Defence set to ‘sensibly’ spend up on jet, vessel

BY DAVID ELLERY, DEFENCE REPORTER

18 Mar, 2011 04:00 AM

A Defence decision to commit its $450 million budget surplus to a fifth giant cargo jet and a near new landing ship is hard to fault, experts have said.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith confirmed yesterday his Department was to spend up to $300 million on a fifth C-17 Globemaster.

 »And today, London time, we will formally enter a bid for the purchase of a large, heavy, amphibious lift vessel, a Bay class from the United Kingdom, » he said.

The ship, believed to be the Largs Bay, is expected to sell in the lower end of the $100 million to $200 million range, with a decision on the successful bidder to be announced in mid-April.

It cost between $200 million and $300 million to build and was commissioned in December 2006.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute budget and maintenance program director Mark Thomson said both acquisitions were consistent with the Defence White Paper objectives and were prudent.

 »They take advantage of an embarrassment of riches [the Defence underspend] and the [favourable] exchange rate, » he said.

 »It is a sensible use of funds that haven’t been spent. »

Neil James, the executive director of the Australia Defence Association, agreed.

He recently described the Globemaster acquisition proposal as  »an excellent example » of the opposite of wasteful spending.

 »The decision to obtain more C-17s is based on practical experience of the aircraft’s utility. »

In addition to playing a key part in resupplying Australian troops in the field, the C-17s have been at the forefront of the Defence Force’s response to the Queensland floods, Cyclone Yasi, the Christchurch earthquake and the Japanese catastrophe.

 »[These acquisitions] display sensible flexibility as opposed to panic spending, » Mr Thomson said.

 »The Brits have had to make some painful cuts and we’ve been able to take advantage of them. »

The Largs Bay is a 16,000t landing ship that would serve two purposes.

In the short-term, the ship would plug the capability gap left by the controversial deterioration of Australia’s sea lift fleet.

HMAS Manoora has had to be decommissioned two years ahead of schedule because of the prohibitive cost of necessary repairs and the Kanimbla is out of commission because of repairs and maintenance until next year.

HMAS Tobruk, the smallest of the sea lift vessels, was not able to respond to Cyclone Yasi because of maintenance issues and, while currently ready for sea, needs major maintenance before the end of the year.

Source: Canberra Times

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