ADM Online Stories,
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
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
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
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
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?
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.