CANBERRA Feb 27 Australia has up to A$23
billion ($21.5 billion) worth of risky defence projects
underway and will re-think several costly purchases, including
U.S. fighter planes, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said on
"This is a list of projects that are under real risk, real
risk in terms of capability and real risk for the Australian
taxpayer," Fitzgibbon told reporters, brandishing a
confidential list of troubled military buys.
Fitzgibbon's centre-left Labor government, which won power
in November, may dump several projects including the A$6.5
billion purchase by the former conservative government of 24
Super Hornet fighter planes from Boeing (BA.N).
"The Super Hornet project is of great concern to us,"
The Super Hornets were intended to fill a six-year gap
between the retirement of Vietnam-era strike bombers and the
2016 arrival of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF), but Labor
believes they may not be needed despite JSF delays.
Also under review are a A$1.5 billion fleet of naval
Seasprite helicopters, manufactured by Kaman Corp. (KAMN.O>,
and the problem-plagued A$1.4 billion upgrade of guided missile
frigates by the local division of French defence electronics
group Thales (TCFP.PA).
Fitzgibbon has ordered a review of Australia's military
needs, as well as a fresh comparison of fighter aircraft plans
amid delays in the A$16 billion purchase of 100 F-35 Joint
Strike Fighters, built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT.N).
"Obviously these projects are commercially very sensitive,"
Fitzgibbon said, refusing to reveal the contents of the risk
assessment file. Fitzgibbon at the weekend asked the United
States to sell Australia Lockheed's advanced F-22 Raptor
Australia, a close U.S. ally, has embarked on a A$61
billion military upgrade, with contracts signed or being
negotiated for fighter aircraft, tanks, missile destroyers,
aircraft carriers, cruise missiles and both attack and
Fitzgibbon said reports two aircraft carriers and three
advanced air warfare missile destroyers, worth A$11 billion and
already ordered from Spanish state-owned shipbuilder Navantia
SA and U.S. firm Raytheon (RTN.N), may be dumped were wrong.
"We made a firm commitment to those projects pre-election
and we are absolutely committed to them," he said.
The fleet will transform Australia's navy into one of the
most capable in the Asia region, with the two amphibious
carriers able to land more than 2,000 troops, attack
helicopters or fighter aircraft and up to 23 Abrams tanks in
(Reporting by Rob Taylor, editing by Sanjeev Miglani)