TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP RAAF AIR POWER CONFERENCE, CANBERRA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 10 May 2012
TOPICS: C-27J; JSF; Defence Budget
JOURNALIST: Why wasn’t there a competition for the battlefield airlifter?
STEPHEN SMITH: There was a competition.
JOURNALIST: Was it open?
STEPHEN SMITH: There was a competition. There was a competition between the C-295 Airbus Military aircraft and the C-27, and we down-selected the C-27.
JOURNALIST: How will we acquire the C-27? Will we buy them new from Alenia, or are we getting surplus US aircraft or US-
STEPHEN SMITH: They’re new. We’re getting the ten aircraft through the Foreign Military Sales program. The initial training and maintenance and the like will be done as a result of the Foreign Military Sales arrangement that we have with the United States. They of course have a fleet which they have agreed to discontinue, but that will be done initially with them, and then we will enter into a commercial arrangement with Alenia for the long-term maintenance and the like.
JOURNALIST: Minister, when do we expect to see IOC on the JSF now?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as we’ve said, we are monitoring the JSF project very carefully. I have essentially moved our arrangements on the same basis as the United States- the project has come under delays, developmental issues, concurrency issues. The United States, through the Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, in the course of this year moved nearly 170 planes to the right, effectively putting their ordering schedule two years to the right, and we have essentially mirrored that. We are contractually committed to getting two. We’ll get those in 2014/15 in the United States, for training and testing purposes. And then we’ll make a judgement two years after that, two years later than originally scheduled, about when we order the twelve. And we’ll make further deliberative judgements about further orders in due course.
STEPHEN SMITH: I’m not putting a time on that.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly-
STEPHEN SMITH: I’m not putting a time on that, because as everyone knows, the experience of the Joint Strike Fighter has been constant schedule movement to the right.
JOURNALIST: And F/A-18 Classic Hornets? Obviously that’s the key to this? Given the crash just before Easter-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well no, there are a range of issues in play. Firstly, there is a judgement that we need to make which I’ve said in the course of the end of this year about whether there’s a potential gap in our combat capability. Currently, we’ve got 71 Classic Hornets, we’ve got 24 Super Hornets. And our 71 Classic Hornets have gone and are going through an effective maintenance arrangement. But we’ve got to make a judgement about the ageing of our Classic Hornets, the number of our Super Hornets, and whether there’ll be a gap. But we’ll do this in an orderly way, in the course of this year.
JOURNALIST: September-October for the report?
STEPHEN SMITH: I’ve made it clear that we’ll do it in an orderly way before the end of this year. I’m not putting a timetable on that, but it’ll be done in 2012.
JOURNALIST: Have you communicated with the Airbus Military people? I imagine they must have been campaigning hard.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that’s done in the usual way. Whenever a choice is made between competitors, there is always someone who’s pleased with the outcome and someone who’s disappointed with the outcome. From our perspective, we’ve done the due diligence and we’ve come to the conclusion firstly that we needed to fill that gap, secondly that the C-27 was the preferred choice for us. More generally, it does make the point that even though we are going through a difficult fiscal situation, we have, as I said in my remarks and as I’ve said previously, ring-fenced important areas, and still left us with the capacity to acquire core and key capabilities.
JOURNALIST: Was it based purely on the fact that this is a better aircraft? Or were there other considerations, in terms of delays in other projects?
STEPHEN SMITH: It’s a better aircraft to suit our needs. It’s a better aircraft to suit our needs. That was all of the advice to me from Air Force and Defence, and the Government agreed with that advice.
JOURNALIST: Just to be clear- the new, our new C-27s will be manufactured in Italy on the Alenia line, rather than in the US on their line?
STEPHEN SMITH: We’re doing it under the Foreign Military Sales arrangements. They will be produced, on my understanding, in the United States on their line. We will do the initial arrangements with them through Foreign Military Sales, but we are entering into an arrangement with Alenia for long-term maintenance. But the rationale for that is obviously the decision by the US to retire its own force.
JOURNALIST: So, essentially, they’re the aeroplanes that the US isn’t going to take anymore?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, they’re aeroplanes coming off the- C-27s coming off the production line that we are going to acquire. They’ll be brand new aircraft, obviously, off that production line, done under our Foreign Military Sales arrangement, with a subsequent long-term maintenance arrangement through Alenia, the producer.