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4 A scandalous indictment

ADM Online Stories, October 2006


At the time of writing it appeared likely the Defence Minister, Dr Brendan Nelson, would announce the cancellation of the ALR-2002 Radar Warning Receiver for the RAAF's upgraded F/A-18 Hornet fighters. This has been developed by BAE Systems Australia from original research by DSTO which began in the late-1980s.

Instead, Defence is expected to order an American system, Raytheon's ALR-67(V)3, which is already in service with the US Navy.

ADM understands the outstanding integration and Operational Test & Evaluation work required to clear the ALR-2002 for combat operations may not be completed in time to allow the RAAF's ageing F-111s to retire in 2010. The F-111 cannot be retired until the upgraded Hornet (along with its new stand-off weapons and targeting and self-protection systems) is ready to replace it.

Seen in that light, a decision not to put the ALR-2002 on the Hornet would be correct and logical.

But seen against the background of nearly 20 years' experimental and development work, such a decision would be a scandalous indictment of Defence and its capability development and acquisition processes.

The ALR-2002 was designed to replace the original US Radar warning Receiver (RWR) on the F-111 strike aircraft. Not only was this unequal to the threats faced by the RAAF, the US government would not release to Australia - one of its closest allies - sufficient software source code and IP to allow the RAAF and DSTO to upgrade the system to suit Australian requirements. And getting software upgrades from the USA was a slow, costly process lacking any kind of transparency - Australia never quite knew what it was getting, nor how it worked, and, crucially, how to make it work better.

This issue of technology access and sovereign capability continues to bedevil Australia-US relations: it's a very serious potential sticking point in the ongoing negotiations over whether Australia will sign the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development (PSFD) MoU for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Defence's own Electronics Systems Sector Plan describes Electronic Warfare and Self Protection as critical capabilities; nevertheless, development of the ALR-2002 was pursued on an agonizingly slow drip feed basis through the 1990s.

Furthermore, despite the fundamental issue of technology access and independent capability which triggered development of the ALR-2002 in the first place, a lazy default within the RAAF - a 'not invented there' syndrome - made it incredibly hard to sell an Australian product in the face of a de facto pro-America bias.

On top of that, integrating any new piece of equipment with the Hornet is a complex process, controlled entirely by the USA: the necessary integration and OT&E would need to be carried out by US companies in the USA at US military facilities and at a cost and to a schedule largely dictated by the US players.

The bottom line is, if Defence had put its weight behind the ALR-2002 during the 1990s, it could have been in front line service by now. Defence's niggardly funding and risk-averse processes have put it right back where it was 20 years ago: the Royal Australian Air Force will be operating frontline fighters with American RWRs provided under the same conditions and with the same operational constraints as 20 years ago.

What a waste of time and effort.

This is also a huge disincentive to companies based here in the so-called 'clever country' to develop even niche products and capabilities to satisfy the Australian Defence Force's most critical needs.

Will the same thing happen with the OzDIRCM program, described in the September edition of ADM? Will the same thing happen with the JDAM-ER, described elsewhere in this edition? Or with the CEA-FAR radar which is a candidate for the ANZAC frigate upgrade? Whose responsibility is it to ensure this doesn't happened again?

This shouldn't be interpreted as an attack on Raytheon - the company makes a first-class product which has been combat proven in service with our closest ally. It has positioned itself adroitly to benefit from the opportunity presented by the Hornet HUG (in which it already plays a significant role as a radar and missile supplier). But the conditions which led to the development of the ALR-2002 (and which were never of Raytheon's making) still exist.

With a new defence industry policy currently under development, ADM calls upon the Minister for Defence, the Minister Assisting him and their cabinet colleagues to ensure we have a defence industry policy which is not simply a hostage to the flawed, obsessively risk-averse processes of a monopsony customer which has a track record of ignoring industry policy and doing exactly what it likes in any case.

How can Defence (bolstered by the Department of Industry, Tourism & Resources) put its weight behind Australian manufacturing companies seeking work on the Joint Strike Fighter program, but not do more to support the efforts of Australian companies developing world-class - even world's best - products for platforms like the Hornet or the ANZAC frigate?

The development effort behind the ALR-2002 is not lost - it will be installed on Army's Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters. but the benefits have been truncated and a wonderful opportunity for Australian industry has been wasted. This must not be allowed to happen again.