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Aussie Minister Shops for Arms in US

SENATOR ROBERT HILL: As I think you know, my main purpose for visiting Washington is to see Mr Rumsfeld, and that is not until tomorrow. However, there might be some matters of interest to you and obviously somebody thought there are things that you might want to ask me. (…/…)

We'll talk about interoperability issues. Some of you will remember at last year's AUSMIN meeting we settled principles of strategic interoperability, and we set about a project to do more on tactical interoperability and quite a lot of work has been done on that over the last twelve months. We will talk a little about defence industry matters. Of course we have settled our updated Defence Capability Plan and it has some consequences in relation to the United States.

Apart from seeing him, I am pursuing some defence industry matters whilst I am here.

I met with Lockheed Martin yesterday to principally talk about the AEGIS system on air warfare destroyers in our Defence Capability Plan. Last week we settled on a project to obtain three air warfare destroyers, and we further indicated that the air warfare system will be the United States system.

As the Lockheed Martin system is the one that is principally used throughout the world, it was useful for me to be briefed on the detail of the system, in particular, the future evolutions of that system. Not only has it been provided to the United States Navy, but they have provided the system, or versions of the system to Japan, Korea, Sweden, and Norway. So, it is rapidly becoming the international system of choice.

I have also talked to Lockheed Martin about the Joint Strike Fighter project and had briefings today from the Joint Strike Fighter project team. Presuming Australia purchases the aircraft, which is the direction that we hope we are heading in, it will be the largest individual purchase of military equipment in Australia's history. We are investing in the design and development phases, as you know, $300 million over ten years. We have people placed within the project office.

We are also pleased that a number of Australian companies have been able to obtain contracts and there are a few more contracts we expect to be announced in the next couple of weeks. Some of them are quite small, specialised Australian companies and this is really their first experience in the international defence industry market. And I think it is fair to say that we are really quite pleased with the progress that they are making in relation to the development of the aircraft; we are also pleased with the progress of the aircraft in terms of capabilities, timelines, and so on.

I'll also be meeting with Northrop Grumman to discuss further the Global Hawk Unmanned Air Vehicle. As some of you will know that was referred to again also in the Defence Capability Plan as an important part of our future maritime surveillance capability. It will be the first time that the ADF has moved into a large unmanned aerial vehicle and it will be interesting to receive their briefs on how that aircraft is proceeding. Certainly, the briefs that I have had on its performance over Iraq was most impressive.

Our particular interest is of the maritime surveillance variety. The US Navy is about to take two of the aircraft and enter into experiment and trial period for several years with that aircraft and we would be interested in some opportunity to join with them during that process.

Press Conference Transcript (excerpts)