RAAF F-111 Pig - End of Service
The F-111 was a remarkable aircraft. With its long range and weapons carrying capability, its avionics fit which allows all weather strike, and by virtue of the terrain-following radar allowing low-level penetration to the target, the F-111 was unique, and for mamny years no viable replacement had emerged.
Dr Kopp and Mr Goon first submitted their 'Evolved F-111' concept to Defence in the late 1990s and believed that it remained an economically and strategically viable option. During public hearing they advised that pursing such a program would be feasible: "The upgrades proposed for the F-111 are principally technology insertion upgrades to upgrade the remaining legacy systems in the aircraft. The nature of the upgrades and the types of technologies that we are talking about are lowrisk technologies ... the remaining legacy avionics in the aircraft, which are principally the cockpit, the radar and the Pave Tack system." The 'Evolved F-111' option was formally submitted to Defence as part of the AIR 6000 project in 2001. Essentially the submission proposed: ". the acquisition of a force mix with up to 55 F-22A Raptors to replace the F/A-18, extensive but low risk incremental upgrades to extend the life of the F-111, and acquisition of further mothballed surplus F-111s to enhance fleet strength."
In addressing Australia's future strike capability requirements, the Defence 2000 - Our Future Defence Force projected that the retirement ofthe F-111 fleet would likely occur in the 2015-2020 timeframe. The White Paper further went on to observe that it would be: " . unlikely that there will be any comparable specialised strike aircraft suited to our needs available at that time .[and] the best option may be specialised strike variants of air combat aircraft. This would allow the replacement of the F-111 by the same type of aircraft as we buy to follow theF/A-18 ."
The Defence Capability Review conducted in 2003 revised the withdrawal from service date of the F-111 to around 2010. This new timeframe reflected the rebalancing of the ADF's structure and capabilities that occurred following the release of the Defence Update 2003 and subsequently reflected in the Defence Capability Plan 2004-2014. This timeframe continued to underpin Defence planning with regard to air superiority and was again reflected in the Defence Capability Plan 2006-2016.
At the public hearing on 5 July 2006, Defence advised that the revised planned withdrawal date was influenced by maintenance issues and concerns that had previously been publicly unknown, specifically, the failure of a fatigue test conducted on the aircraft wings. Defence commented that: "Probably the most defining event was in the middle of that period [between the 2000 White Paper and Defence Update 2003] - that is, the fatigue test article failure in 2002 . that caused a fairly substantial rethink as to the supportability of the F-111 and how we could manage it."
During his opening statement to the public hearing on 31 March 2006, the Chief of Air Force addressed the issue of the revised timeframe for the withdrawal of the F-111. Specifically, he outlined the Defence position as being based on minimising the risks associated with operating an ageing aircraft and ensuring an ongoing effective balance across ADF capability: "When you add up the structural risk, the system risk, the support risk, the financial risk and the overall risk to capability, you have a clear and undeniable question about the viability of the F-111 beyond the period when we plan to withdraw it. And all these risks increase as the aircraft age. At the end of the day, my job and the job of all of us here is to minimise strategic risk for Australia. Clearly to go down such a path with these sorts of costs is irresponsible, and the funding pressures would put at risk our balanced land, maritime and air capabilities. We need to decide when to retire the F-111 so that we can manage the transition to the new air combat capability without risk to our overall capability - not be forced to do it at an indeterminate time of the aircraft's choosing. We need to confidently plan for our future, not leave it to chance."
The F-111 occupied about 60% of Tasman Aviation Enterprises, which stated that "We can manufacture most of the aeroplane." Dr Kopp and Mr Goon submit that early retirement of the F-111 will result in 'significant loss of employment in domestic systems integration and aerospace industry sector, including training positions.'
Dr Kopp advised the inuiry into the Defence Annual Report 2002-03 that Defence had 'failed to produce a single strategically or technically convincing reason for F-111 early retirement.' Again, in a submission to the present inquiry, Dr Kopp and Mr Goon stated that 'the risks in extending the life of the F-111 are low, and well understood due to the extensive taxpayer investment in the Sole Operator Program [SOP]."
The F-111G aircraft were withdrawn from service in 2007. A variety of dates up to the year 2020 were considered as possible withdrawal points for the F-111 aircraft platform, but 31 December 2010 was confirmed as the Planned Withdrawal Date (PWD) following the introduction of the interim FA/18F Block II Super Hornets.
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