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Last Updated Thursday, 27 June 2002

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270602 Transcript of Australia to Join Joint Strike Fighter Program

Event: PRESS CONFERENCE Date: 27/06/2002
Slip ID: C00007406740 Time: 11:45 AM
AUSTRALIA'S FUTURE AIR COMBAT CAPABILITY
SENATOR ROBERT HILL, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
IAN MACFARLANE, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY
AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON


SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Thanks for coming along. This is an occasion that only happens I guess once every few decades when governments announce a new project towards the acquisition of new aircraft for the ADF.
What we're announcing today is that we've decided, as a government, to participate in the system development and demonstration phase of the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter. Being S35. We've decided to do that on the basis of advice from the Air Force that they believe it will meet the capability requirements that we are seeking through their 6,000 project. That is as a replacement for the FA-18 and the F1-11.
This is an investment, in the first instance, of some 300 million Australian dollars over a ten year period. Which enables us to become part of the project and, in fact, to be located within the project and to give our industry the opportunity to invest in the design and development phase.
It gives us significant benefits, presuming that we move to acquisition of the aircraft. Whilst that's obviously our intention, a decision to acquire probably won't be made until about 2006. So by which stage we'll be well into this development phase with the possibility of an aircraft, if a decision is to acquire this aircraft, which we expect probably from about 2012 onwards.
This is a very different way of acquiring an aircraft. What we're doing here is investing in the development of this project. It's more, I guess, akin to us becoming a partner in the development of what is going to be clearly the global stealth fighter of the future.
We have taken this decision at this time because some might see it as, in effect, leaping a generation of aircraft. We have made that decision purposefully because we believe to acquire any of the other alternatives at the moment would put us in a position where ultimately we'd be likely to acquire this aircraft in any event.
So, rather than investing in an aircraft that may well be out of date within the next 10 or 15 years, what we're doing is leaping a generation which gives us much greater confidence that we'll be investing in the technology and capability of the future.
In terms of the alternatives that'll be around in the post 2012 era, we don't believe that there's any other alternative that would meet our capability requirements within the costings that we put into the White Paper.
The White Paper, of course, talks about the purchase of up to 100 aircraft. That will be a decision for the future because whilst certainly what we're looking for is a capability equivalent of 100 aircraft, by the time we get to the acquisition decision it might be decided that less aircraft can achieve that capability and they may be phased in over a longer period as well.
This is designed as an open-architecture aircraft. It'll be continually developed and we will need to decide which block we'll start purchasing in and we may purchase, unlike we've done in the past, we may purchase smaller numbers and do it on an on-going basis as the technology continues to evolve.
It is large money, and ultimately this will be the largest procurement, largest military procurement in Australia's history. But we do have a commitment to obviously defend this country. We wish to do it to provide our Defence Force with the most capable equipment within our capacity to pay for it, and we believe that this aircraft is the one that can enable us to do that.
What I was going to do is to invite Ian to talk a bit about the industry opportunities for Australia in this project. Give the Air Marshal the opportunity to say a bit about the technical capabilities of the aircraft and why the RAAF have guided the government in this direction. Advised the government in this direction. And then the three of us are open for questions.

IAN MACFARLANE: Thanks very much, Robert. And from an industry perspective, this decision by the government to invest some $300 million, to be part of the development of the Joint Strike Fighter, obviously offers great opportunities to Australian industries to participate in the development of the fighter. Rather than in the past, as we've seen, only participate in perhaps some production componentry of the finalised aircraft.
The aerospace industry in Australia already has about a 1% share of the global market, and were they able to even achieve that conservative participation in this project that is just 1% of this global $400 billion project. They're A dollars I should add. But if they were able to achieve just 1% of that, then that would be worth to Australia $4 billion. And I think it's significant that Australian industry is in a position to take advantage of the development phase, but it's also very significant that, of course, that gets us in on the ground floor in terms of Australian industry participating in the actual construction of the Joint Strike Fighter.
This is, as I say, a great opportunity for industry. But it also shows the confidence of the government in the aerospace industry in Australia. And Australia's aerospace industry to actually punch above its weight and achieve in a global environment for what will be a truly global Joint Strike Fighter.
It's something that I've obviously been keen to see happen, and I think it opens up great opportunities for us to continue to expand on our already highly innovative and technologically leading aerospace industry.
So I certainly support Robert fully in his comments, and I might pass over to the Air Marshal. Thank you.

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: This is a bold decision by the government. A decision that will carry the Royal Australian Air Force into the future.
The Joint Strike Fighter is a fifth generation aircraft. And really, when you have a look at all the capabilities that are available, it is the capability of the future. And we need to focus on the future and the future combat environment that we're likely to face.
This aircraft is a stealth aircraft, but it's also an affordable aircraft. It will affordable because already there are 3,000 aircraft on the order books, and there's likely to be many many more. So the very expensive development costs, research costs, are going to be spread over a large number of platforms, thus making this aircraft relatively affordable compared to others.
I mentioned the stealthy characteristics. What the Joint Strike Fighter will bring to the table is a capability that will fit beautifully into the structure we're developing in the Australian Defence Force. A structure of network enabled warfare where we'll have highly sophisticated command and control, surveillance reconnaissance and electronic warfare capabilities. And this aircraft will be able to connect very effectively into that environment.
It will be very very capable in the air control role, which as you will all recall was one of the most important aspects of the government's White Paper. But it will also be flexible enough to go out there and conduct strike operations. And I think that all in all it's a great day for the Royal Australian Air Force and I think a very enlightened decision that ensures that we will be able to control the air approaches above our northern land areas and also our maritime approaches.
So I think rather than continue to talk about the technical aspects, it's probably best picked up with a few questions. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Minister, what guarantees can you give taxpayers that the Department of Defence will not botch this massive contract as it has done in so many? And what guarantees can you give them that the American military industrial complex won't screw Australian taxpayers again?

ROBERT HILL: This, I think in part because of so much being invested at the front end of this project and that we're joining in its development on a partnership basis rather than simply buying off the shelf, already in the development phase Britain, as you know, has committed as a Tier 1 partner. The Netherlands have committed. Italy has just committed. Denmark, Canada, so there are a significant number of global partners already as part of the deal and all of us will be working jointly with the United States in the development of the aircraft over the next 10 years. So I think that that is a start.
Secondly, the way that it's been structured gives Australia the opportunity to opt out at many different points, if it so wished. Now, I wouldn't emphasise that, because we don't think that that will be the case. What we start with today is a process to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States, and that will cover our initial industry investment in the development phase. It'll cover issues of technology transfer that have been so important to us. And, in some instances, we've missed out in the future.
And later this year we expect to be able to execute that Memorandum of Understanding. We then go into our investment over a period of 10 years - 300 million over a period of 10 years - with a number of exit points in that.
And, as I said, by the time we get to 2000 - around 2006, when we make acquisition decisions, we will have a very firm understanding of the costs involved in the acquisition and the design parameters of the aircraft. So in our view the risk is very much reduced from any other alternative method of acquisition.
And then, as the Air Marshal said, this project itself has been costed in a different way to previous military aircraft development so that it is affordable. And whilst I'm not the one to ask the technical aspects in terms of the data and data management and control and all of these things that have led those responsible for the project to be so confident that the costs can be contained, that certainly is the view of all of the countries that have entered the project.

QUESTION: What are those costs?

ROBERT HILL: M'mm?

QUESTION: What are the costs? What costs are...

ROBERT HILL: Well, the development phase is a 20 billion US phase, of which we are contributing roughly 150 million of 20 billion. So we're getting a huge - a huge benefit in that for the investment that we are making. That will logically follows.

QUESTION: What are these things going to cost taxpayers? The Australian taxpayer is going to pay how much for these things?

ROBERT HILL: Per aircraft?

QUESTION: Yes?

ROBERT HILL: Well, that's not known at the moment, but it is believed to be in the vicinity of about 40 million US per aircraft. And any other aircraft that's around, as you would know, is considerably more than that. You're looking at double that price.

QUESTION: Minister, a question for you, Minister, and a question for Air Marshal Houston. Are you this morning telling all other competitors, 'Don't bother any more. We're committed to the Joint Strike Fighter sight unseen at $40 million a copy.' ? And, Air Marshal Houston, how can you be confident that this aircraft, sight unseen, will have the range and the endurance and the payload to effectively replace the F111, for example?

ROBERT HILL: Well, if I just start by saying of course this aircraft has already won competition in the United States against Boeing. Two examples of the aircraft are flying and there's been an enormous investment and work done to get to this stage for it to win that competition.
So whilst the capability will continue to be developed over the course of the next 10 years, and as I said in fact it's going to be, with its open architecture, probably over the next 30 years it'll continue to be expanded as well.
We already know a great deal - and the partners know a great deal about the aircraft. The Air Force has made a number of visits to Lockheed Martin and been briefed at a confidential level on the capabilities as are known at the moment and as they are expected to develop.
In relation to other manufacturers who would have liked to sell to us as part of the Air 6000, to be fair to them I think we've got to say what I've already said and that is that we are going into this project expecting it to be successful. We're going into the Memorandum negotiation expecting the Memorandum to be signed.
We're going into the development phase expecting it to lead to acquisition of aircraft. But the acquisition decision, as I said, we don't expect to be finally made to around about the 2006 period.

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: In terms of the question about the F1-11, the F1-11 has a range approaching 1,000 nautical miles. This aircraft won't have quite the range of an F1-11 with internal fuel tanks. But with external tanks and air-to-air refuelling, it will have the capability to do what the F1-11 does. So I am very confident that it'll be able to do that.

QUESTION: Pay loading?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: Pay load? It will be able to carry a reasonable pay load. Bear in mind we're very much focused on the future. One of the associated technologies that's coming along with this is small diameter munitions. And this aircraft will be capable of carrying the high-technology weapons of the future, be they small diameter munitions or a variety of missiles which will give the aircraft a stand-off capability.
Like the F1-11, it does have an internal bomb bay, so that means that unlike just about all the other contenders for Air 6000, the weapons can be carried internally. Which means you maintain your stealth, your low observable configuration. And that means that you're going to be very hard to detect and that is going to enhance both your tactical advantage and also the survivability of the platform.
If you have a look at the F1-11 right now, it has a huge radar cross-section and can be seen very easily by the sorts of radars that are currently being deployed. This aircraft will be very very hard to pick up.
And, of course, that's going to be an advantage also in the air-to-air role where it's all about being able to see the adversary before he sees you. If you've got stealth on your side, you've got a huge advantage. And of course the aircraft also has a number of sensors integrated into it that will enhance the situation awareness of the pilot and with the weapons that are going to be carried, I'm confident our pilots will have the right equipment for the future.
Bear in mind that the future air combat environment is likely to be one where it is fought beyond visual range. So this stealth capability is absolutely crucial to the future - future effectiveness in that environment.

QUESTION: The stealth capability, Air Marshal, if you have to carry external tanks won't this sacrifice some stealth?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean we're getting into a lot of, you know, 'what ifs' here. But the White Paper has a number of wide body tankers. It will give us a very good air-to-air refuelling tankers. Those air-to-air refuelling tankers are a great enabler for this capability. And, indeed, any air combat or strike capability. So I would hope that we wouldn't have to use those tanks. But, if needs be, like the F1-11 the F1-11 carries things externally, it has a very large radar cross-section. And we would be able to get in there and do the work if there's a need to do so.

QUESTION: Air Marshal, how much is the future going to lie more and more on unmanned aircraft? At the moment they're used for all sorts of purposes including surveillance and signals interception and intelligence and so on. But in the future, isn't there going to be unmanned aircraft which are going to be used increasingly in the strike role as well?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: That is correct. That's something that we are keeping abreast of. And that's part of the Air 6000 study to have a look at the sort of possibilities that are available with uninhabited combat air vehicles.
If you have a look right now, though, those capabilities are quite under-developed. And it's Boeing - the Boeing aircraft company that is actually leading the way on that with its X45 development.
We're keeping abreast of that, but I can't see that being fielded operationally, that sort of capability being fielded operationally for quite a few years yet.

QUESTION: Air Marshal, given the cost and maintenance issues surrounding the F1-11, how soon would you like to start replacing that fleet with these fighters?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: Well, the JSF, if you have a look at the fact sheet we've given you, the US Air Force will be introducing its first aircraft in about 2011. And it will reach its initial operational capability by about 2012. I think that we want to get in at a reasonably early stage. But, as you would be aware, most programs, aircraft programs, take a while to bed down. So I'd prefer to be going a little bit later on. And we have to have a look at all of that, but the intention always was to replace the FA-18 in the 2012, 2015 timeframe. And the F1-11 in the 2015, 2020 timeframe.

QUESTION: Might you move that forward now, though?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: Well, we have to have a close look at that. One of the things that we've got to work through now is, given this decision, there are a number of things that we've got to analyse and a lot of detail. And one of the things I want to look very closely at is how we manage the fleet that we've got at the moment to fit in with the prospect of introducing the Joint Strike Fighter after about 2012.

QUESTION: Air Marshal, were there any conditions connected to this agreement with the United States? For instance, if the United States went into some sort of combat, would we have to automatically go in as well?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: No, no, there's no obligation that we have to go into something that they're going into. Any situation that arises, and that is a matter for the Australian Government as is the case now and as will be the case for years to come.
What it does do, though, because we're getting into this, we're in a much better position to negotiate the release of the top line software that we require to make the aircraft highly capable.

QUESTION: Does that mean that you will gain full access to all technology, all source codes, all the technical information?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: All of that has to be negotiated, but clearly if you're in the program you've got more prospect of getting good access to the technology that's available. I think that we'll get much better access through being part of the program than we would if we were to, say, go and buy the foreign military sales version of the aircraft off the shelf in 10 years time.

QUESTION: Minister, can you, with this decision now, you're in fact ruling out any open competition in 2006 for a replacement fighter? Is that what you're effectively saying?

ROBERT HILL: Well, a sort of definite answer on that is a few years down the track. But, as I said, I think it would be unfair to competitors to hold out a carrot that I don't think is really there. Our starting point in this project, this investment in the design and development phase, is our belief on the basis of information that's currently available to us and the advice of the Air Force, that this is the aircraft for us in the future.
But the advantage - an advantage in the way we're doing it, as I've said, is that it is a step by step approach and the acquisition decision won't be made until about 2006.

QUESTION: Senator Hill, could that change if Labor wins the next election? Or is there a certain bipartisanship in relationship to this?

ROBERT HILL: Well, governments can make whatever decisions they like. If you're talking about an election in two and a half years time, we would have made a contractual commitment to 300 million Australian dollars in the design development phase of this aircraft. We wouldn't have made a contractual commitment beyond that.

QUESTION: But Labor could reverse this?

ROBERT HILL: Well, Labor could - if Labor was in - if the acquisition decision is made in 2006, will be made by whoever is in government in 2006. We believe that whether it's us or someone else on the basis of the information that's currently available to us, that they are more than likely to acquire this particular aircraft.

QUESTION: Did John Howard discuss these matters when he was in Washington recently? And was there any political leverage involved, given the closeness of the bilateral relationship?

ROBERT HILL: He had a briefing on the state of the project when he was in the United States. There's been no political pressure. This is very much a decision made by the Cabinet in what we believe to be Australia's best interests.
But the issue of interoperability with the United States is certainly one factor that is in our mind in making this decision.

QUESTION: Minister, can you explain how the value for money assessment on this decision was carried out?

ROBERT HILL: This is a decision to invest in the design and development phase of this aircraft at a cost of about $300 million. As we've set out in the papers, if we decide to purchase the aircraft in the end, and if we think the numbers, as anticipated at the moment, it'll actually save us about $600 million off our ultimate purchase.
In addition, for our $300 million, it gives us the opportunity for Australian industry to get in in this phase as well, and therefore they have the opportunity for very significant economic returns.

QUESTION: With the analysis that you did of opportunities for Australia on JSF, did you do a fair and equal comparison with opportunities on Eurofighter? Did you do an equal comparison with opportunities on the DASO aircraft?

ROBERT HILL: Our decision was primarily driven by the capability of the aircraft. The first issue that Cabinet looked, what was really the driving influence for Cabinet, was our belief, on advice, that this would be the aircraft that we need to meet our capability requirements. And then we looked to the best opportunity for Australian investment.
So it hasn't been driven by an Australian industry choice. We actually think that there'll be very good opportunities for Australian business in this project. But the project decision, to the extent that it's been made now, has been primarily driven by our capability requirements.

QUESTION: How did you compare the technical aspects then? How did you decide on JSF ahead of Eurofighter or ahead of Rafael if you do no technical evaluation?

ROBERT HILL: Because on the basis of the information provided to the aircraft, they see this aircraft as at least a generation ahead of the others that you've mentioned. So the issue is whether you invest for the short term or you invest for the longer term. And, in terms of capability, the advice of the Air Force to us is that there's really no choice.

QUESTION: Okay, well how did Air Force, though, do the comparison? And what opportunity was given to the two European offers to actually go through? Because you said, 'Repeat delegations to the United States. You were given multiple offers by Rafael and by Eurofighter and an offer to yourself on 7th...

ROBERT HILL: We know the aircraft. Rafael's operating off a French aircraft carrier. Good information on the British, or the European alternative being pressed by the British. And we know significant amount about the capability of this aircraft. And on the basis of that information, the Air Force gave us advice that there really wasn't, in terms of capability, any competition. This aircraft is at least a generation ahead of the other alternatives.
Now, if you want specifics on that, then that's a technical issue you should ask the Air Force.

QUESTION: Minister, how do you tell the Air Force that they were going to get an off-the-shelf, if you like, version of this aircraft and not an Australian gold-plated version? In other words, can taxpayers be assured that they're not going to be slugged for some extra stuff that Australia was?

ROBERT HILL: Well, part of our comfort in the decision that's been made is the fact that so many of these aircraft are to be purchased by the United States Air Force. So we lock into the technical advantages of that bulk buy. We also lock in, through investing so early in the design and development phase for having a much better understanding of the aircraft. We have, as has been said, the opportunity to get a much better transfer of technology, the codes and so forth, which has been a real problem for us in the past.
We do have our own - we'll have our own AWAC's in the air. We will be obviously critically important that the software is effectively linked into those aircraft, so we will have aspects, I suspect - I think the Air Marshal should really ask it - we'll have aspects that particularly relate to our needs. But we are not going to use that terrible expression, purchase another orphan aircraft. We're very much seeing this as part of the global Joint Strike Fighter project.

QUESTION: Is this a decision that Sir Humphrey would describe as a 'courageous minister', given that we're committing $300 million now and effectively committing ourselves to upwards of $10 billion down the track on an aircraft that's still effectively remains a paper aeroplane.

ROBERT HILL: Well, you could equally say to the Americans are they courageous in investing hundreds of billions of dollars into this particular aircraft? Have the Brits been courageous in putting two billion dollars into the development stage of this particular aircraft? Really what I guess each of us have come - have decided on advice is that this is the sound investment for the future. It just - to be quite frank, I don't think when Cabinet was convinced on the capability issue Cabinet didn't need a lot of convincing that on that basis we ought to be in it at the start rather than some way down the track.
The advantages of being in it as a partner from the beginning were overwhelming. So I would, rather than talk about it as courageous, I would have talked about it as sound and perhaps enlightened.

QUESTION: Minister, can you just tell me, just to follow Craig's question, did President Bush ask the Prime Minister in Washington recently would he meet that 15 July deadline? Would Australia meet the 15 July deadline? And can I just ask Air Marshal Houston, what's left for Air 6000 to do now with this decision made?

ROBERT HILL: Well, I don't know what, if anything, President Bush said to the Prime Minister. I've only seen the results of the briefing from the Lockheed Martin and so forth to the Prime Minister. I don't know whether the President even mentioned it to the Prime Minister.

QUESTION: Minister, would these...

ROBERT HILL: Do you want the...

QUESTION: What's left for Air 6000 to do, Air Marshal?

AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: I think what Air 6000 needs to do now is look at how we're going to fit the Joint Strike Fighter into the ADF Force structure of the future. I also think there is a need perhaps to have a look at the emerging technology of uninhabited combat air vehicles. But in terms of comparing specific aircraft types, the nine candidates, that's well and truly in the past.
And just to reinforce what we're getting into here, this is a development program that we're investing in and we've got a number of years before we make the big decision, the really big decision, to actually go out and buy the first batch of aircraft. Now, that decision will be made in 2006, 2007. That is four years downstream.
We're going to have access to all the technical information on the Joint Strike Fighter, and obviously if we were to find that there was some problem with it, we have the right to pull out. But our expectation is that because the US Government is investing in a high low mix of F22 on the one hand - and there's only 300 of those and they're three times more expensive on a platform by platform basis than the JSF - and the JSF.
They are buying 2,852 Joint Strike Fighters and three different types. That will be the core of the US Government's air combat capability. They are putting, as the Minister said, $20 billion into the development of this program.
Now, when you look at the number of platforms that we're talking about here and the fact that it is the only fifth generation aircraft and it's got stealthy characteristics which none of the other aircraft have, other than the F22 which is too expensive, I've got to tell you it's a decision that wasn't that hard for the government to make, I don't believe.
And have a look at the other aircraft. We'll take those details - take all of you in and go right through the characteristics of all the candidates. We'll be delighted to do that. But just in one simple area, stealth technology. We're talking about the battlefield of the future. We're talking about the post-F18, F1-11 era. We've got to start thinking about what that environment's going to be like.
This is an aircraft that is being designed specifically for that environment. It's not being designed for today's conditions; it's being designed for the conditions that will pertain in the 2015 to 2040 timeframe.

QUESTION: Air Marshal, could you describe for us by way of example if you'd be good enough, what role this aircraft would play in the defence of Australia? And how that compares as a priority to interoperability?
AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: Well, I think, in answer to your question, I think defence of Australia is obviously, as the White Paper says, our first priority. But as the White Paper also says, interoperability is very very important. And if you think of anything we might get involved beyond Australia, interoperability has to be a very very important factor for us to consider.
Indeed, defence of wider interests, a war on terrorism or whatever it is, interoperability with our good ally and friend the United States, is something we really need to keep a very close eye on and it's a very high priority.
But just to answer - finish the question. In terms of the defence of Australia, what we're developing is a system, a surveillance, reconnaissance system where we will know everything that's happening out there. We've got the JOHRS [phonetic], the Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar System, other sensors, the AEW&C [phonetic] that's coming into service, so we will have incredible situational awareness in our maritime approaches in terms of the defence of Australia.
This platform will give us the ability to dominate that battle space. And the sorts of things that we'll be able to do is we'll be able to datalink the picture from the AEW&C straight into this aircraft. It may not even need to utilise some of its sensors. But it's going to have a sensor sweep that will enable it to operate in that environment with great tactical advantage.
And importantly, when we are considering our young Australians, an environment where we'll be able to survive in a much better way than we will with the sort of technology that's deployed here and now today.
QUESTION: Air Marshal, given that the - how superior is the F22 to this aircraft? And what are the chances of someone else developing an aircraft that is significantly superior to this in the time between now and when we've got them operational?
AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: Lockheed Martin make the F22, Lockheed Martin are making the Joint Strike Fighter, Lockheed Martin are only producing a small number of F22s because it is so expensive. As you're probably aware, the program leverages off the development of the F22. So a lot of the features of the F22, a lot of the experience from the F22 is going to be applied to this program. I mean that's why we have - that's why we have a lot of confidence in the Joint Strike Fighter.
Cast your mind back to the last time there was a big fighter program being developed around the late 70s early 80s, the American approach was the high end low end mix. They had the F15 at the top end and they had the F18/F16 as the multi-role fighter. We, at that time, didn't go for the F22 at the time because at that stage the F15 was too expensive. We went for the F18 which provided us with a multi-role capability. And, as you know, it served us very very well.
And it's a similar circumstances that we've got at the moment. The F22, there's only 300 of those being produced. And frankly I can't see any more of them being produced. And to get into that sort of program would be prohibitively expensive and I don't think would serve Australia's needs as well as the JFS program where we've got the opportunity to buy a multi-role platform that will replace both the F18 and the F1-11.
QUESTION: Minister Macfarlane to talk about the industry benefits that might flow from this. The Executive Director of Australian Industry Group...
ROBERT HILL: Sorry, I don't think the second part of the question was answered. It was really is there a possibility of another aircraft being developed in this timeframe that would be competitive.
AIR MARSHAL HOUSTON: Sorry. No, in terms of - at this stage there is no - there are no indications along those lines. The only fifth generation aircraft that's being fielded is the Joint Strike Fighter. And beyond the Joint Strike Fighter we're probably going to get into the uninhabited combat air vehicles that I think you mentioned earlier on.
QUESTION: Minister, you talked about the industry benefits that might flow from this to Australia. On the 3rd June the Executive Director of the Australian Industry Group's Defence Council, Lee Purnell, wrote to Under Secretary Roach, advising, 'That any decision to invest exclusively in one solution prior to a complete value for money assessment would be seen by Australian industry as the worst possible Air 6000 outcome.' Would you care to comment on that?
IAN MACFARLANE: I'm happy to do it. I don't think there's any doubt that this decision provides enormous opportunity for all the aerospace industry in Australia, including those who perhaps were backing rival bids. The earlier the final decision is made the better, in terms of those participants in rival bids being able to actually move across to this project.
And I know for one - I know of one company already who would be able to participate in this particular project in the Joint Strike Fighter project, were involved in the Eurofighter project.
In terms of the full assessment being done, in terms of the cost benefits, I have absolute faith that the Air Force have done that. And in terms of value for money, the submission that have been made to Cabinet indicated that this was not only the best fighter available in terms of what the government needed, but also in terms of its value for money. It was quite exemplary.
QUESTION: Mr Macfarlane, which are the Australian companies that are best placed to benefit from involvement in this project? You mentioned aerospace companies. There could, I suppose, be some other types of companies as well. Which are the companies we're talking about here who are best placed? What sort of number of jobs are we talking about?
IAN MACFARLANE: Well, in terms of that process, that is very much in its early days. But my department travelled to the United States, spoke to Lockheed Martin and as a result of that, Lockheed Martin visited Australia. And they identified a significant number. But in particular, said there were at least 10 companies that would be a real chance in terms of participating in both the development and potentially the construct of this aircraft.
And in particular, five that they would place at very short odds. Now, they didn't pass those names to me, but I'm confident that based on Australia's already significant capability in this area and the fact that one supplier who's name eludes me, is actually already involved that we will see significant involvement by Australian aerospace companies or Australian-based subsidiaries of aerospace companies in this project.
And as I said in my opening comments, if we get 1% of this project and it's worth four billion dollars, if we actually do what many expect and get up to 2% of this project because of the decision of the government to put in this $300 million and get involved in the development, it gives us a real opportunity not only to ensure that some of the requirements are suited to what we as a country require from this aeroplane in terms of the development phase and ensuring that the technology is what will work not only globally but here in Australia.
But the second big advantage is that we may be able to double our participation in this project to 2%, which is worth $8 billion.
UNIDENTIFIED: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. No, ladies and gentlemen, the Ministers have got a busy schedule.
QUESTION: This is a multi-billion dollar acquisition. I think we're entitled to a few more questions, given that it's taxpayer's dollars.
UNIDENTIFIED: I'm sure there'll be opportunities at a later stage. The Ministers do have a busy schedule. We have got a short video of this aircraft, which we will play now. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Just quickly, Senator Hill, though, you said this was ultimately the largest military procurement in Australia's history...
ROBERT HILL: If I answer this one then I'll have to go on. I really have to go back to the Senate. It's a difficult day in the Senate today...

 

F-111s refurbished
By Ian McPhedran
24jun02
http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,4566789%255E2,00.html

THE RAAF's 28 ageing F-111 strike aircraft are being fitted with second-hand wings from old US Air Force planes stored in the Arizona desert.

The RAAF fleet was grounded in February this year when a wing being tested in a laboratory cracked about a metre from the tip.

Only 13 planes with the newest wings are flying while 15 remain grounded awaiting new wing sets.

The RAAF is the only air force still operating the F111 aircraft, known affectionately as "pigs".

The air force equipped its F-111s with wings about a metre longer than those which were used by the US when it flew the 1960s-built swing wing strike bombers.

The extra length boosted range by 5 per cent.

The RAAF was shocked by the wing failure and is buying 30 second-hand sets of newer but shorter wings for about $80,000 a set.

They will come from the world's biggest aircraft storage in Arizona, known as the "bone yard".

It will cost much more to ship and refurbish them.

The RAAF has taken delivery of seven second-hand wing sets, another four are in storage and a new set will be delivered every two weeks until all 30 new sets are in place.

It costs taxpayers about $225 million a year to keep the F111s flying and by the end of their lives in 2015 that figure will be more than $500 million.

Air force chief Air Marshal Angus Houston said the wing that failed in the lab was being stress tested well beyond its operating limits.

"It failed in a place we didn't expect. We could go long wing, but . . . we found a flaw in the long wing that doesn't exist in the short wing," he said.

The aircraft have also had problems with fuel leaks and contaminants in fuel tanks.

Air Marshal Houston said all the problems would be fixed and the F-111 was still a very capable aircraft.

Many analysts believe the bombers were a key factor in Indonesia's thinking during the tense days of the East Timor stand-off in late 1999.

The RAAF bought 24 F-111 C models in 1973, another four A models in the 1980s and 15 G models in 1992.

It has lost eight aircraft and now has 35 based at Amberley RAAF base in Ipswich.

Of those, 28 are operational, five are used for spares and two are hulks. The F-111s are due to be phased out between 2015 and 2020. The date depends on factors such as funding, running costs and replacement aircraft.

The F111s will be continually upgraded with electronic warfare self-protection and better weapons systems.

Courier-Mail

 

FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE

June 2002
From Nathern Dix..

Today I was reading over the proceedings from the Senate estimate committees when i came across some interesting information about the servicability of the F-111 in RAAF service. The transcript of the conversation goes as follows:

Senator CALVERT—There has been a problem with wing cracking in some of the F111s or one of the F111s and they are changing the wings on them by using replacement wings from the United States, from some of their mothballed F111s. Is that program working successfully? How many F111s do we have that are airworthy at the moment? Has it affected the capacity of our F111s in their role? When do you believe that that program will be completed? Has it been an expensive program?

Air Marshal Houston (Chief of the Air Force - RAAF)—If I could just indulge you for a little while, I will give you a summary on all those things. Perhaps I will start with the fact that we manage the fleet in a particular way. You would know that back in 1973 we bought 24 F111Cs and then in 1993 we got some F111Gs. The F111Gs were bought by the previous government. The only funding that was provided was $A79 million. There was no funding for flying those additional aircraft or indeed maintaining those additional aircraft. In fact, because the G models were coming up for retirement from the US Air Force they were all due for servicing. We took on board those aircraft so that we could extend the life of the F111.

We had a project a few years ago to upgrade all the F111s to the same standard. That was Air 5404. But that fell by the wayside because, obviously, it was expensive. The way we are operating the F111 now is we have 28 aircraft that we use for flying activities. There is a total of 35. We rotate 17 F111Cs, four RF111Cs and seven G models through the flying pool. There are two aircraft that are just hulks, really, and we have taken all the spare parts for them. You could call the other aircraft ‘attrition spares’. I stress the reason we do this is we got no additional funding when we got the F111Gs to either maintain them or operate them. Because they are completely different configurations from the C model and they do not have a precision strike capability, we use them primarily for training. So those seven G models we use for training. When we did the fatigue testing it was not an F111 that we were testing; it was just a wing. The wing failed during routine testing that we have been doing for a number of years. It was unexpected. As a consequence of that our technical airworthiness people had a look at it and determined that the safe flying limit for the long wings that we were operating meant that 15 aircraft would have to have new wings to operate again. Those 15 aircraft are eight RC models and seven RG models. In other words, all the G models were affected by this. The fix for the problem was to have a look at what was available in the United States at Davis-Monthan at AMARC. We were able to find some really good wings in the United States. We already had four sets of wings in the store, and we have since received another seven sets. We expect to get a delivery of every other set, one every fortnight, until we get 26 wing sets. Those wing sets have cost us next to nothing. In fact, most of the cost involved with getting them is to do with transportation and putting the wings through wing bay servicing at Boeing Australia at Amberley.

The prognosis is that we will be able to remediate the wing problem very easily and relatively cheaply. While we are doing this, we are continuing to maintain a very good level of operational capability. Indeed, we will fly almost the same rate of effort this year as we flew last year, with the remaining aircraft that still have life in the wings. We recently participated in the exercise up in Malaysia—the air defence exercise run by the headquarters integrated area defence system as part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements. The three aircraft that went there flew 110 hours over two weeks and maintained outstanding serviceability. We are also running a conversion course. I am very content with where we sit right now with the F111. There seems to be a notion around that the way we operate the F111 means that we have to have every aircraft fully serviceable. We have 28 aircraft. If we had absolutely no problems at the moment, we would have the seven G models doing training; they would not all be serviceable all the time, but we would have enough to meet the training effort. Of the remaining 20, four would be in deeper level maintenance and another four would be in the upgrade program for the new modifications that we are putting into the aircraft. The only aircraft we need to have serviceable are those required to meet our preparedness and training requirements. If we had everything going according to Hoyle, we would fly about 3,600 hours a year. Last year, we flew 2,757 hours; this year, we will fly almost the same: about 2,700 hours. The outlook for next year is about 3,200 hours at this stage, which is getting back towards the 3,600 hours that we would want to fly for the foreseeable future.

Senator CALVERT—Out of your 28 aircraft, you have eight C models that would have the highest capabilities for high performance F111s; the others are training, are they not? You said that you had eight C models that are up to scratch at the moment. They would have the full avionics and would have been upgraded. So they would be providing the A1 capabilities that you require, given that the G models are used for training and the other four that you have are being serviced.

Air Marshal Houston—At the moment, we have 21 C models.

Senator CALVERT—Out of the 28, you have eight that are absolutely 100 per cent at the moment—the C models, right?

Air Marshal Houston—We have eight that are available for flying now.

Senator CALVERT—And that is sufficient, in your opinion?

Air Marshal Houston—We are maintaining our capability with the aircraft. Bear in mind that we are not standing still. We have all those new wings coming in; they are being fitted to the aircraft to replace the wings that are obviously not good enough.

Senator CALVERT—The new wings are shorter, are they not, and decrease the range somewhat? Air Marshal Houston—I will explain that too. Eventually we will go to the short wing, but at the moment there are airworthiness considerations with underwing stores and other factors that need to be considered—for example, the wings have to be rewired, and so on. We will re-equipment these aircraft with new long wings. It is very easy to extend these wings so that they are long wings. We will use those initially and, once we have the airworthiness and certification issues resolved—and that obviously requires some testing, for example, of underwing tanks or underwing weapons on a shorter wing—we will go across to the short wings. The short wings have a much longer life than the long wings and they will take us through to whatever withdrawal date the government requires.

Senator CALVERT—I am sure my colleague Cameron Thompson in the other place will be very pleased to hear all that.

CHAIR—What model, if any, is used for reconnaissance now?

Air Marshal Houston—The C model. We have four of the F111Cs.

CHAIR—Was it always the case that G models were never used for reconnaissance?

Air Marshal Houston—No, the G model has always remained in the same configuration as it was when we bought it. It does not have a precision strike capability nor a reconnaissance capability.

Here ended the conversation re the F-111 and the committee moved onto other matters. A complete transcript of the proceedings can be obtained from: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/s5553.pdf


DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE MEDIA RELEASE
PACC  240/02 Wednesday, 22 May, 2002
F-111 FUTURE ASSURED
Claims made today regarding F-111 availability numbers are wrong.  The number of aircraft flown during the November 2001 to February 2002 period reflects the planned program to achieve the F-111s readiness requirements and other training needs. Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Angus Houston said, "we continue to maintain an operational strike capability." A recent demonstration of F-111 capability was the deployment of three F-111s for a Five-Power Defence Arrangement exercise in Malaysia last month. Flying in realistic and demanding operational conditions, the aircraft produced excellent results and met all exercise objectives. The three aircraft flew 110 Hours over a two-week period maintaining outstanding serviceability. "The F-111s performed extremely well in Malaysia and crew conversion and operational training is also on going. "Preparations are underway for F-111 participation in a major exercise (Red Flag) in the US later this year. "The crews are as well prepared as any that have attended Red Flag before," he said. Costs for maintenance are increasing however they are in line with Air Force expectations and normal trends in regard to older aircraft.
Project Air 6000 was established to determine replacement options for both the F-111 and F/A-18. Air 6000 is ongoing and is part of the Defence Capability Plan derived from the Defence 2000 White Paper.
Issued by Public Affairs and Corporate Communication, Department of Defence, Canberra, ACT
Media Releases are available via email if you register at the Media Centre at www.defence.gov.au

 

Nation 'won't be vulnerable'
From AAP
05Oct01


THE Federal Government's commitment of forces to the looming US-led war on terrorism would not leave Australians at home at risk, Defence Minister Peter Reith has said.

Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday Australia would make available up to 150 Special Air Services (SAS) soldiers and two RAAF 707 refuelling aircraft.

Australia will also consider providing long-range surveillance aircraft, possibly P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft or RAAF RF-111C reconnaissance aircraft, and an amphibious command capability available through either HMAS Kanimbla or HMAS Manoora.

The frigate HMAS Anzac would remain on duty with the US Fifth Fleet, policing sanctions against Iraq in the Persian Gulf.

Mr Reith said altogether the commitment would involve about 1,000 personnel.

"The SAS is about 150 people, for the two of those 707s you would need about 100 personnel, for the long-range surveillance aircraft the same sort of number - about 100 for the two of them," Mr Reith told ABC Radio.

"Then, on top of that, we have one ship (the Anzac) already in the Gulf, that's a couple of hundred, and if we were to deploy Manoora or Kanimbla ... they have a complement of about 200 and also we would probably look at an escort frigate, which is another couple of hundred.

"That gives you 600 on the navy side, plus a couple of hundred on the RAAF side, that's 800 plus the SAS, that's 950 and maybe a few others."

However, the commitment would not adversely affect the defence force's ability to protect Australia, Mr Reith said.

"...We have obviously given very close consideration to our force structure at home and our ability to deal with various scenarios," he said.

"We have taken this decision in terms of availability on the basis of the expert military advice that we have all the capability we need at home."

This report appears on news.com.au.

MEDIA RELEASE

PACC 345/01
Friday 7 September 2001

AIR FORCE TO PUT PEOPLE FIRST FOLLOWING INQUIRY

The Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Angus Houston, has today released the Report of the Board of Inquiry (BOI) that investigated fuel-tank maintenance programs conducted on the Air Force's fleet of F-111 Strike/Reconnaissance aircraft.

The Report of the BOI makes 53 recommendations to Air Force as a result of the Inquiry, all of which have been accepted by Air Marshal Houston.

As a result of the Board's findings, Air Force has set up a dedicated implementation team which will form part of a Defence effort to ensure a safe working environment for all uniformed personnel.

Importantly, the Board found that the health symptoms currently being experienced by workers on the various Deseal/Reseal programs are 'reasonably attributable' to exposure to chemicals used in the maintenance processes conducted on F-111 fuel tanks.

A Department of Veterans' Affairs study into the health of affected workers and their immediate families will start later this year which will provide a scientific basis for future treatment issues.

The provision of health care for affected personnel remains the immediate concern of the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Angus Houston.

Air Marshal Houston said, "While the Board of Inquiry has confirmed that Air Force OH&S practices in relation to the Deseal/Reseal programs were unacceptable, my first priority is for the health and welfare of serving and ex-members of the Air Force.

"I want people to know that today's Air Force puts people first, and that includes families.

"While we cannot change the past, we can ensure that the current and future working environments are safe for our people.

"Additionally, Air Force is working with the Department of Veterans' Affairs to ensure appropriate health care for F-111 fuel tank maintenance workers.

To further support the needs of Deseal/Reseal workers, Air Force has appointed an Advocate whose role will be to help all affected personnel with health, compensation and support services that have been made available by Air Force and Veterans' Affairs.

"The Advocate will have direct access to me to ensure a link between affected individuals and myself is maintained," he said.

Later today, Air Marshal Houston will speak with Air Force personnel involved in F-111 maintenance, and later, with representatives of ex-Air Force F-111 fuel tank workers.

"While Air Force has a crucial role to play in the defence of Australia's national interests, I will not ignore the needs of my people," Air Marshal Houston said.

For further information
Ms Emma Diffen, Defence Media Liaison(02) 6265 2661 or 0414 345 741

DVA's F-111 Deseal/Reseal Health Care Scheme Hotline 1800 728 007

Defence Internet: www.defence.gov.au/RAAF/F111DSRS

DVA Internet: www.dva.gov.au

SYNOPSIS OF THE F111 DESEAL RESEAL BOARD OF INQUIRY

Introduction

The Report of the F111 Deseal Reseal Board of Inquiry was handed to Chief of Air Force (CAF) on 2 July 2001.  An independent legal review and a comprehensive internal Defence review of that Report has since been undertaken.  The legal review has advised CAF that the report is legally correct while the internal review has concluded that the recommendations can be accepted.

As a number of those recommendations have Defence-wide implications, and therefore cannot be undertaken by the Chief of Air Force, he has sought the involvement of the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary for Defence.  Both CDF and the Secretary have been briefed as to the outcomes of the Inquiry and have consequently recommended  to the Minister acceptance of all of the Inquiry's recommendations and findings.  The Minister has accepted their advice and approved release of the Report to the public.

Background

The F111, unlike many military and civilian aircraft, does not have bladders to contain fuel.  Various spaces within the F111 fuselage are utilised as integral fuel tanks, however, to ensure their integrity, they have to be sealed.  When the F111 was designed, a sealant that could withstand environmental conditions arising from supersonic flight was developed to bond fuselage panels.

Fuel leaks were soon discovered after being introduced into service.   Those leaks were traced to the fuel tanks where it was found that the panel sealant was extruding and breaking the seal on the inside of the tanks.  Initially these cracks were patched on a piecemeal basis until it was decided to completely strip the internal tank sealant and reapply a new seal.  The bonding on the fuselage panels could not be rectified without dismantling the whole aircraft.

The Deseal Reseal Programs

In 1979, and until the early 1980s,  the first 'Deseal Reseal' (DSRS) Program started using a chemical and mechanical desealing process at Amberley.  Over a six month period each aircraft was subject to RAAF maintenance workers entering the fuel tanks, setting up apparatus to spray a softening agent (SR51), laboriously removing the sealant by hand and then preparing the surface for new sealant.  This sealant consisted of two coats of a putty-like substance which had to be applied by hand.  In all of this, RAAF staff had to wear protective clothing as the chemicals and sealant were known to be toxic.

The work was dirty, stressful, and workers were exposed to foul smelling chemicals which led to them being ostracized by their colleagues in recreational areas.  Families complained of the residual stench emanating from the workers' bodies which even stained their bedsheets.


The second DSRS program occurred in the late 1980s after it is was found that the fuel tanks had begun to leak again.  This time the deseal/reseal process was undertaken by contractors under the supervision of RAAF staff, and did not involve the chemical SR51 given the previous problems.

By 1992 the USAF had developed a 'respray' process which involved cleaning the fuel tanks and spraying new sealant over the residual and cracking sealant.  This process involved RAAF staff entering the fuel tanks, and while wearing protective clothing, cleaning and spraying new sealant.

The 501 Wing Investigation

Late in 1999 a Senior NCO in the F111 fuel tank maintenance cell noticed a number of RAAF members with apparently similar health problems of headaches, nausea, short term memory loss, mood swings and skin disorders.  By early in 2000 medical staff became alarmed and contacted the CO of the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron who immediately suspended   the respray program.  On Friday 29 January the Officer Commanding 501 Wing was informed of the problems.  On Monday 31 January he appointed an Investigating Officer to determine if the symptoms  staff were exhibiting were connected to the respray program.

The Board of Inquiry

Several weeks into the investigation, the Chief of Air Force was approached with concerns that there were possibly problems, not only with the respray program, but with F111 fuel tank maintenance since 1973.  Given the magnitude of the possible implications, CAF decided to appoint a Board of Inquiry with wide-ranging Terms of Reference.  The Board convened on 19 July 2000 and was provided with a budget of $7.2 million.   Counsel assisting the Board interviewed some 700 people, searched through 1.5 millions pages of documents to build a data base for the public hearings.  After several weeks of sittings the hearings were completed on 28 May 2001.

The Board's Deliberations

The Board's principal finding is that the health symptoms that DSRS workers currently experience or demonstrate are reasonably attributable to their earlier exposure.  It is on this basis that the Board estimates there to be in excess of 400 workers who have suffered long-term damage to their health.

The Board determined at the outset that it would be unnecessary and inappropriate to pursue individual cases of possible improper action, or inaction.  This was particularly appropriate as these events occurred over a 27 year period and many people had subsequently left the Service.

The Board found that there were a number of systemic failures, described in the Report as the 'causal pathways to the outcome'.  The Air Force medical service was seen as failing in particular by the low priority given to occupational medicine.  A second factor identified as an immediate cause was the relative powerlessness of maintenance workers.  Complaints were effectively ignored. 

At the level of immediate causes, exposure to toxic chemicals was the main focus of the Inquiry. Exposure was possible,  the Board found, as the Air Force was relying totally on personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect its workers from the many hazards involved in working with toxic substances in confined spaces.

Given the reliance on personal protective equipment, problems arose with the appropriateness of protective equipment for the tasks at hand, the availability and control of that equipment through the supply network, and the failure of some workers to wear the equipment, coupled with an inadequate compliance system.

A final failure, and in some respects, most fundamental of all failures, was that of the chain of command to operate optimally.  SNCOs put up with a variety of inadequacies in PPE, equipment failures and ventilation problems without raising them through the chain of command because of the expectation that they resolve things.  There was also a particular weak link in the chain of command between the SNCOs and junior engineering officers who had too broad a span of responsibilities.  Senior officers were also suffering extreme work overload; in particularly during the latest spray seal program, from conflicting priorities due to impending commercial support testing.  As a consequence, senior officers had little understanding of what was occurring on the hangar floor.  These weaknesses of the chain of command also stem from government policy decisions which have affected workforce numbers, and a reliance on contractor support.

The Recommendations

There are 53 recommendations provided by the Board of Inquiry to rectify the problems uncovered.  The Board's intent, while addressing the F-111 specific issues, has also been to set the scene for Occupational Health and Safety for the next generation of the Defence Force.  The recommendations have been accepted by all levels of Defence and the Minister, and are fully explained in Volume 1 and listed in Appendix 3 of the Report. To understand the underlying tenor and theme of each recommendation, it is important that it be read in context to the content of the report.

Implementing the Recommendations

As many of the areas under scrutiny have been removed from within the Air Force Program and now reside in Service Provider Programs, CAF has sought support from the Chief of the Defence Force to implement changes.  This will result in Defence-wide changes requiring a most comprehensive review of workplace safety issues. 

A team of specialists, with expertise in workplace safety, health, training and project management is forming within Defence and is expected to start activities in January 2002.

In the meantime a number of initiatives have started in anticipation of the Board's recommendations.  Air Force has established a ground safety agency; an audit of ground safety is to start shortly at a major Air Force Base; and an audit of toxic substances used across Defence is underway.

Information concerning the Inquiry will be passed to those involved and also the wider community through the media and via the website at http://www.defence.gov.au/RAAF/F111DSRS.

To assist those who have been involved in fuel tank maintenance, a suitably qualified and experienced 'advocate', or 'airmen's friend', will be appointed to provide guidance to maintenance workers and link with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure these people have appropriate guidance and assistance in preparing claims and seeking assistance.  The advocate also has direct access to the Chief of Air Force.
The Health Study

A major activity about to start before the end of 2001 is the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Study of maintenance workers and their next of kin being undertaken on behalf of Defence.  The health study will ascertain how the health of those who participated in the deseal/reseal program has been affected.  It will do this by medically examining the participants and then comparing the results with an appropriately selected control group.

The Way Ahead

The Defence Workplace Safety Project Office will be charged with implementing the recommendations of the Board of Inquiry.  This Project Office will also be required to report to VCDF on the progress of these initiatives on a regular basis.

Department of Defence
Media Release


MEDIA RELEASE

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE
PACC 301/01 Thursday, 16 August 2001

DEFENCE AND BOEING AUSTRALIA SIGN F-111 MAINTENANCE CONTRACTS

The Department of Defence and Boeing Australia have signed a 10-year contract for the on-going maintenance and logistic support of the RAAF's F-111 strike aircraft based at Amberley in Queensland.

The out-sourcing of F-111 aircraft maintenance is part of the Defence schedule of commercialisation and these contracts represent a significant investment in ensuring the future viability of Australia's front-line strike aircraft.

Held at the Amberley base near Ipswich today, the signing ceremony also included a standing offer for future upgrades under the F-111 Block Upgrade Program.

Under the new arrangements Boeing Australia will be responsible for aircraft and airframe component maintenance as well as associated logistic support, and managing the incorporation of a series of upgrade programs designed to maintain the capability of the F-111s.  The company will undertake the work at Amberley and is expected to double its current maintenance workforce on the base from the existing 250 staff to about 500 personnel.

Today's contract signing demonstrates the Department's commitment to the Federal Government's policy of building strategic partnerships with Australian industry and will provide flow-on long-term economic benefits to the local community.  The contracts are also part of a coordinated strategy to involve Australian industry in supporting the aircraft and associated systems through to 2020 when the fleet is expected to be withdrawn from service.

Signatories to the contracts were the Head of Aerospace Systems Division of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), Air Vice-Marshal Ray Conroy, representing the Department, and Mr Colin Giles, General Manager Military Aerospace Support, on behalf of Boeing Australia.


MEDIA RELEASE

PACC 262/01
Thursday 26th July 2001

NEW TEST FACILITY TO HELP MAINTAIN F-111 FLEET

A new purpose-built facility designed to test the structural durability of Australia's F-111 fleet was officially handed over to the RAAF at its Amberley F-111 base in Queensland today.

The Cold Proof Load Test facility, constructed and commissioned by Lockheed Martin Australia Limited, was officially opened by the Under Secretary Defence Materiel, Mr Mick Roche.

The facility is designed to proof test the F-111 airframe which is a vital component of managing the aircraft's structural integrity and assuring the fleet remains a viable capability until its planned withdrawal in 2020.

The test identifies any flaws or deficiencies in the high strength steel structure of the airframe, which could lead to an in-flight failure and is obviously best done on the ground under controlled conditions. Successful completion of the proof test clears the aircraft for up to 2000 flying hours before another test is required.

Mr Roche said the new facility marked a significant milestone in assuring the continued operation of the F-111 fleet which forms the core of Australia's strike capability.

"The decision to construct the facility at Amberley reinforces the role that the base and local community plays in maintaining the fleet and its capability," he said.

"This form of testing was previously done in the United States but with the retirement of the United States Air Force's F-111 fleet, overseas proof testing facilities have been decommissioned.  Australia is now the sole operator of the F-111 and establishing an Australian capability was the preferred option for supporting our fleet," he said.

The test procedure itself involves applying a critical design limit load, or pressure, to the structure using hydraulic rams and a 77 tonne test fixture while the airframe is subjected to a temperature of  -40 degrees Celsius. The combined effect subjects the aircraft to the maximum loads it was designed to endure during normal flying operations and under extreme loads the wing tips can deflect up to 1.2 metres from their normal position.

Mr Roche said the facility consisted of a new building with refurbished test fixtures from decommissioned overseas facilities and a new control and data system.

The $25 million contract was signed with Lockheed Martin Australia Limited in February 2000. There were two main subcontractors; Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company (Fort Worth Texas) which constructed the control and data system and provided the integration services, and John Holland Pty Ltd which refurbished the test fixture and constructed the new building.

Mr Roche said the project had generated more jobs in the area and had been widely supported by Australian industry. He said two aircraft had now gone through the test facility, the first on July 12, within two weeks of the original contract schedule and on cost.


 

MEDIA RELEASE
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE
PACC 036/01 Thursday, 1 March 2001

AIR FORCE 5 POINT PLAN DEALS WITH F-111 DESEAL/RESEAL HEALTH CONCERNS

The Royal Australian Air Force is tonight hosting a Public Forum in Ipswich, Queensland, to outline the Air Force's five point plan to address health issues arising from the F-111 Deseal/Reseal programs and to listen to the concerns of possible affected personnel.

The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Errol McCormack, who will address tonight's meeting, said the Air Force is holding the meeting to alert personnel to potential health problems arising from the Deseal/Reseal programs and to discuss with them any concerns they may have.

"Health concerns have been raised and Air Force treats these concerns very seriously," he said.

"While the exact nature and extent of the possible health issues which our people may face is not yet known, it is important that all of those involved are fully informed of the possible risks and that they are aware of the medical assistance options available to them should they be required."

Since the introduction of the F-111 aircraft into Australian service, a range of fuel tank repair programs (Desealing/Resealing) were completed by both military and civilian personnel.

"As a result of health concerns of personnel involved in the Deseal/Reseal programs, Air Force commenced an investigation in January 2000 into Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) practices. At the same time, Air Force halted all Deseal/Reseal work until enhanced OH&S practices were put in place."

The Air Force has now convened an independent Board of Inquiry to determine all the relevant facts surrounding current and past Deseal/Reseal processes and to make recommendations concerning OH&S regimes.

"The Board of Inquiry will commence full hearings from 19 March 2001 and is expected to sit for around six weeks. The Board of Inquiry is open to the public and has the full support of the Air Force, Australian Defence Force and the Federal Government in the course of its Inquiry."

"In order to support the Board of Inquiry, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) has set up a Health Study to assist the Air Force in determining the full extent of the health issues involved and to make recommendations on the health management of personnel affected by the program.

"Because of the complex nature of the health study, the final results may not be available until mid 2002.  In the interim, it is vital that anyone who is experiencing unexplained health conditions, or is concerned about their current state of health, seek early medical advice."

Serving members should contact their Health Services Flight, while former members and civilians should telephone DVA on 1800 502 302 in the first instance for further information as to how they can obtain medical assistance.

"As Chief of Air Force I am committed to ensuring that Air Force provides a safe workplace for all personnel.  The health and well-being of all personnel is of paramount importance," he said.

Media Contact
Richard Hogan - Defence Media Liaison, Canberra   
(02) 6265 2913 or 0419 621 753

Defence Media Editors Note: Background information on the F-111 Deseal/Reseal process, the Board of Inquiry and the Health Study are attached.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

F-111 Deseal/Reseal Programs
* The fuel tanks on the F-111 aircraft need to comprehensively sealed to prevent leakage. To achieve this a regular program is employed which involves the manual removal (Deseal) and re-application (Reseal) of material that prevents fuel escaping through the aircraft's fuel tanks.
* Since the F-111 was introduced into Air Force service in 1973 a total of three airframe and one wing Deseal/Reseal programs have been conducted.
* As a result of growing concerns about the health of the Deseal/Reseal workforce Air Force appointed an Investigation Officer to examine procedures involved in the program.
* In January 2000 the Deseal/Reseal program was halted pending further investigation of the Occupational Health and Safety issues involved.
* As a result of the initial Investigation the Chief of Air Force called for a Board of Inquiry to be held to examine Occupational Health and Safety practices and procedures employed on the Deseal/Reseal programs.
* Deseal/Reseal procedures have now recommenced after the adoption of renewed OH&S standards.

The F-111 Deseal/Reseal Board of Inquiry
* When it became apparent from the initial investigation that there could be significant health problems associated with the Deseal/Reseal programs, the Chief of Air Force immediately called for a full Board of Inquiry to thoroughly investigate all Occupational Health and Safety issues associated with the program.
* The Board of Inquiry is open to the public and has been instructed to conduct an open and completely transparent inquiry.
* The members of the Board are:
o Commodore Kenneth Taylor of the Naval Reserve who is a NSW District Court Judge;
o Group Captain John Clarkson, a serving RAAF F/A 18 Aircraft Engineering Officer;
o Doctor Andrew Hopkins of the Australian National University and an expert in the field of Occupational Health & Safety
* The Board has been collecting evidence since June 2000 and held a preliminary hearing on Wednesday 28 February 2001 to hear evidence from a key witness who will be overseas when the full Board commences on 19 March 2001.
* It is expected that the Board will hear evidence from witnesses for around six weeks and that its final report will be available later this year.
* It is intended that the findings and recommendations of the Board will be made public.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs Health Study and medical assistance
* Established by Veterans' Affairs to provide a full scientific study of the health issues that may eventuate as a result of exposure to the chemicals used in the Deseal/Reseal process on the F-111 fleet.
* To ascertain the full medical effects of the chemicals used in the Deseal/Reseal process, tenders were recently called for an independent group to undertake a large scale screening project as part of the Health Study. The study team is expected to begin contacting RAAF and civilian maintenance contractors in June 2001 to arrange medical examinations.
* All current and former RAAF personnel are eligible to make a claim through the Department of Veterans' Affairs for any illness or condition related to their RAAF service.
* Results of the complete Health Study are expected to be available by mid-2002.

Issued by Public Affairs and Corporate Communication, Department of  Defence, Canberra, ACT, 2600


MEDIA RELEASE

Department of Defence

PACC  320/00 Tuesday, 31 October, 2000

INTEGRATED TEAM-WORK PAYS OFF

The Royal Australian Air Force's fleet of F-111G aircraft has been successfully updated with an advanced Digital Flight Control System.

The $32 million modification project, contracted to Lockheed Martin, follows a major avionics update for the C model aircraft in the F-111 fleet.

At a brief ceremony at the F-111 home base at Amberley Air Commodore Garry Bates, Director General Aerospace Combat Systems marked the completion of the project as a major achievement for the Defence Materiel Organisation and Defence Industry.

The ceremony represented the culmination of five years of intensive planning and technical integration efforts, all performed on time and on cost.   Air Commodore Bates presented Certificates of Appreciation to Lockheed Martin, Tenix Defence Systems, Ball Aerospace Australia and the F-111G Project Office.

Officer Commanding the recently formed Strike Reconnaissance Systems Program Office, Group Captain Gary Thies, said the use of an Integrated Project Team concept was a critical success factor for the project.

"The concept combined the technical and managerial talents of the DMO's F-111G Project Office, the F-111 Block Update Project Office at Amberley, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company (Fort Worth), and its sub-contractor Tenix Defence Systems Naval /Air Projects and Support Division, and Ball Aerospace Australia.

"The partnering approach also allowed the Project Office to trial the use of contractors providing project management services through Ball Aerospace Australia, the first 'insourcing' of this level of support from a commercial
enterprise within the DMO," he said.

Group Captain Thies said the Project Office had been confronted with a series of rapidly changing engineering criteria and a demanding integration schedule but the team remain focussed on the schedule and quality of work.

"All of the aircraft were completed ahead of an already aggressive schedule and the system functional checks were also completed without a hitch," he said.

He particularly noted the level of commitment shown by the contractors and Production Office staff associated with the installation phase.

In addition to the Digital Flight Control System, the project also included the installation of a crash data recording system, a data transfer system and an upgrade of the complex operational software in the mission computer system.

At today's ceremony, the last of the modified aircraft was handed over to the Officer Commanding No 82 Wing, Group Captain Kev Paule.


 

MEDIA RELEASE

The Hon John Moore, MP

Minister for Defence

 Friday, 18th August, 2000 MIN220/00

Boeing Preferred Tenderer for F-111 Contract

The Minister for Defence, John Moore, today announced that Boeing Australia Limited has been selected as the preferred tenderer for a major part of the long term support of Australia's F-111 aircraft.

Boeing will establish the 501 Wing F-111 Weapon System Business Unit and the complementary F-111 Block Upgrade Program at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland.

The agreement will involve Boeing in the deeper maintenance and associated integrated logistic support of the RAAF's F-111 aircraft.   The Company will also design, test and incorporate future upgrades to the F-111 weapon system. 

"These two agreements are examples of the Federal Government's policy of building strategic partnerships with Australian industry.   They are part of a coordinated strategy to establish an indigenous capability within Australian industry to support the F-111 weapon system through to its planned withdrawal from service in 2020," Mr Moore said.

"The estimated value of both contracts exceeds $500 million and will contribute significantly to increased private sector investment in the Ipswich area."

The Weapons System Business Unit contract is for a ten year period with two, five year options.  The Block Upgrade Program will cover the same period and is flexible enough to allow for the development and installation of enhancements to the F-111s, as required.

"On current planning, initial orders of around $85 million will be placed for upgrades over the next three years," said Mr Moore.

Boeing Australia Limited has extensive aerospace initiatives centred on Amberley.  Flow-on benefits from today's announcement will include enhanced infrastructure at Amberley to create in southeast Queensland a major aerospace Centre of Excellence, as well as long term increases in employment and skills.

The establishment of the Weapon System Business Unit is an outcome of the Defence Reform Program.  Outsourcing its work is estimated to achieve a realisable cost saving of $26 million over the initial ten year contract period.

Media release from the Hon. John Moore MP


 

MEDIA RELEASE

The Hon Bruce Scott MP

Minister for Veterans' Affairs; Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence

 MIN 331/99 Wednesday, November 17, 1999

F-111 FLEET GAINS DIGITAL UPGRADE

Australia's frontline F-111C strike aircraft have entered the digital age with major modifications designed to enhance their capability and maintain the swing-wing bombers' air superiority.

The RAAF and its prime contractor, Boeing Australia, marked the completion of the $A474 million upgrade today with a ceremonial rollout of the last aircraft to be updated.

Held at the F-111s' home base at Amberley in south-east Queensland, the ceremony was a major occasion for the Defence Acquisition Organisation, Boeing Australia and the Strike Reconnaissance Group which operates the aircraft.

The Avionics Update Program (AUP), as it was known, involved replacing the dated analogue systems on the aircraft with modern digital systems. The update package involved modifications to the bombing, radar, navigation, flight control and communications systems on the 21 C model F-111s in service.

Speaking at the ceremony, the Acting Minister for Defence, Mr Scott, said the avionics update was a cost-effective method of upgrading the F-111 fleet and extending its service life for another 20 years.

"With no comparable aircraft on the market or in development today, the update program was the most cost effective way to ensure we retained a viable strike capability into the next century," he said.

Mr Scott said the avionics update was a complex project and had injected significant knowledge and skills into the Australian Defence Force, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and Australian industry.

"Prototype design challenges arose and were overcome as the true complexity of the integration effort was understood and production was also more complex than originally expected but all parties have learnt valuable lessons," he said.

"The project has contributed significantly to the continued operation of Australia's premier strike and reconnaissance aircraft as well as generating a high-technology partnership between Australian industry and the Commonwealth," he said.

Mr Scott acknowledged Boeing Australia's role in the project and said although the company had inherited the contract it had shown its commitment by applying more resources and working closely with the Commonwealth to complete the program.

Boeing Australia's Managing Director, Mr David Gray, said the company was "aware of its responsibility to one of Australia's front line aircraft and since the program began had worked to form a partnership with the RAAF.

"Over the years, we have gained a great deal of expertise, a great deal of intellectual property, and also successfully integrated apprentices into the AUP program.

"At Boeing we have been proud to support the RAAF and one of their front line aircraft and look forward to continued Block upgrade work on the aircraft."

Today's activities at Amberley also involved the official opening of a new mission simulator installed by Thomson-CSF Pacific Pty Limited. Replacing the original F-111 simulator introduced at Amberley in 1969, the new simulator covers a range of training tasks. Designed to parallel the projected life span of the F-111 fleet, the simulator provides a cost effective and safe means of maintaining crew proficiency and enhancing tactical mission training in the air.

Further information:

Michael Shoebridge (Minister's Office) Ph 0416 266962

Richard Hogan (RAAF) Ph 0419 621753

 


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