Australia has to choose its defense technology programs carefully. While the country expects to field advanced armed forces, with a population of 24 million it lacks the money and depth of engineering expertise for much domestic development.
But for decades Australia has tirelessly pursued one particularly difficult program: Jindalee, an over-the-horizon radar system that answers the national problem of how to economically monitor the vast maritime approaches of a continent.
With little publicity, the defense department and its contractors have completed a major upgrade of Jindalee, whose three enormous antenna installations, ranged across the Outback, bounce high-frequency radio beams off the ionosphere to observe aircraft and ships at least 3,000 km (1,900 mi.) away, perhaps as far as the South China Sea. The upgrade has increased the speed, sensitivity and precision of the sensors, and knitted them into the national command and control system of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
The department plans to seek preliminary approval for further enhancements by June 2015, although the focus of development effort is now moving to ensuring that the RAAF can operate the system, formally known as the Jindalee Operational Radar Network, until around 2040.
Australia does not disclose much about Jindalee, usually describing little more than its operating principles. But in an interview with Aviation Week the department’s acquisition agency, the Defense Material Organization (DMO), has detailed the achievements of the latest upgrade and the aims of the next, while still withholding most numerical measures of performance.
The upgrade was Phase 5 of the Jindalee program, Joint Project 2025. Defense Minister David Johnston revealed completion of Phase 5 on May 28, saying it had reached final operational capability. That level was in fact attained late last year, says Air Commo. Mike Walkington of the DMO.
The upgrade was delivered two years late, partly because of a skills shortage, but achieved almost all the -specifications and came in under budget, says Walkington. The work was performed by the Australian operations of Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems, with support and advice from the Defense Science & Technology Organization. The budget has not been disclosed.
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