|An EA-18G Growler of VX-31 overflies Ridgecrest, California as it returns to NAWS China Lake at the conclusion of a test mission|
THE Federal Government will spend more than $200 million to transform six air force fighter jets into hi-tech electronic warfare planes.
The RAAF purchased 24 Boeing Super Hornet fighters under a $6 billion deal with the US Navy to fill the gap between the retirement of the F-111 fighter bomber and the expected delivery of the first batch of 14 Joint Strike Fighter stealth jets later this decade.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith will announce the decision to upgrade the jet fighters early next month to EA-18G models known as "Growlers" to plug an emerging air combat capability gap.
The G-model entered service with the US Navy in 2008 and it allows attacking forces to detect and jam enemy radars to protect friendly aircraft from all known surface-to-air missile threats.
The Growler is the launch platform for the "Next Generation Jammer" that uses advanced radar technology from Northrop Grumman to conduct precision jamming.
Australia purchased 12 Super Hornet fighters wired for the Growler upgrade during the production process at a cost of $35 million. Retro fitting has never been attempted before and will cost between $200 million and $300 million.
News Limited understands that the first aircraft will be converted at the Boeing factory in St Louis and the remainder at Amberley RAAF base near Brisbane.
Meanwhile, Mr Smith is facing criticism from air force brass for his move to buy 12 more Super Hornets to cover the likely delay into service of up to 70 Australian JSFs.
A decision is due by September this year, but the RAAF is arguing against more Super Hornets because they fear that will leave less funds for Joint Strike Fighters.
"The RAAF doesn't want to run two types of fighter jets," a source said. Mr Smith told theAustralian Defence Magazine congress in Canberra yesterday that Defence would be expected to deliver a further contribution from its $27 billion budget to the government's quest for a surplus this year.
"The current 2012-13 Budget process will also examine whether Defence is able to make a further contribution to the Government's Budget bottom line," he said.
Defence budget analyst Mark Thomson said Mr Smith had taken a "shot across the bow" of Defence before the May budget. "They will be going through this budget with a finetooth comb," he said.