Senator the Hon. Robert Hill,
Minister for Defence
Leader of the Government in the Senate

View this file as a printer friendly Microsoft Word document Printer friendly version
16 Apr 2004
160404/04
  INTERVIEW WITH NAME

PRESS CONFERENCE

Qantas lounge, Sydney

11:45am, Friday, 16 April 2004

E&oe______________________________EADS/Qantas wins refuellers, Tracey report

 

Senator Robert Hill

Well thanks for coming along. I have with me Air Marshal Houston, who’s the chief of our Air Force, Mr Brendan Roberts who’s the Chief Executive of EADS Australia, and Mr Dennis Adams who’s one of the Executive General Managers of Qantas.

The purpose of the press conference is to advise that Cabinet has made a decision on its preferred tenderer for new tanker aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force and it has chosen the Airbus A330 aircraft which will be modified as a tanker aircraft. It’s decided to proceed to a contract for five of these aircraft. The tenders were called on the basis of four aircraft, enough to provide an extra aircraft and it decided to go to the five aircraft. They will replace the three aged Boeing 707 tankers that we have. They’ll provide a massive increase in capability over the old aircraft and obviously because they are contemporary models the sustainability issues will be much improved as well.

This was a contest between Boeing on the one hand and EADS and Qantas Jet Services on the other. It was a difficult contest because American Boeing and EADS Europe which builds the airbus are really the only two manufacturers in the world that can provide this type of capability. Both aircraft would have been able to achieve the task. The Boeing 767 or the Airbus A330. The recommendation that came from Defence to Cabinet which was accepted by Cabinet, found the Airbus to have greater capability in terms of its endurance and in terms of the offload of fuel and also in terms of its cargo capability because of course this will be a multi-role aircraft for the Air Force. It’ll not only provide support for the fighters in refuelling, but it will also provide support in terms of cargo and passenger carriage. It can carry almost 300 passengers when it has to. So in terms of capability the advice was that the Airbus won the contest. In terms of value for money the Airbus also won the contest over Boeing. And in terms of support the fact that Qantas Defence services, an arm of Qantas, was part of the team and that Qantas already is operating the commercial version of the A330, obviously provided significant synergies in relation to managed maintenance and support of the Air Force version in due course. Also the successful bid was very strong on the Australian industry side. Four of the five aircraft will be modified in Brisbane at the new facility being constructed by Qantas and so there will be a considerable boost for Australian Defence industry out of this contract as well. We estimate in the vicinity of about half a billion dollars. It’ll be a boost obviously for Brisbane but for Australia as a whole. So on that basis, although as I said, both are obviously very good and capable aircraft, the advice was that the EADS/Qantas bid was a stronger bid and that was accepted by Cabinet.

This is a big project, some $2 billion in all. Obviously a great deal of careful consideration has gone into the matter. We’ll now proceed to negotiation of the final contract. Hopefully that will be signed later this year and we’re looking forward to the first aircraft coming on line in 2007. As some of you will know recently the United Kingdom chose this aircraft also as a preferred tenderer, so they have a longer process to go through because of detailed issues in relation to private financing, but it will either be us or the British who will become in effect the first launch customer for this new capability. And that’s quite an exciting thing as well because we have no doubt that over the years, this will become an aircraft of choice for this particular capability. Apart from us and the British, there is a reasonable likelihood that the French will be soon purchasing an aircraft of this type as well.

In terms of what this does for Air Force, Air Marshal Houston can speak to that further but there is no doubt that there is a greater multiplier effect in having tanker aircraft of this type. And if I just speak from my own personal experience, I was fortunate enough to be taken over Afghanistan during that conflict in one of our old 707’s when we were refuelling French aircraft. And the concept of the fact that fighter aircraft literally these days need to operate 24 hours a day to provide continuous support for troops on the ground, is not possible without tanker aircraft and a considerable number of tanker aircraft. And I think that these recent operations have illustrated just how important this capability is in terms of overall air combat capabilities. And it’s a good thing that Australia is now making this decision in building up our capability in this regard. As we say here, the aircraft will be equipped with both systems. The boom system which will feed into our new AEW&C aircraft, the Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft. But also the probe and drogue system off the wings which will be able to support our existing FA-18 Hornet aircraft. This gives us great strength and operability that they’re able to deal with both different types of requirements. Some aircraft require one system, some the other system. We’ll be able to support both types with this aircraft.

So I’d like to thank my Department, the Defence Material Organisation for its work on this project, Air Force obviously for their very considerable and professional input to date. I think it’s a good outcome for Australia. Cabinet is very confident of the decision it’s made. And I’d like to take the opportunity to congratulate EADS for making the Airbus and the success and also Qantas on taking a further step in building its defence industry capabilities in this and offering us the whole of life maintenance and support for this very important capability. Now I’ll ask Air Marshal Houston if he’d like to say a few words and I think EADS might like to say a few as well.

Air Marshal Houston:

Thank you Minister. I’m very happy with this decision. It’s a very important decision for the Air Force because we need a fairly mature air-to-air refuelling capability. And at the moment we’re not able to provide that with our aging Boeing 707 aircraft which we have a deal of difficulty maintaining because of their age. It’s also a very expensive business maintaining that capability. So with these new A330 aircraft, five of them, we’re going to see a dramatic increase in our air-to-air refuelling capability. It’s a capability that will be compatible with the Air Force of the present but importantly will be fairly compatible with the Air Force of the future that we’re building around the Joint Strike Fighter.

The aircraft is, as recent events have shown, or should I say this capability as recent events have shown is an absolute vital capability in Air Forces. The Minister mentioned his experience in Afghanistan but if you have a look at all modern air warfare, air-to-air refuelling is a vital enabler for all types of air combat operations and indeed some surveillance operations. This aircraft will be capability of doing everything that we require in the air-to-air refuelling mode. I should also say that it’s a very flexible aircraft because it will also be able to perform a secondary role of air transport in a very effective way. Carrying 293 people, usually troops and eight military pallets in the cargo hold, it will give us an incredible capability to move people wherever we need to move them. And if you think about the possibilities that we’ve seen in recent times - we have conducted evacuation operations from places around the world, this aircraft will be a very good capability for that because not only does it have this incredible lift capability, it will also have self protection against shoulder fired missiles. And in this environment we have today with the proliferation of terrorism and the proliferation of those sorts of weapons, I think that’s a vital capability for us now and into the future. I think I might leave it there. I’m very pleased with this decision. It gives us a massive increase in both air-to-air refuelling capability and also a fair lift capability and it’s a good day for the Royal Australian Air Force. Thank you.

Brendan Roberts

Thank you Minister, Air Marshal Houston. On behalf of EADS it is a very proud day for EADS. Anybody who manages to convince the Royal Australian Air Force of the merits of their aircraft has a very big job in front of them because they are highly professional. And from EADS point of view to get the seal of approval from the Royal Australian Air Force it’s a great reference, makes us very proud indeed. Firstly we appreciated the opportunity to bid in the first place. There is a lot of work being done in conjunction with the wonderful partner, Qantas Defence, between us over many months a lot of hard work. We put in the best bid possible and I’m very proud to say that we’ve achieved success today and we hope and expect our negotiations to be smooth and rapidly concluded. We look forward very much that in the future to a mutually rewarding and mutually beneficial relationship with the Royal Australian Air Force from now on. Thank you very much.

Senator Hill:

Any questions?

Journalist:

Senator you say that it’s a much necessary boost for the Air Force. Are you saying that we’re under-equipped to fight in Iraq at the moment?

Senator Hill:

In Iraq? Well we don’t use our tanker aircraft in Iraq, no. We used them for Afghanistan. We had a specific deployment. We are …

Journalist:

What about protecting our own country from terrorism ...

Senator Hill:

…When our Hornets were operating in Iraq, they were relying on the tanker capability of coalition partners.

Journalist:

What about terrorism protection?

Senator Hill:

In relation to in air refuellers? Well as I said the operation in Afghanistan was directed at al Qaeda, it was leading an international terrorist movement. And it couldn’t have been effectively prosecuted without tanker aircraft. And that was – and what’s been found around the world is that the tanker aircraft are ageing fleets and as well as that there is a shortage. What is needed if you go to say the United States and talk about capability boosts, high on their list they will put in-air refuelling capabilities. Now this significantly enhances our capabilities. It depends on how you calculate it, but some are arguing that this will give us a nine fold increase in capability over what we have at the moment.

Journalist:

Will the equipment that we currently have adequately protect us until 2007 when the new Airbuses are in the fleet?

Senator Hill:

Yes. Well we’ve had the 707s for a long time. They have just been, had a major overhaul after they came back from Afghanistan and they’ll be able to continue through to a time when they are replaced by these aircraft.

Journalist:

You speak about capabilities, but in layman’s terms can you explain what air-to-air refuelling is and also what these aircraft will be used for in the future?

Senator Hill:

Well if we talk about fighter aircraft, basically it means that they can be refuelled in the air, they don’t have to come back to a landing strip to be refuelled. And therefore the only endurance issue is really the human one, the pilots. Basically if you’re going to, as I said, provide 24-hour fighter cover for troops on the ground, you really can’t effectively do that today without an in-air refuelling capability. But if you link them also into the Wedgetail that I’ve talked about, the in-air command and early warning aircraft, we could be in a difficult circumstance wanting to be operating those for 24 hours a day for a considerable period of time. Again, this capability to refuel them in-air vastly increases what they are able to do so it enables the Air Force to operate more effectively in difficult circumstances.

Journalist:

To either gentlemen. Does it mean a new squadron to operate them, or will the 707 people get them?

Senator Hill:

That’s very much yours.

Air Marshal Houston:

No, what we would intend to do is transition from the Boeing 707 into the A330 and that the current operating squadron, number 33 Squadron, would continue to operate the capability. They’ve got a lot of experience of it and I’m sure they will welcome the new equipment when it arrives.

Journalist:

And that squadron’s at Richmond?

Air Marshal Houston

It’s currently at Richmond yes.

Journalist:

Okay. But when the Airbus’s come on line, will you move them closer to the fighters as in that you would move them to Williamtown?

Air Marshal Houston:

Government hasn’t made a decision on where the tankers will be located at this stage. As you’re probably aware, there’s a force disposition study that is ongoing and I guess when we have the outcome from that we might have a better idea of where they may be based.

Journalist:

Another technical question. Have you worked out how many hours it would take you strip the bladders out from a tanker and put seats in for transport?

Air Marshal Houston:

The aircraft come with an incredible fuel tank capability for their normal operations and we just use the aircraft as is. We don’t have to have any additional tanks in the fuselage. So what we will be doing is using what is essentially an airlift aircraft that flies around right now, in fact Qantas operate the A330 today. And all we have to do is modify it with the piping and the specific equipment to give the air-to-air refuelling capability.

Journalist:

Senator Hill what’s your reaction to the overnight, or the arrest yesterday of Ul Haque?

Senator Hill:

Well I don’t know that there’s much I can add to what’s been said. I think all Australians will be pleased to see that our law enforcement and intelligence bodies are working effectively, but it’s now up to the courts to deal with that particular matter so I don’t think I can really speak in relation to the details of it.

Journalist:

Would you expect further arrests?

Senator Hill:

I wouldn’t want to speculate further.

Journalist:

Sir, there’s been some concerns cast over your interpretation of the Tracey report. Do you stand by your interpretation?

Senator Hill:

Well the Tracey report stands by itself and I’ve got no comment on it.

Journalist:

And the Brown report. Will you be releasing that?

Senator Hill:

The Tracey report was a review of the Toohey report and in relation to Brown, I said that I would like to release that if it was possible. I sought advice on that and I gather that advice has come to my office now from my Department so I’ll have a look at that this afternoon.

Journalist:

Colonel Tracey was quoted in the Age this morning contradicting your statement about the review. What was your reaction to that?

Senator Hill:

Well I understand Colonel Tracey feels that he’s been misrepresented.

Journalist:

Was he told what to say?

Senator Hill:

Don’t be silly. Okay? Now we’re going to go and have a look at this aircraft.

ENDS

View this file as a printer friendly Microsoft Word document Printer friendly version  
Top
Receive media releases automatically via email. Register your address here