1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2003  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/01/2003   
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Contents >> Defence >> Capabilities

Current capabilities

Defence maintains a force structure with the following major combat elements:

  • a surface combatant force consisting of six Adelaide Class guided missile frigates (FFG) and three ANZAC Class frigates rising to eight, together with onboard helicopters (this capability will be enhanced with the introduction of Seasprite helicopters, scheduled to be at full capability by the end of 2004), supported by a replenishment ship and an oil tanker
  • a patrol boat force of 15 Fremantle Class patrol boats
  • a submarine capability consisting of five Collins Class submarines, rising to six
  • capabilities for mine warfare, amphibious lift, and hydrographic and oceanographic operations
  • Special forces consisting of a special air service regiment, a high-readiness commando battalion and a Reserve commando battalion
  • mechanised, motorised and light infantry forces, including a reconnaissance regiment equipped with Australian light armoured vehicles, a tank regiment, a mechanised infantry battalion, a medium artillery regiment, a motorised infantry battalion group, a field artillery regiment, three infantry battalions, a field artillery regiment, an armoured personnel carrier squadron, and engineer and logistic support
  • signals, surveillance and specialist support, particularly logistics support, construction engineering, and topographical, electronic warfare, incident response and intelligence support systems
  • a re-roled and re-tasked Reserve force designed to sustain, reinforce and, to a lesser degree, rotate personnel and equipment
  • a capability for air strike/reconnaissance provided by F-111 aircraft, crews and weapon systems
  • a capability for fighter operations provided by F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, crews and weapon systems
  • strategic surveillance, involving sensors and battle management elements, including air traffic control radars, tactical air defence radars, the Jindalee Radar Facility and three tactical operations centres
  • a maritime patrol capability, involving P-3C aircraft, crews and weapon systems
  • the provision of airlift aircraft, crews and weapon systems, and air combat support wings.

For further details of the components of Defence capabilities, see the Defence Annual Report 2001-02, Chapter 2, available at http://www.defence.gov.au/budget.

Future capabilities

To ensure that Australia will have the forces needed to achieve the tasks outlined in the Defence White Paper, the Government has formulated the Defence Capability Plan, a detailed, costed plan for Australia’s military capabilities over the next 10 years, with broad guidance on major capability directions over this period. The aim is to provide the ADF with clear, long-term goals for the development of our armed forces, and the funding needed to achieve those goals.

In light of the changes in Australia's strategic environment, the Government has decided to review the adequacy of Defence's current and planned capabilities to manage the broader range of potential contingencies that may arise, and the ability of Defence to sustain its operations. Defence's first Annual Strategic Review will be submitted to the Government in late 2002.

Described below are some of the major acquisition projects over the next decade:
  • Two squadrons (around 20-24 aircraft) of armed reconnaissance helicopters are planned to enter service from 2004-05. These will constitute a major new capability for the Army, providing deployable, flexible, high-precision, and highly mobile firepower and reconnaissance.
  • An additional squadron (about 12 aircraft) of troop-lift helicopters will provide extra mobility for forces on operations. In particular, these helicopters will enhance the capability to operate off the amphibious lift ships, HMAS Manoora and Kanimbla. These helicopters are planned to enter service around 2007.
  • New air defence missile systems will supplement the existing RBS-70 and replace the existing Rapier systems, giving comprehensive ground-based air defence coverage to deployed forces. These systems are planned to enter service from around 2005 and 2009 respectively.
  • In 2006, 20 new 120 mm mortar systems mounted in light armoured vehicles will enter service.
  • A new thermal surveillance system and tactical uninhabited aerial vehicles to provide surveillance for deployed forces are planned to enter service from around 2003 and 2007 respectively.
  • The acquisition of four airborne early warning and control aircraft, with the possibility of acquiring a further three aircraft later in the decade. These aircraft will make a major contribution to many aspects of air combat capability, significantly multiplying the combat power of the upgraded F/A-18 fleet.
  • The acquisition is planned of up to five new-generation air-to-air refuelling aircraft, which would provide the capacity to refuel not only the F/A-18 aircraft, but also the F-111 and airborne early warning and control aircraft over a wide area of operations. These aircraft will also provide a substantial air cargo capability, and are planned to enter service around 2006.
  • A major program to provide better electronic warfare self-protection from missiles for the transport aircraft and helicopters is planned by around 2004.
  • The FFGs are planned to be replaced when they are decommissioned from 2013 by a new class of at least three air-defence capable ships. It is expected that these ships will be significantly larger and more capable than the FFGs. The project is scheduled to commence in 2005-06.
  • Australia has decided to participate in the development phase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with the expectation that the F-35 would be the most likely aircraft to provide Australia’s future air combat capability, replacing the current fleets of F/A-18 Hornet and F-111 aircraft.

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