CANBERRA, Australia, May 10 (UPI) -- Australia has sent out a request for tender for deeper maintenance for its fleet of 71 Classic Hornet fighter aircraft.
The announcement, made by Minister for Defense Materiel Jason Clare, is for operational fighting trainers, computer-based training systems, maintenance training systems and more ground support and test equipment.
"The F/A-18 Hornet is a very capable multi-role fighter which can undertake a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions including air combat, close air support of ground troops and interdiction of enemy supply lines," Clare said.
"This contract will provide all deeper maintenance requirements for the 55 single-seat and 16 dual-seat aircraft and associated systems."
The RFT closes in July with the contract expected to start in April 2013.
The decision to send out an RFT comes as the government announced deep defense budget cuts for new equipment.
Australia's Hornets, now made by Boeing but originally by McDonnell-Douglas, are powered by two low bypass F404-GE-400 turbofan engines that give the aircraft a speed of around Mach 1.8 and an operational ceiling of 45,000 feet.
Avionics include Hughes APG73 multi-role radar and an inertial navigation system, government data shows.
The variety of weapons includes AIM-120 AMRAAM active radar guided missiles, AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guarded long-range missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared seeking missiles.
In August Australia said it would consider the purchase of more F/A-18 Super Hornets if delays to the Joint Strike Fighter program meant the country would have a capability gap, Defense Minister Stephen Smith said at the time, but no firm decision on the extra F-18 purchase has been made.
"It's early days. I don't want people to run or leap to a conclusion that that is the path we'll go down," he said. "There is some more time. We need to continue to monitor the situation very carefully and closely."
In 2007, Australia ordered 24 Boeing F/A-18 fighters -- originally a McDonnell Douglas aircraft -- as an interim replacement for its General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark tactical strike fighters.
The F/A-18 is filling the gap left by the F-111 and when the conventional variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35A Lightning II, arrives -- now delayed for two years as of this month.
Australia, alongside the United States, was the prime customer for the Aardvark. It had been in service with the U.S. Air Force since 1967 and the Australian air force since 1973. It was phased out by the United States in the late 1990s and by Australia in December.
Australia gave final approval in late 2009 for the purchase of the first 14 JSF aircraft, worth $3 billion and to be delivered in 2014.
But this month the recently re-elected Labor government of Julia Gillard announced a major revamp to defense spending that includes a two-year delay for accepting the first JSF.
The government is to chop $5.4 billion out of its defense budget over four years, and delaying the JSF delivery will save about $1.6 billion, a report by The Australian newspaper said.
The cuts include a reduction of 1,000 civilian defense staff.
The Gillard government also will scrap purchases of self-propelling artillery but will press ahead with in a multibillion-dollar project to build 12 submarines.