F-35 Lightning II News
Department of Spendthrift Defence
August 28, 2008 (by Eric L. Palmer) - The senior Australian Defence leadership is embarking on a dangerous gamble with taxpayer’s money. This compulsive gambling habit will need a strong intervention by Parliament.
The F-35 returns to flight this afternoon at NAS Fort Worth, Lockheed-Martin facility on December 7th, 2007. Defence and corporate interests are working hand in hand to see that Australia commits to the largest defence purchase in history: The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The problems with this venture are many. First Australia, Defence White Paper or no, can’t cobble together a roadmap for the long term Defence of the Australian public. There is so much poor input into this process that a path for the security of Australia won’t be worth the paper it is written on. Second, sales people get paid to sell stuff. This means that that given the record of management by Defence on big dollar, high profile weapons purchases which is poor, going for yet more high risk, high dollar weapons systems is asking for more trouble. A slick sales effort and it’s off to the races with the taxpayer’s money and little or no solid research to stand on for justification of the purchase. Third, in the case of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), it isn’t ready to be sold any time soon. Why? An intelligent buying decision can hardly be made for some years until enough test hours are flown and the development of the aircraft has real tangible qualities one can point to in a fighter aircraft. Until a significant amount of maturity shows up in the F-35 program, any premature buying decision is no different than putting billions of dollars of the taxpayers money down on the roulette wheel and hoping for the best.
The lack of long range aircraft buying strategy by Defence is alarming. For example, Defence is basing the defence of the nation around an aircraft, the F-35, that has little substance. Years ago, Defence made the high risk decision to cut off a valid competition composed of a variety of proven aircraft in favor of the then vaporware F-35. This decision robbed the taxpayer of value. How? This decision put the RAAF at risk. By going with what was really an unknown delivery date to anyone who knows the gestation period of new aircraft types, the RAAF would flying an aged aircraft well beyond it’s useful life: The legacy F-18 Hornet.
Today, Defence is still wasting billions keeping the old F-18 around when it could have been long replaced. For example: The F-18 was never meant to be refurbished. It was meant to be flown a set amount of hours and thrown into the trash. Yet Defence has wasted almost a billion dollars trying to replace the center fuselage area of the aircraft called the center barrel. This repair is called CBR. CBR won’t return much value on the dollar. Even the U.S. Navy, who discovered CBR in a one-off event to fix a then new F-18 that got wrecked, doesn’t see enough value in the CBR process to continue it. And at this time only the U.S. Navy has the resources needed to sustain such an effort. CBR is an expensive and slow set of tasks. Canada, who also flies old F-18’s is shying away from CBR too.
Not long after the ink was dry on Australia’s deal to start CBR on it’s aging F-18s, Defence had to backpedal and admit that they didn’t know how to properly manage a CBR process. Mistakes on making the old F-18 combat worthy don’t stop there. Some years ago there was the goof up of getting the right electronic defensive kit for the aircraft. After wasting money on one poorly researched vendor, Defence had to waste more money by switching vendors after the first one failed to deliver a working product . In the end the F-18 got it’s electronic defensive gear, but what does the taxpayer get in return? Money thrown into an airframe that could have been replaced long ago.
Next is the F-18 Super Hornet debacle. While the Super Hornet may be good for the U.S. Navy based solely on the fact that it is the only U.S. carrier fighter in production and has a new car smell, it makes a poor fit for Australia. Even if one ignores the poor justification for getting the aircraft: A fib that the F-111 was at risk of falling apart based on a faulty fatigue test. One has to also consider other things about the Super Hornet purchase. It was done in a hurry based on little solid threat analysis and was bought on the premise of wasting supplemental taxpayer money outside of the normal Defence budget. This impulse buy, not unlike the kind for those with little restraint or children who see something tasty at the checkout counter, means that Defence has no solid grasp of how to manage a long range lifecycle plan for the kinds of combat aircraft needed to defend the nation.
In the case of Australia’s involvement in the F-35 project, the amount of the hype and blind faith Defence and industry heap on the unaware t