November 12, 2003
An Australian government report has identified a number of major equipment purchases for the Australian Armed Forces over the next decade. Chief amongst these will be new Main Battle Tanks, three anti-air warfare destroyers and two amphibious ships and new fighter aircraft. These new purchases will address some aspects of the Australian Defense Force that have for many years been sorely neglected by successive governments.
Australia currently operates approximately 100 Leopard 1A5 tanks purchased in 1976, and these have not had any significant upgrades throughout the course of their service life and are considered worn out, ageing, and unable to survive in any battlefield where a range of anti-tank weapons would be present. At present, three replacements have been mentioned, the M1 Abrams, the Leopard 2 and the Challenger 2.
For the Royal Australian Air Force, the current upgrades to its F/A-18A/B and P-3C Orion aircraft will continue as scheduled, while a decision will be made in 2006 for the purchase of up to 100 F-35 JSF. The RAAF suffered a major shock a few years ago, when its F/A-18s were outclassed by Indonesian F-16s in joint Air Combat Maneuvering exercises, due mainly to obsolete avionics, and the entire F/A-18 fleet has just completed a major avionics update that includes adding a stand off strike capability. Plans are also underway for the acquisition of Global Hawk unmanned drones, which would be ideal to patrol Australia's extensive and sparsely populated Northern coastline. Australia's F111 fleet will, however, not be upgraded as previously planned, and will be retired from 2010,
The Royal Australian Navy will see two of its oldest frigates scrapped, as well as the gradual retirement of landing craft (the 6000 ton ex-RAN LSL HMAS Tobruk and two ex-US 8700 ton LSTs.) In their place, Australia will purchase three new air warfare destroyers with combat systems based on the American Aegis Combat Control System, as well as two new amphibious ships in the 20,000 ton class with the capability of operating six helicopters. Four other FFGs will also see their SAM systems upgraded to use Standard SM2 missiles. -- Shawn Chung