Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is due to launch the Defence White Paper on Thursday morning, and will reportedly commit to spending two per cent of GDP on Defence by 2023, despite the “tight financial times” he says Australia is facing.
Media reports suggest that the White Paper will outline the acquisition of 12 future submarines under SEA 1000, and nine future frigates to replace the Anzac class frigates, building on the federal government’s plans for sustaining the naval shipbuilding industry that were announced under Tony Abbott back in August.
As well as keeping an eye out for evidence of progress on the competitive evaluation processes for the frigates and offshore patrol vessels, with the field of mature design options for each expected to be narrowed down, it is worth noting that the evaluation of the bids for the (overseas-built) replacement replenishment vessels competition has concluded.
And further detail on the plan to implement the continuous build of surface warships for the Royal Australian Navy in Australia might involve discussion about the future of ASC.
Turning to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), the Defence White Paper is expected to reaffirm the commitment to acquire 72 of the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant Lightning II aircraft to form three operational squadrons and a training squadron.
New light might be shed on the option of acquiring an additional squadron of F-35s to replace the F/A-18F Super Hornets, for a total of 100, and speculation about the variant to be purchased put to rest.
It has long been rumoured that the acquisition of the armed MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) medium-altitude long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft, or similar, is under serious consideration, particularly after it was announced in February last year that the RAAF had commenced Reaper training in the US.
In addition, Defence is known to have been working on developing requirements for unmanned aerial vehicles that might fly off the future frigates and other Navy platforms.
Further details on the procurement of two Gulfstream G550 aircraft to be modified to provide an airborne intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare (ISREW) capability, including the final fleet size, will be outlined in the Integrated Investment Program that is due for release with the White Paper.
And more information concerning the VIP or Special Purpose Aircraft replacement project might be forthcoming, following on from a request for proposal that was published in November and closed on Friday last week that sought “innovative” industry proposals for replacing the existing service, with an emphasis on securing the services of a managing contractor.
According to an industry briefing document, the project is seeking a national or regional capability for up to 26 passengers serving larger airports and a small airfields capability for 12 to 18 passengers. A global or ultra-long-range capability carrying more than 100 passengers has been excluded from the project scope, suggesting that the KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport will be called on to play this role.
The White Paper is expected to reveal whether or not the option for a further four P-8A Poseidon maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and response aircraft will be taken up, while the number of MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft that will operate alongside the Poseidon is anticipated to be specified.
Last, but by no means least, in terms of Australian Army capabilities, the LAND 400 project that is seeking to deliver the next generation of armoured fighting vehicles is of course the flagship modernisation program in the land domain.
Chief of Army Lieutenant General Angus Campbell said in a speech on February 9 that the down-selection for the Phase 2 combat reconnaissance vehicles competition is expected “in the next few weeks”, with an announcement of the shortlisted tenderers selected to participate in risk-mitigation activities to be made.
LAND 400 Phase 3, which would see about 450 infantry fighting vehicles replacing the M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carrier and provide manoeuvre support vehicles, and the Phase 4 integrated training system, are anticipated to be confirmed in the Defence White Paper.
A request for information relating to the Mounted Close Combat Capability was published in November, with industry responses due to have closed on Monday this week. However, on that very day an extension to the deadline was announced until March 7.
Boeing delivered the seventh CH-47F Chinook to Army in August last year, but it emerged in December that the US Department of State has approved the possible sale of three more helicopters, so the fleet could be set to grow.
Meanwhile, as sister publication Australian Aviation has reported, Bell Helicopter and BAE Systems Australia have signed a teaming agreement, announced on February 16, that positions them to offer the AH-1Z Viper as a potential replacement for the Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter, should a planned mid-life upgrade morph into a replacement project.
Australian Defence Business Review will report on the latest developments as the Defence White Paper, the Integrated Investment Program and the new Defence Industry Policy Statement become available.