|Lex Hall | September 25, 2008 Thw Australian
AUSTRALIA remains committed to the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft despite reports the warplane has performed poorly in exercises against aircraft used by China and Russia.
Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon told ABC TV's Lateline program last night the JSF was still the right aircraft to ensure Australia's military superiority.
Despite the poor results of the recent Pacific Vision Wargames exercise in Hawaii, Mr Fitzgibbon said he was convinced the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was the right aircraft for Australia.
The air force has ordered 100 of the futuristic jets at a cost of $16 billion.
"There's no doubt in my mind that if the JSF team deliver all the capability they have been promising, then the JSF will be just the right aircraft for Australia, and will deliver all the capability we need to maintain air combat superiority," he said.
"The questions are, will it be delivered, and if so, when will it be delivered and at what cost."
Mr Fitzgibbon said data from recent wargames, comparing the JSF with fighter jets used by China and Russia, had been "misrepresented".
"It wasn't an exercise about one platform against another," the minister said. "It was an exercise about other matters that I can't really discuss ... but it was unfair to interpret that exercise as one which sought to compare one aircraft against another."
Mr Fitzgibbon said he was yet to get the assessment of RAAF personnel and Defence officials who attended the exercise.
He said he had had two briefings from Defence, the first of which he "wasn't particularly impressed with", saying that it had left a number of questions unanswered.
Mr Fitzgibbon would not be drawn on the nature of the questions, except to say they had been raised by the media.
He said he would not be rushed into purchasing the JSF.
"What if it doesn't deliver initially all the capability, what if it delivers it very late and what if the costs escalate considerably?
"The Opposition ... wants me to run out and sign up to the JSF, six months at least before I have to, and before I've had guarantees on these unanswered questions," he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon said a decision would be made at the end of the coming white paper process.
Meanwhile, he said he had not even seen a "quick assessment report" into the role that Australian troops in Afghanistan may have had in the death of an Afghan governor.
"We don't really know what happened," he said. "There are a number of investigations under way ... and it's very important we get to the exact facts, and work out exactly what happened so we can ensure that in future we do better at avoiding unintended casualties."