Statement by Australian Minister for Defence Brendan Nelson
At RAAF Fairbarn, Canberra, Tuesday March 6, 2007
Thank you very much.
Air Marshal Shepherd, Chief of the Air Force, Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, His Excellency Robert McCallum, United States Ambassador to Australia, Secretary of the Department of Defence, Mr Nick Warner, Group Captain Steve Roberton, the Head of the Combat Transition Unit. The last time I saw Steve he had me at 1184 kilometres an hour at 7.4 Gs and he was asking if I was all right. (Inaudible).
Also to Craig, I'd like to welcome you and thank you very, very much. Craig Saddler, the President of Boeing Australia. Members of the Royal Australian Air Force family and your families who support you, ladies and gentlemen.
We're here today to make an announcement which is a significant and historic announcement on behalf of Australia's air combat capability. There are three things in particular which I wish to announce today.
The first is to reaffirm Australia's very strong commitment to the acquisition of the Joint Strike Fighter which is being manufactured by Lockheed Martin that will carry Australia's air combat capability as the principal combat and strike capability for Australia for much of the next 30 years.
The second is that under no circumstances will Australia accept any kind of risk to the transition to the Joint Strike Fighter. Whilst the Joint Strike Fighter and the program set out by Lockheed Martin is principally on track, air combat capability which is largely the brainchild and been driven by our now CDF requires more than just the Joint Strike Fighter.
It requires air-to-air refuellers, the KC-30B multi-roll transport tankers, the Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft, upgrades to our F/A-18s, the magnificent aircraft which is very familiar to Australians, which is behind me to your left.
It also requires complex ground-based network centric air warfare systems and it also requires new weapons systems.
So our air combat capability isn't just about acquiring the Joint Strike Fighter, it's about a whole lot of multipliers that go to support it.
But under no circumstances is the Government nor am I, as the Minister, prepared to accept any kind of risk to our air combat capability, one part of which requires in the not too distant future the retirement of the magnificent aircraft which is to your right which has served this country well for almost 35 years, and that is the F-111.
To ensure that Australia maintains its superiority in air-to-air combat and in strike capability in the transition period through to the Joint Strike Fighter and beyond the Government will acquire 24 F-18F Super Hornets Block II, a model of which is in front of me.
And these aircraft will be acquired from obviously Boeing. They are being provided, and will be provided to us in full cooperation with the United States Navy. We will expect to see the first aircraft here very early in 2010 and our air crews training on them in 2009, and to be fully operationally capable by 2012.
What this means is that Australia with upgrades to its F/A-18 and also with the Super Hornet will be well and truly able to maintain its air combat capability and strike capability in the transition period through to the introduction of the Joint Strike Fighter.
It also means – and this is an important part of it – that there will be an industry participation program negotiated for Australian industry as a part of the $6 billion 10-year acquisition program for the aircraft components and weapons.
We're also negotiating with the United States Navy for a regional centre that will be able to provide service and support to US Navy F/A-18 F Super Hornets.
And the third announcement which needs to be made today, which is a part of it, is that after 35 years of magnificent service to Australia it is time for us to retire the F-111.
I announce today that the F-111 will retire in 2010. The reason we are retiring it is because as magnificent as it is, has been and continues to be, the risks associated with flying the aircraft beyond 2010 rise on our advice to an unacceptable level. The operational capability of the aircraft in the 21st Century and its capacity for situational awareness is limited compared to other aircraft which are emerging a fourth and fifth generation, and we are determined that under no circumstances will we take the risk of an aircraft having an engineering failure at Mach 1.5 at a very low level.
It means that in the next three years men and women who fly and maintain the F-111 will continue to do so. We expect that many of the F-111 workforce will transition to the Super Hornet, but also the other significant programs which are also based at RAAF Amberley.
And we have C-17, we also have a variety of support and maintenance programs around the multi-role tankers, and of course a significant defence aerospace capability across a range of platforms at Amberley.
The department will also work with Boeing to ensure that the full workforce receives transition support in 2010 and (inaudible) specific to other forms of employment in aerospace and related industries, and we will specifically announce the retirement of the F-111 much closer to 2010.
This is a significant day for Australia, for Australia's air combat capability. The only reason we're in a position to do this is because we have had solid economic management for over a decade, a Government that has been able to fund continuing budget surpluses, and we are in a position to see that the acquisition of the Super Hornet squadron will be fully supplemented across the defence capability plan over the forward estimates period and the decade beyond.
In concluding I pay very special tribute to all of those men and women who showed enormous vision and courage in making the decision in the face of enormous criticism to acquire the F-111, to fly it and sustain it as leading edge strike capability over a 35-year period.
It continues to be a magnificent aircraft, but as the Chief of Air Force said to me recently we will need to make the decision to retire the F-111 before it retires us. And under no circumstances are we prepared to take the risk of Australia having any kind of gap.
So the acquisition of the Super Hornet squadron, the retirement of the F-111, the multiplier projects that go around the Joint Strike Fighter and the acquisition of the Joint Strike Fighter will serve this country well to protect it, our interests and our people for not only the next decade but well beyond it.
And I thank the United States Navy, our Defence Materiel Organisation, our Chief of Air Force, Chief of Defence and all of those that have been involved in the development of these decisions.
And most importantly I thank everyday Australians for all of their hard work supported by their Government to get this country into a solid economic position so that we can afford the defence capability our country not only needs but it deserves.