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$6 billion to maintain Australia's regional air superiority.

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Media contacts Nigel Blunden (Dr Nelson) 02 6277 7800 0407 632 931

Defence Media Liaison 02 6265 3343 0408 498 664



Tuesday, 6 March, 2007 017/2007


Australia is assured of maintaining its air combat capability edge with the Government’s decision to acquire 24 F/A-18F Block II Super Hornet multi role aircraft. At a cost of approximately $6 billion over 10 years, the acquisition of the Super Hornet will ensure the transition to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter over the

next decade.

The acquisition will include 24 aircraft, initial support and upfront training for aircrew and maintenance personnel.

The Howard Government has delivered solid economic management and Budget surpluses over a decade. We are now in a position to deliver this for Australia. The acquisition of the Super Hornets will be fully supplemented as part of the 2007/08 Budget process.

The JSF is the most suitable aircraft for Australia’s future combat and strike needs. Australia remains fully committed to the JSF. But the Government is not prepared to accept any risk to air combat and strike capability during the transition to the JSF.

The F/A-18F Super Hornet is a highly capable, battle proven, multi role aircraft that is currently in service with the US Navy through to 2030. The next generation Block II Super Hornets will provide a more flexible operational capability than currently exists with the F-111.

Only last week Aviation Week reported

“Supporters of the design say it will give the Block II Boeing built Navy aircraft a fifth-generation capability similar to that of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Hornet’s electronic attack capabilities could become even more sophisticated with additional modifications.” - Aviation Week 26 February, 2007

It is anticipated that Australian personnel will begin Super Hornet training in the United States in 2009.

The selection of the Super Hornet builds on the Royal Australian Air Force’s deep understanding of the current F/A-18 fleet. The Block II Super Hornet will provide Air Force with the flexibility to assign all air combat crew and technical personnel across a relatively common fleet during the transition to the JSF.

The Super Hornet will be based at RAAF Base Amberley. Negotiations for commercial support arrangements will commence immediately. Defence is already engaged with Boeing and the United States Navy to ensure that the maximum potential of Australian Industry Involvement is achieved. Local Industry participation will be a key factor in developing the through life support concepts for the Super Hornets.

The Australian Super Hornet program plans to contain local contractor owned and operated intermediate maintenance and training for aircrew and support personnel. Additionally, the supply chain infrastructure, warehousing and operation will be manned locally in support of both Australian and US Navy Super Hornets in the region.

The selection of a next generation fighter allows for upskilling of the workforce. The Super Hornet brings a significant growth of capability within the support and supply chain, low observable materials (stealth), advanced sensors and IT. This will ensure that Australian industry is trained, qualified and has access to both USN and then JSF markets as they share common technologies.

This in no way diminishes our commitment to the JSF Program subject to final Government approval in 2008. Current planning is for Australia to acquire its first JSF in 2013.

There is no gap in Australia’s air combat capability and the Government is taking all necessary steps to ensure a gap does not emerge.

Air combat capability is vital to defend the approaches to Australia and enables us to operate air power on deployment overseas. Our air combat forces are a key part of enhancing our land and maritime forces. This was most ably displayed by the combat performance of our F/A-18 squadron in Iraq in 2003.

The Australian Government is committed to retaining the leading edge in air combat and the Block II Super Hornet will enable this through the next decade.

The F-111 has been a stalwart aircraft at the centre of Australia's strike capability for over three decades. The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd, a pilot with around 2500 hours flying F-111’s, said it is important for Australia to retire the F-111 at a time of our choosing. This ensures that the men and women who operate them are not endangered through the risks of an aging platform.

The withdrawal of the F-111 is expected in 2010 with the F/A-18F Super Hornets to be operational that same year.

Many generations of Air Force personnel and Defence civilians will be sad to see the F-111 withdrawn from service in 2010. The Government acknowledges the tireless efforts and professionalism of personnel at Amberley who have maintained this vital element of Australia's Defence. The immense experience base from decades of F-111 service will boost the new air combat capability in the coming decade.

Our nation is grateful to those who gave Australia this magnificent aircraft, those who have flown and maintained it and who will do so for a further three years.

With the C-17 and KC-30B tanker refuelling aircraft also to be based out of Amberley, as well as the Wedgetail AEW&C support centre, the region is well placed to capitalise on these significant aerospace industry involvement opportunities.

The Super Hornet provides Australia with the greatest capability enhancement and least risk option to ensure Australia’s capability edge.

Broadcast quality vision of the F/A-18 Super Hornet will be sent to television networks at Parliament House.

Further information and still imagery is available at

For a free subscription to Defence Direct, the Minister for Defence's monthly e-newsletter, please follow this link:

Questions & Answers

Will we keep the F/A18Fs and have a mixed JSF and Super Hornet Fleet?

• That is an option available to government. A final decision will be made during the next decade to either maintain a mixed fleet or ‘on-sell’ the Super Hornets and acquire the 4th squadron of JSF. The clear preference is likely to be four squadrons on JSF.

Will the F-111 crews transition to the new Super Hornets?

• To maximise overall air combat capability, aircrew and technical personnel would transition from the current F-111 and F/A-18 Squadrons.

Where will the Super Hornet be based?

• RAAF Base Amberley.

Where will the aircrew be trained?

• Air and technical crews will initially undertake conversion training in the United States. A local training capability would be developed for both air and technical crews. The schedule for the development of the training system is still being devised.

• Air force has a deep understanding of the F/A-18 systems and technical support, as well as strong relationships with suppliers. This makes the Super Hornet the greatest capability available today, at least risk, which ensures that Australia’s edge in regional air combat capability is maintained, at a time of major equipment renewal and change for Air Force.

How has the Super Hornet acquisition been funded?

• The acquisition of 24 Super Hornets will cost approximately $6B over 10 years (2007/8 - 2016/17)

• This includes the cost of the aircraft, weapons and associated supporting infrastructure.

• The Government has provided full supplementation. There is no impact on the current level of funding for the JSF project, nor deferrals/deletions from the Defence Capability Plan (DCP).

How does this decision accord with the Kinnaird two pass process?

• The Two Pass system requires analysis of the capability options, before then undertaking risk reduction and cost investigations. Defence has kept a continual watch over capability options as part of the Project Air 6000 Air Combat Capability project, as well as through international exchange programs - Australia’s needs for an air combat capability are therefore well understood.

• The risks and costs have been evaluated through the Letter of Offer and Acceptance for the Super Hornet from the US Government.

• Therefore, the intent of the two pass system has been met. And, there are not that many alternatives in the market place that have capabilities so well matched to our needs.

Were other aircraft such as the F-15 considered?

• Yes. Defence has maintained a watching brief on other 4th generation aircraft like the F-15. The Super Hornet is the most capable 4.5 generation fighter for Australia, with many 5th generation attributes - particularly the new radar and low-observable technology. The F-15 is not in US production, is not capable in all air combat roles and does not provide an adequate maritime strike capability.

• The F-15s are being phased out in the US and replaced by aircraft such as the Joint Strike Fighter.

This process has happened very quickly - like the C-17 decision - how can we be confident that this is being done correctly?

• The Super Hornet acquisition has undergone rigorous Defence and Government review.

• Although a technologically advanced aircraft, this acquisition will be of an ‘off the shelf’ product, with minimal changes - similar in many ways to the C-17 acquisition. Support options are being developed which could see the joint future development of the Super Hornet between the USN and RAAF. We intend to use the same software in the combat systems.

• It is intended that there will be high levels of commonality between sensors and weapons in the Super Hornet and our upgraded Hornets, further simplifying and de-risking the acquisition.

When will the F-111s be retired?

• The F-111s will be retired in 2010 -a specific date will be nominated closer to 2010.

What does the retirement of the F-111 mean to the workforce at Amberley?

• Operating and maintaining F-111s is high and increasing. They were designed in the 1960s, and need extensive maintenance effort to keep them flying. Australia is the only country that still flies the F-111s. As they get older, they need increasing amounts of maintenance.

• The Amberley workforce has built up considerable skills in maintaining aircraft of this level of technology, and many of those highly sought skills will be transferable within the aerospace industry that is booming in south east Queensland. Defence will work with Boeing and other Government agencies in assisting career transition.

• Australian industry plans are preliminary at this stage. Boeing and Defence are working to develop a Strategic Investment Plan which is envisaged will see the establishment within Australia, of a Regional Support Centre that could handle multiple Australian / US military aerospace platforms.

• The Super Hornet will not require the same degree of industry support as the F-111, as it is a vastly more modern aircraft. However, Defence and Australian industry are conducting planning to transition the current F-111 workforce to support of a wider range of aircraft platforms.

• I am advised that Boeing has commenced a review of the workforce impact on the Amberley site to account for the F111 withdrawal, the Wedgetail modification program, completion of the last B707 tanker deeper maintenance work, and the stand-up of C-17 support arrangements and a Super Hornet acquisition.

• Further, the aerospace labour market in SE Queensland is very tight and has capacity to take up surplus experienced workforce.

• The full scope of the support work and associated acquisition strategy will be finalised over the coming months. Defence will investigate the best mix of support from Boeing as the Original Equipment Manufacturer and SMEs.

• Given the commonality between many of the Boeing platforms in use by the ADF and US military, the Strategic Investment Plan is to work towards the establishment, within Australia, of a Regional Support Centre that could handle multiple Australian / US military aerospace platforms.

• Such a Regional Support Centre would provide the ADF with a broad level of indigenous capability as required in support of ADF operational capability and self-reliance.

• The Plan is to provide a long-term (20 years +) investment regime which progressively introduces / enhances local industry capability based on the level of business activity and the long-term nature of the Defence’s commitment to Boeing.

• The US Navy has written to Defence indicating that it would support the repair of US F/A - 18E/F aircraft in Australia.

• Other regional users of common Australian / US platforms could also be expected to utilise such a Regional Support Centre and will be encouraged to do so.

• There is the possibility that some specialist work being performed elsewhere on the existing Hornet fleet might also transfer to Amberley. This is subject to commercial considerations and availability of hangar space and other infrastructure.

• There is not expected to be any impact on Hornet workforce employed at RAAF Base Williamtown.

• Should there not be enough opportunities for the full existing workforce to be re-employed, then Defence will work with other Government agencies to reskill and re-employ those people.

When will the Super Hornets be delivered?

• First four aircraft arrive in Australia in early 2010 - aircrew will have commenced training in the US in mid 2009 on US Navy aircraft. Final aircraft will have been delivered by the end of 2011

• Initial Operational Capability should be achieved by the end of 2010, consisting of 12 aircraft, plus trained crews. The aircraft will have full Stand-Off weapons capbility at that time. The last aircraft deliveries will be achieved in 2011 with Full Operational Capability being achieved by the end of 2012 . This will include full indigenous training, support, EW support, full deployment capability, mature crew numbers

Is the JSF program on track?

• Yes. The JSF project continues to achieve its schedule. Defence is committed to the JSF as the best solution for Australia’s long term air combat capability. The first test aircraft has already completed 8 successful flights.

• Defence anticipates the first Joint Strike Fighters will be delivered in 2013 to achieve a 2015 IOC. The US Air Force will acquire around 1763 aircraft while the US Navy and Marine Corp will acquire 680 JSFs. USAF will delay its rate of JSF delivery.

• Nine partner nations have now signed up to the JSF program which will deliver over 3,000 aircraft and additional sales to other nations are likely.

• The Super Hornets will support the transition of the air force and industry from 1960s technology to the latest 21st century technology. The USN intends to retain the Super Hornet as a complementary capability to the JSF until around 2030, ensuring that the Super Hornet has a future in

supporting the JSF in the conduct of air combat operations. The Super Hornet is the US Navy’s front line fighter and will be joined in service by the JSF around 2015.