Project set to make history

March 14, 2001

AIR 6000 is set to become the single largest project in Australian Defence history, as the Department commits to replacing an ageing fleet of F/A-18 and F-111 fighter aircraft.

The project's initial capability definition and development phases are administered and sponsored by Capability Systems, Aerospace Development, ADHQ.

When the Federal Government funds AIR 6000 in 2006, the project will then transition to DMO in the acquisition process.

DMO's involvement at present is limited to approving accurate costing data and devising the maintenance concept for Capability Systems, and includes staffing considerations for the eventual DMO AIR 6000 project office.

Director of AIR 6000 - Capability Systems, Group Captain Peter Layton said, 'AIR 6000 uses an integrated project team approach; we have a staff that comprises members of Capability Systems, and the DMO and DSTO organisations, which includes the three services.'

The project, which began May 1999, has set a target acquisition of 2012-2015 for replacement of the F/A-18 and similarly 2015-2020, for the F-111.

Rather than a systems overhaul, Defence will acquire a 'new combat capability' to replace the air defence and strike ability provided by the current fleet.

AIR 6000 Deputy Director - Analysis for the project, Dr Peter Maguire described the process as unique, as it has aimed early on to avoid the replacement mentality that has characterised past major capital equipment projects.

According to Dr Maguire, the capability analysis team has used background studies to identify 'force mixes'; that is, different systems that could perform the air defence and strike ability required, in its initial assessment.

'The project has embraced foundation studies, to determine long term air power needs and wants,' Dr Maguire said. 'Turning those needs into a meaningful requirement that industry can respond to with proposals again takes time.

'The air combat role is vital, and it would be difficult to find an aircraft with the same strike and range capability as the F-111. Long-range missile systems and unmanned combat aerial vehicles also look to be the future air power trend.'

The problem Defence, and similar organisations, have always struggled with is the commitment made to ageing technology.

Acquisition dates for the new capability are long term. Until then, Capability Analysis will scientifically examine many 'what ifs' for future Defence air power, in order to develop environmental scenarios.

At the heart of the studies is the degree to which the Department can effectively increase its air combat and strike capabilities.

The White Paper went into detail regarding the tasks Defence may be required to perform to this end; this list has formed the basis of the project guidance.

'We are always looking for ways to achieve high levels of effectiveness with the same or fewer resources currently employed. We have ongoing issues with personnel, so anything that lets you do more with less is fairly attractive at the moment.

'I'm not sure that we understand how much is enough, but I'm confident we will provide a higher level of capability than we do under the current systems within our budget. It's hard to say how much more,' Dr Maguire said.

By Amber McKinnon