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#264 2007-06-01 GMT-5 hours    
Govt to spend $1b on old Hornets rebuild

Australia will spend almost $1 billion keeping its old Hornet fighter jets flying as plans proceed to buy 24 new Super Hornets worth $6 billion.

The repairs involve replacing the fatigue-prone central aircraft body section - known as the centre barrel - on 49 aircraft at an estimated cost of $982 million.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said initial work on one aircraft was currently being done in Canada and would return to RAAF Williamtown next month for final rebuilding and flight testing. The remaining jets would be modified totally in Australia.

Dr Nelson said modified aircraft would regain 100 per cent of their fatigue life, giving up to nine years' additional service life.

"The final aircraft will be delivered in late 2014. This date is based on the assumption that all 49 aircraft are inducted for centre barrel replacement," he said in answer to a question on notice from Labor defence spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon.

A lesser number of rebuilds could reduce the cost to around $10 million each.

Australia initially bought 75 F/A-18 Hornets with the first entering service in 1986. They have been steadily upgraded with advanced radars and missiles under a series of projects.

The government's defence capability plan lists the centre barrel replacement as the final upgrade project before the Hornets depart service.

Under current plans, the RAAF's F-111 bombers will retire soon after 2010 with their role filled by the new Super Hornets, pending entry to service of the new Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) around 2014-15.

The older Hornets would then be phased out, leaving a mixed force of JSF and Super Hornets from around 2018.

High performance aircraft gradually wear out under the stresses generated by manoeuvring during air combat. The danger is that an aircraft will suffer potentially catastrophic damage if its estimated fatigue life is exceeded.

On the Hornets, fatigue life - measured at the point where the wings attach to the troublesome centre barrel - was limited to 62 per cent.

Centre barrel replacement involves major dismantling of each aircraft, installation of a brand new centre section, then rebuilding.

Dr Nelson said the remainder of Hornets being rebuilt at Williamtown would take almost a year per aircraft. That time would reduce as workers gain knowledge and skills. As many as 11 aircraft could be modified at one time.

He said the risk in the project related to discovering problems once aircraft were dismantled.

"Unexpected poor physical condition of the aircraft represents schedule risk for the project," he said.

"Poor physical condition is mainly due to corrosion. This damage is usually found on aircraft after initial disassembly."



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#271 2007-06-02 GMT-5 hours    
I think $1B to extend the life of 49 Hornets for another 9 years is probably not a bad investment. Are the Aussie Hornets the first to go through this mod?

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#1188 2007-10-29 GMT-5 hours    
Just saw a program on 4 corners about our super hornet purchase, suffice to say not a very flattering appraisal, can't say I disagree.

As for these upgrades, the hornets are so old it hardly seems worth it. How much for a superflanker nowadays? I know we'd never do it but sure seems like you get more bang for your buck.

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