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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1207

Senator CHIPP —I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence whether some of the F111C aircraft and the four ex-United States Air Force F111As purchased in the 1980s are wired for nuclear weapons and whether the nuclear panels and wiring have not been removed in some of the Australian aircraft. Does the wiring extend to the wing stations as well as the bomb bay? Do some models of the F111 at present in the Royal Australian Air Force have panels and wiring for a Shrike launch together with a 'nuclear consent panel' and biological and chemical weapons? Given the Government's oft-repeated commitment to the cause of nuclear disarmament, why has it not had this equipment removed? Would it be possible for an Australian Government at some future date-given the panels and wiring-to fit nuclear, chemical and biological weapons? Will the Government give an undertaking to remove such equipment from any aircraft in the Australian Air Force?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am grateful to Senator Chipp for giving me enough advance notice of this question to be able to give him an appropriately detailed answer today. As to the first two questions the situation is this: RAAF F111 aircraft were delivered with some nuclear weapons circuitry and control panels, including wiring which extends to the wing stations as well as the bomb bay. However, essential arming and release components were not incorporated and the aircraft effectively, as a result, are incapable of delivering any form of nuclear weapon. As to the third question, yes, F111 aircraft do have panels and wiring for a Shrike launch and a 'nuclear consent panel', whatever that might prove to be. However, I am told that these panels and wiring are also ineffective without the essential arming and release components, which were not incorporated into the aircraft.

With respect to the F111's capability to carry and release biological and chemical weapons, no special circuitry or equipment is required for these weapons, which can be delivered by any aircraft equipped with conventional weapons systems and racks. I hasten to add that there is, of course, no intention that Australian aircraft should be so fitted. As to the fourth and fifth questions, progressive modification of RAAF F111 aircraft is removing the subject equipment as circumstances make it possible and appropriate to do so. The four reconnaissance aircraft had the equipment removed in 1980 and the equipment in the remaining aircraft is being removed as these aircraft are modified to allow fitment of the Pavetack system, that is, the infra-red-laser system.

As to the question of an undertaking, I have said that no RAAF aircraft is capable of carrying and releasing nuclear weapons. To the extent that some components are part of that weapons system, they are being removed progressively. I am also advised, however, that some of the components that might be regarded as relevant in this respect are also used for conventional weapons systems. As the removal of such systems would deny these aircraft their conventional capability, no such undertaking can be given in relation to those parts of the componentry.