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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Joint Strike Fighter Imboglio - Open Letter to Sen Johnson

Senator the Honourable David Johnston

Minister for Defence

PO Box 6100

Canberra ACT 2600


Dear Senator Johnston

My letter concerns future acquisition of the Joint Strike Fighter.

The recent fire in the engine of a Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) highlights the risk that Australia on your watch could be left without an operational air combat capability in the JSF fleet should similar incidents occur in the future. The malfeasance inherent in “concurrency” whereby aircraft are tested and manufactured at the same time leaves our future fleet vulnerable to being grounded for a currently ‘unknown unknown’ problem. This would be a national security embarrassment greater than having the entire Collins submarine fleet in for repairs at the same time. If you doubt this I suggest obtaining an independent (non-Defence Department) review of the inherent risks in the JSF project.

I write to suggest a practical and face-saving way out of what has become the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) dilemma. The dilemma consists of the following:

1.       The JSF is a proven failure, already obsolete, with well documented fundamental design flaws that cannot be remedied by future upgrades.

2.       Defence has never compared JSF combat performance point by point with reference threats out to 2030. Such analysis as has been done found that the JSF was massacred in any ‘hot war’ scenario and locked out of contested airspace by modern IADS.[1]

3.       Over ten years senior defence bureaucrats and former defence ministers from both sides of politics have wedded themselves to the project to the extent that they are now in a classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’.

4.       In the current fiscal environment the true cost of the project is unsustainable over time.[2]

5.       Australia has already committed to the delivery of 14 JSF units.

6.       The Superhornet is too slow and insufficiently stealthy to be a serious air combat contender.[3]

7.       Having retired the F-111 Australia is now without an effective air combat capability.

So let’s look at what we have.

The Superhornet is optimised as a reliable medium sized bomb truck with self-defence and EW capability, but not as an air dominance fighter. As a naval aircraft it carries the tomahawk anti shipping missile. Used as a naval strike asset the Superhornet can assist the RAN in sea defence. Used in the close air support role it may plug a big gap left by our lack of armour and mobile artillery. The Superhornet could and should be tasked primarily to these roles.

The JSF is a networking platform with limited stealth. Our best hope is that the JSF will deliver on the promise to be a capable networking platform. In this role 14 JSF may be valuable force-multipliers as ‘eyes in the sky’ along with Wedgetail. The investment in 14 JSF is therefore best leveraged by networking them with a capable air-to-air platform. In this model they are protected by air dominance fighters but assist the same by enhancing their situational awareness.

The task of chasing and shooting down evolved Sukhois, the Chinese J-20 or the Russian PAK-FA demands a top end high performance combat aircraft – which takes us back to where this all began when the AIR6000 project cancelled was and no comparison of available aircraft allowed. This the JSF cannot do for reasons inherent in the design - too small, too heavy, too tightly packed, too slow, only four missiles in stealth mode, can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run, and these problems cannot be overcome by future upgrades. I refer you to the literature.

Australia can still obtain and use 14 JSF but save billions and protect our sovereignty by finally engaging in realistic comparison of available aircraft against regional reference threats, namely the evolved Sukhoi, the J-20, the PAK-KA, double digit Russian and Chinese SAMs and modern IADS. I do not wish to pre-empt what actual research might find, but note that, if our diplomatic arrangements require us to purchase planes from the US, then the ‘Silent Eagle’ program should be considered. This program fields a genuine mach 2+ twin engine combat aircraft at roughly half the unit price of the JSF with none of the inherent risk. The Swedish JAS Grippen program is perhaps the most affordable while delivering supercruise and credible performance against the evolved Sukhoi[4].

In this manner Australia can have a diversified, flexible and affordable RAAF combat capability that:

·         honours our existing commitments;

·         maximises the utility of existing platforms;

·         plugs gaps in our land force inventory; and

·         provides air-to-air combat capability which the JSF alone cannot provide.

This model replicated the highly successful USAF model in which types of specialist aircraft were combined in ‘packages’. While conventional wisdom now favours a single aircraft type this leaves defence highly vulnerable if problems develop. I note that the entire F-22 fleet and the entire JSF fleet have been grounded in recent years. Australia successfully fielded both the FA-18 and the F-111, and now intends to field the Superhornet and the JSF. The addition of an air dominance fighter to this mix is now the only viable way forward.

I therefore request that you raise with you cabinet colleagues the option of acquiring an air dominance fighter in preference to purchasing more JSF.

I further request that you discuss with operational commanders options to best utilise current and future aircraft inventories in combat.

I also request that you engage non Department of Defence experts in a genuine assessment of risks inherent in the JSF program and what that may mean for Australia’s future defence.

This letter does not require a written response. However please note that I have studied this issue in depth over 10 years and written extensively on it. Please therefore spare yourself the indignity and me the tedium of including any of the following in any response:

·         a ‘cut and paste’ statement from the Lockheed Martin publicity office e.g. ‘unrivalled fifth generation capability…sensor fusion…unparalleled situational awareness…let the missiles do the turning...bla bla;

·         a statement expressing confidence in the project without reference to anything real;

·         a statement to the effect that because the Americans have confidence in the program (they don’t) it must therefore magically be able to shoot down Russian and Chinese stealth fighters (it can’t);

·         a statement to the effect that because a number of northern hemisphere nations have bought into the program it must be right for Australia (this is contrary to analysis); or

·         a statement to the effect that the program is too big to fail so it must be OK.

Yours sincerely

Erik Peacock

[1] See analysis by Dr John Stillion of Rand Corp, Air Power Australia, and Eagle Vision Ltd. See also the leak to Vanity Fair, and reports to US Congress.
[2] Cost is defined as ‘what you pay for the capability you get over the life of the aircraft’ and includes training, tooling, parts, maintenance, weapons, fuel, changes to facilities and basing, simulators etc. The true cost likely to be well over AUS$30 billion.
[3] I refer to Air Power Australia analysis since no other analysis was undertaken.
[4] Pers Comm Chris Mills CEO Eagle Vision Ltd


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