|Ignore the title and read the last paragraph!
From: The Australian February 25, 2010 12:00AM
AN internal Defence study warned that the new Joint Strike Fighter would be a high-risk venture for Australia, admitting that the plane had weaknesses, including poor engine thrust that made it difficult to dodge missiles.
The blunt criticisms of the warplane contained in the study by Defence scientists in 2000 have never been aired publicly by the government.
But the Defence Science and Technology Organisation study, obtained by The Australian, was far more critical of the other fighter jet options available to Australia if it did not choose the JSF.
The document uses highly undiplomatic language to trash the performance of the warplanes used by Australia's closest allies.
The DSTO study, described as a "first-cut analysis" of Australia's future fighter needs, was written two years before the Howard government signed up to the US-led JSF program in 2002, abandoning the tender process and stunning aircraft manufacturers.
Titled "A Preliminary Assessment of Inhabited Platforms for AIR6000" and written by the DSTO's Graeme Murray and David Carr, the study is significant because it is one of only a handful of studies that looked at alternatives to the JSF.
The government plans to buy 100 JSFs for $16 billion in what will be the largest Australian defence purchase in history.
The DSTO report, written at a time when the JSF existed only on paper, said that if Australia signed on to the JSF program, it would be doing so without knowing the plane's final capability and costs.
"JSF has present serious shortfalls in engine performance and incomplete sensor-fusion capability," the DSTO said.
"The aircraft lacks engine thrust in the baseline configuration due to the high weight, affecting the use of manoeuvrability to defeat missile attack."
It also warned of hi-tech risks in the program because of tight schedule and cost targets, but it gave the plane strong marks for its stealth, range, payload and its "all weather, 24-hour lethality".
It said the JSF would not be cheaper to acquire than other fighters, but would be cheaper to maintain and service.
The study favours the JSF over other options and is blunt about the shortcomings of Australia's other fighter options. It describes the US F-16 used by the US Air Force as having a weak airframe and poor stealth.
"Old airframe lacks agility to outmanoeuvre missiles and has a small internal fuel capacity," the DSTO said of the F-16.
It said Europe's Typhoon fighter had limited strike capability and was unreliable.
"Present (strike) capability is lacking due to limited sensors and weapons carrying capability," it said of the Typhoon.
"Low reliability will mean high costs to operate."
It said Sweden's Gripen fighter had poor stealth, an underdeveloped electronic warfare system and payload and range limitations.
The DSTO found that the earlier version of the F/A-18E Super Hornet -- not the Block II version that has since been purchased by Australia -- was underpowered, lacked endurance and "risks being shot from behind with a radar-guided missile".
The US F-15E lacked stealth while France's Rafale had an unreliable and weak engine.
"The F-15E is good now, but not likely to be defensible in the expected electronic warfare environment in the 2010 timeframe," the DSTO said. "Rafale has short-term shortfalls in engine and radar performance."
The DSTO said the F-22 fighter -- the production of which was recently cancelled by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates -- had limited strike capability and was very expensive.
Despite these criticisms, the study recommended narrowing Australia's choice of a new fighter jet to only three: the JSF, the American F-15E and the French Rafale.