilots and aircrew.

AIR 01/143

The necessary tools and data are available and substantiated to ensure that the fleet reaches Planned Withdrawal Date with a desired level of airworthiness.

AIR 00/141

To generate data that will aid in achieving the desired service life for the F/A-18 airframe in accordance with the relevant airworthiness criteria.

AIR 01/204

The Research & Development in this task will give the Royal Australian Air Force increased reliability in the application of Non-destructive examination for sole-operator management of F-111 and improved maintenance procedures for honeycomb components and for crack monitoring for F-111 and F/A-18.

AIR 00/159

Data, documentation and knowledge will be generated that will aid in achieving the desired service life for the F/A-18 airframe in accordance with the relevant airworthiness criteria.

AIR 02/177

F/A-18 aircraft will have improved performance capabilities and increased detection ranges.

AIR 01/096

The outcomes are essential to achieving airworthiness certification of the Advance Short Range Air to Air Missile and F/A-18 combination. The report will shape the Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation to Ordnance testing whether it is carried out in Australia or overseas.

AIR 02/244

Increase the capability of the RAAF to assess the risk of flying aircraft.

AIR 01/129

Client will receive advice on the implementation of best scientific and engineering practice for the repair and maintenance of composite structure on the F/A-18.

AIR 02/254

This task will apply scientific knowledge to reduce F/A-18 mission system capability risks associated with Hornet Upgrade project Phase 2.2 and through-life mission system support.

In addition to the above Defence Science and Technology Organisation studies underway, the most recent estimates of F/A18 sustainability to planned withdrawal date were assessments of structural life, ageing airframe issues and logistics issues presented to government in late 2002.

(7) An average annual increase of around 10%. Current estimates indicate future trends reducing slightly from the current levels.

(8) 5%.

(9) The risk factors that could impede the retention of the F/A-18 to its currently planned withdrawal date relate to the fatigue life of the aircraft and how that fatigue is accumulated.

(10) (11) and (12) Results from these deliberative studies are classified.

(13) While there is always a range of contingency planning done it would be inappropriate to provide details prior to any formal decisions being made.