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;The Department of Defence is looking at a range of options to upgrade its Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) capability.

The RAAF currently operates a fleet of four Boeing 707 modified tankers but these aircraft are ageing and only provide a training and limited operational capability.

Project AIR 5402, as it is known, is investigating the available options and expected to make a recommendation to the Government for approval in the 2001 budget. The project is looking at two key issues - the level of capability and choosing a tanker platform to ensure long-term support to ADF aircraft.

The Project Director, Wing Commander Dave Newman, said options included extending the current capability by refurbishing the existing B707 tankers, buying or leasing new generation aircraft or contracting the AAR service out to industry.

Defence is liaising with Industry to identify the optimum method of acquiring and delivering the eventual solution. Defence Headquarters and the Defence Acquisition Organisation are using an Integrated Project Team to evaluate three approaches; capital acquisition, leasing as it now does with the VIP aircraft fleet, or a relatively new idea to Australia, based on the UK-style Private Finance Initiative (PFI) process.

"This concept is similar to leasing, but allows the service provider to defray costs by using any excess capacity on the commercial market, thus reducing the net cost to Defence," Wing Commander Newman said.

In addition to identifying the best and most economical acquisition process, project staff are also evaluating a range of refuelling options and aircraft.

There are two AAR systems available. One uses a hose and drogue system to refuel probe-equipped aircraft like the RAAF's F/A-18 fighters, and the other system uses a boom to refuel aircraft like the F-111 and the future AEW&C.

"Although the RAAF's existing tankers only use the hose and drogue system to refuel the F/A-18s, AIR 5402 will look at the advantages of both systems in considering future options," Wing Commander Newman said.

"One option to incorporate both systems would involve refurbishing the existing B707 tankers, which have wing-tip hose and drogue pods, and fitting a centre-line boom under the aircraft to refuel aircraft like the F-111.

"To allow the tankers to operate with allied forces and refuel future ADF aircraft, Defence is also considering the refuelling requirements of a range of aircraft, including some not currently in Australian service.

-ends- Defence Considers Aerial Refuelling Options