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New plane to ease Defence cuts pain

Ray of light for Defence ... the first of Australia's 10 new military transport planes will be delivered in 2015.

Ray of light for Defence ... the first of Australia's 10 new military transport planes will be delivered in 2015.

AUSTRALIA will spend $1.4 billion on 10 new military transport planes over the next few years in a rare ray of light for Defence, which is reeling from the biggest cuts to its budget in almost 60 years.

The plane, Alenia's C-27J Spartan, will be bought from the US. Its primary role will be battlefield airlift - rapidly moving troops and equipment to and from small airstrips in conflict zones.

''They will be able to operate from rudimentary airstrips in Australia and overseas and will be able to support humanitarian missions in remote locations,'' the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, said at an air force conference in Canberra yesterday. ''The flexibility of the C-27J allows it to undertake a wide range of missions from delivering ammunition to front line troops to undertaking aero-medical evacuation of casualties.''

Defence is beginning to comprehend the scale of the forecast $5.45 billion cuts to its budget over the next four years, which involves the termination or deferment of multibillion-dollar equipment and capital works projects as well as slashing 1000 civilian jobs.

Defence had been considering a cheaper plane, Airbus Military's C295, but Mr Smith told the Air Power conference the Spartan had won out.

''It was assessed as being able to fly further, faster, higher while carrying more cargo and requiring a smaller runway than the … C295,'' he said.

The first planes will be delivered in 2015 and operational by the end of 2016.

The Spartan can land at over 1900 airfields in Australia, compared with about 500 for the military's Hercules, and it can access 400 airstrips in our region of the globe, Defence said.

Mr Smith tried to assuage concerns that hundreds of jobs could be lost through a budget decision to send a dozen C-130H Hercules transport planes into early retirement to save $250 million over four years.

That led to concerns that as many as 250 Qantas workers who maintain them could lose their jobs. Mr Smith said no jobs would be lost in the short term, but the Qantas contract ends next year, and the government was ''in discussions'' with the company.

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