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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter hit by Dutch roll

Defence Minister Faulkner and

Defence Minister Faulkner and Air Marshal Mark Binskin at a ceremony

The Netherlands parliament has debated and passed three motions which make it very unlikely that country will persevere with its involvement in the F-35 JSF project, although it will come under fierce pressure to remain a customer.

This ‘Dutch roll’ comes at a time when Australian Defence Minister, Senator John Faulkner, is officially ‘unhappy’ with the Euro torpedo fiasco, the MU 90-not the currency-leaving one to wonder what he might feel about defence’s handling of the far larger JSF related expenditure in this country.

But first, to The Hague.

The motions were tabled by the SP (Socialist Party), PvdA (Labour) and GL (Green Left) and may be summarised as follows:

Proposal 1 (SP):
The government not be permitted to contract any new obligations with the JSF program

Proposal 2 (Labour)
Cancelling the contract for the First LRIP3 test aircraft and get the money back from the US for the long lead items. Not buying/ signing contract for the Second LRIP4 test aircraft. Cancelling the participation in the MOU-IOT&E (Initial Operational Test and Evaluation)

Proposal 3 (Green Left)
Because the Evaluations of the F16 replacement in 2002 and in 2008 were based on wrong estimates and unreliable data, there needs to be a new evaluation done with new RFPs (Requests for Proposal).

All three proposals were approved by the Netherlands Parliament.

This development follows two highly critical audit reviews of the JSF project in the US, the firing and replacement of the military head of the project, and most recently the triggering of the Nunn-McCurdy law under which defence projects that exceed cost increase limitations must be revalidated by Congress to receive continued funding. That Congressional review is underway.

The Australian government however remains uncritically enthusiastic for the JSF, which will officially cost $12.5-13.5 billion for 100 of the aircraft that are supposed to replaced the FA 18s, the interim Super Hornets, and the F-111s, and maintain regional air superiority.

Or does it? Faulkner is responsible for a defence establishment that blew $1 billion on the failed Seasprite project, can barely manage to keep a single Collins class submarine combat ready, and has brushed aside performance issues with the Wedgetail airborne early warning and command aircraft and the MRH-90 helicopters, the latter currently grounded after one experienced a serious, but hushed up engine failure in South Australia in April.

So far Faulkner appears to have become as captured by the culture of incompetence that has an iron grip on defence purchases in Australia, as it has in turn been captured by the manufacturers.

But this can’t go on forever, and as some have noted, and even recorded (top photo) Faulkner shows signs of impatience with defence. The critical difference between our Defence Materiel Organisation and its overseas equivalents is that it represents the sellers not the buyer. It sells to the government, rather than act as a critical and vigilant buyer. There is no more prone and obsequious defence establishment than Australia’s yet it can’t become the last choir boy still singing in the chapel, especially as public scrutiny of the JSF project gathers momentum in the US.

Having become ‘unhappy’ with the torpedo farce, how soon will it be before Faulkner seizes upon the realities that are being confronted in Washington DC and The Hague?

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  • 1
    David Klein
    Posted May 22, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    It’s good to see the Dutch government and military, unlike Australia, have not wilted under commercial pressure from manufacturers spin or well connected retired military personnel lobbyists and have made the first significant move on canceling the
    JSF F-35 orders for the Netherlands.

  • 2
    Bellistner
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    “Powerpoint makes us stupid”. The US Marines, right on the money again. And it seems a good set of PP slides is all it takes to get money out of the Aus DoD these days. :(

  • 3
    Fueldrum
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately this doesn’t end Dutch participation. The Dutch government and Air Force haven’t withdrawn their support for the F-35, only the Dutch Parliament has. Their Parliament will be sent to an election shortly and the issue will presumably be reviewed then.

    Still, this is a promising step in the right direction. Another positive development is the new fighter concepts being advertised by Boeing at recent the US Navy League conference. Boeing wouldn’t have paid money for those advertising stands if they didn’t expect worthwhile sales opportunities in the next decade or so.

    I’d be preparing a new fighter if I were them!

  • 4
    FtD
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    hope that will get the chain reaction started for other nations (hope Aust will join in soon) that their countries’ sovereignty will not be dictated by USA & LM….. bravo

  • 5
    NickD
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    “Boeing wouldn’t have paid money for those advertising stands if they didn’t expect worthwhile sales opportunities in the next decade or so.”

    On the other hand the cost of a stand is piddling next to the profit margin on a fighter jet order, so it’s best not to read much into that. Russian defence companies also often put large ads in the Australian defence media but I doubt that they’re seriously expecting any sales to the ADF.

  • 6
    Tom Mullin
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    Just another ADF fiasco .. Seasprite, one sub working, for a while one tank working, 4 ships (one for each corner)?

    Exactly the same as just before WW2, bought rubbish for huge pounds (as it was in those days), the UK (now the US) used as a reliable dumping ground for obsolete crap and a source of troops for whatever foreign adventures they were involved in at the time.

    To put it simple and historical terms, the F-35 is the equivalent of a F-40 in 1941, the F-18 is a biplane, our subs as the same as a post WW1 J-class (look it up .. I’ve dived on them all).

    Australian ‘defence’ spending is always based on the same premise … buy their crap and leftovers, do what they want and ‘big brother’ will look after us … not.

    On the positive side, when we jump into China’s embrace totally at least we will get decent planes. And our boys will fight so well in Tibet … they can get all the dirty jobs there (as per Boer war, WW1, WW2, etc, etc, etc), but don’t worry, the Prime Minister of the day will get a huge pat on the back from the Chinese leader of the time.

    And we will all feel so safe and happy that the ‘Big Brother’ is looking after us .. and then we will buy their crap.

  • 7
    Uwe
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Tom, Greece has some Type214 subs that they really don’t have the money for.
    Maybe ask them politely?

  • 8
    Freetime
    Posted May 23, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Tom, thanks for that wonderful imagery. I particularly enjoyed “4 ships (one for each corner)?” and “the F-18 is a biplane”. ROFL.

  • 9
    12bravo
    Posted May 24, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    So let me get this right,

    A minority party gets together with a couple of other minority parties, passes a vote by a mere 8 votes to end Dutch participation in the purchase of a single fighter aircraft for OT&E work of it’s own and this is somehow the end of it all for the JSF program?

    You blokes really are clutching at straws now, aren’t you?

    Want some further insight into how ridiculous this claim is? Italy made this very same decision in 2002. Did that end the JSF program?

    The minority Dutch party I referred to is the Labour Party. Did anyone here bother to read that they actually continue to support continued Dutch participation in the JSF SDD phase?

    If this is so then what does this decision actually mean? Well nothing really, because there is a caretaker Government in place until the next Election on June 9 and under caretaker conventions, they cannot do anything major like this and the Acting Defence Minister has accordingly already rejected these proposals…

    Even if they went ahead, this simply means the Dutch won’t be buying aircraft to conduct their own OT&E efforts, but instead will rely on America and other partner nations who are doing so, for this work.

    In no way does this decision end Dutch participation in the program and in no way does it start the “beginning of the end” of the JSF program. Thinking so is simply laughable…

  • 10
    Fueldrum
    Posted May 24, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    “What does this decision actually mean?”

    What it means, 12B, is that the problems with this program are reaching a point where western alliance nations are seriously reconsidering their participation in it. The designed-in weaknesses of this aircraft, as described by experts for years, are now coming so close to the surface that even elected politicans can see and understand them. Many aircraft designs with fundamental flaws have died this way, throughout the history of military aviation.

    Every thunderstorm begins with a single raindrop. Reading the transcripts of US Congressional proceedings indicates that their politicians are also becoming impatient with the cost overruns, delays and performance shortfalls of a machine that was not designed in the first place to be an interceptor, but is apparently envisaged by a large number of its prospective customers as filling that role.

    It will be interesting to watch f-35 supporters trying to keep their fingers in the dam in the coming years. There aren’t any visible options to quickly raise its performance or lower its cost.

  • 11
    Uwe
    Posted May 24, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    The F-35 programme in all its advertised glory always looked like
    a “capabilities binding” effort directed towards the “very good
    friends” of the US. ( Fragmenting unified European developement
    efforts; sucessfully? don’t know. Getting the CASA programm lead,
    BAE and HispanoSuiza to sabotage the A400M worked a lot better
    ROI wise, imho and all that jazz)

    Overpromising on a product that was predominantly designed
    to garner participation and bind resources .
    Actually not that much different to the B787. An overpromised
    product that tried to leverage overseas jobprogrammes for “great
    benifit to the American Nation” ( i.e. a few already stinking rich )
    Especially Japan was caught by the jobs flypaper. Worked quite well.
    Accessorising (common to Airbus) suppliers with festering projects
    producing steaming piles in production can not have gone by Airbus
    without effect. Alltogether very efficient programmes to drag your
    competition and maybe future opponent down.

  • 12
    12bravo
    Posted May 25, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Maybe it all began to end in 2002, Fueldrum. That’s when Italy made this very same decision, as I’ve already mentioned… Care to comment on this?

    ALL this represents, is a desire to save some short term cash. THAT is it. Even PvdA recommends continuing in the SDD phase of the F-35 project. You are making a mountain out of a molehill, because it suits your own personal opinion. You are misinterpreting the facts to suit a pre-conceived notion, or what others describe as a “pre-determined end point” argument. You already “know” the F-35 sucks and consequently twist or misinterpret facts to suit this viewpoint. It is why people like me, who simply try and point out some realities, annoy you so much…

    The exact same methodology APA uses in every single one of their “analyses”…

  • 13
    morewest
    Posted May 25, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    So far Faulkner appears to have become as captured by the culture of incompetence that has an iron grip on defence purchases in Australia, as it has in turn been captured by the manufacturers.

    By all means criticise Defence for the errors it makes, but sheet home the F-35 decision where it belongs, former Defence Minister Robert Hill who tossed overboard the Project Air 6000/New Air Combat Capability Project selection process and famously infamously committed us to the F-35 on the very day that representatives from the Eurofighter consortium arrived in Australia to begin making their case.

  • 14
    Fueldrum
    Posted May 25, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    So 12B,

    You are a person who simply tries to “point out some realities,” are you?

    We can rely on you for ‘realities,’ or we can rely on the US Government Accountability Office. They are professional auditors who have access to all pertinent information on the program, and unlike Lockheed Martin they have no vested interest.

    Really, it’s nothing personal. I’m sure you’ll understand.

  • 15
    EngineeringReality
    Posted May 26, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    @morewest

    Spot on – this is the real reason that Australia signed up to the lame dog of the F-35. Throwing out a proper engineering and capability evaluation program to be run by experts and forcing through a decision based on political favours and back-scratching – a larger amount of improper conduct you’d be hard pressed to find in recent Australian history.

    The F-35 trying to replace capability of F-111 & F-18 is like a shiny new mini – trying to do the job of a semi-trailer.

  • 16
    12bravo
    Posted May 26, 2010 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Fueldrum,

    If GAO and CAPE are as accurate as you claim, perhaps you’d care to comment on exactly HOW L-M has managed to bring the cost of each LRIP aircraft delivered BELOW the projected cost (not theirs I will admit!) and is continuing to do so, even on the latest rolled out aircraft? (BF-4, AF-2), on top of which L-M has stated that LRIP 4 aircraft will ALSO be significantly below CAPE projections?

    Fact is, the “projections” made have been far greater than the actual CHARGE the contractor (L-M) has passed onto the customer. You can put your faith in “projections” until the cows come home if you like. I’ll put my faith in the contracts actually being signed and the actual amounts of money that are being exchanged…

  • 17
    Malcolm Street
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Fueldrum – Boeing putting out some feelers on new fighter concepts is a very sensible idea. Methinks the longer the F35 program goes the more interest there will be (not least from Congress) in an alternative. How many nations are clinging to the F35 purely because of lack of an alternative? (And please, APA readers, don’t bring up the F22 again…)

  • 18
    Fueldrum
    Posted May 29, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Malcolm Street,

    The concept models Boeing put out at the Navy League conference appear to be compatible with existing engines, weapons and sensors. The pictures published suggest the concept would be suitable for the same engines, ejector seat and radar as the Super Hornet; this would offer large savings in operating costs for the USN if it were used on existing carriers. This also reduces the time and risk for development; building an airframe around existing sub-systems is much quicker than developing an all-new weapons system. However someone would need to make decisions about important questions like whether to have a pilot on board. And of course even relatively simple aircraft can and do run into development problems

    12B the pricing of developmental prototypes is very flexible. To give just one example how much of the factory overhead for the Fort Worth factory is included, versus how much is being attributed to the F-16 and F-22 programs? If the F-35 goes into production and the F-16 and F-22 stop production the whole of this overhead will be included in the F-35 price. Currently L-M and the DoD can allocate the overhead between the three programs and they have considerable flexibility if they work together. That’s just one small example of how the pricing can be adjusted; other examples include pricing for spares, pricing for services etc. L-M no doubt hopes that by then the F-35 will be too big to be cancelled. Don’t be fooled; every dollar L-M spends will be billed to customers at some stage but there is considerable flexibility in when this will occur (if we assume that the program isn’t terminated)

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