There is an urgent need for Defence Minister, John Faulkner, to tell parliament what he knows about the state of Australia’s most costly and vital defence acquisition, the F-35 JSF or Joint Strike Fighter.
He was tipped off by the US deputy defense secretary William Lynn, about the parlous state of affairs on February 15-16 when he came to Australia with the bad news.
This morning the GAO (Government Accountability Office) report on the JSF Joint Strike Fighter project was released in Congress, and it is a shocker.
The cost of the F-35s has shot up by 60-90% per jet, they are running at least two and half years late, making complete liars out of the lead contractor Lockheed Martin over its mealy mouthed statements about how everything is really progressing well, and making fools out of the Australian defence hierarchy, which conned Faulkner into pledging $3.2 billion for 14 ‘early’ (read useless) versions of the JSF from 2014 last November.
Not only that, the jet may not (suddenly) be able to meet its objectives and not be produced in the originally promised volumes.
And Faulkner was seriously persuaded we’d start to get 14 of the initial low rate production jets in 2014!
Never mind a housing roof insulation fiasco by a junior minister. This is the absolutely critical foundation stone of Australian air power superiority in the future, and the minister has been taken for a ride by a defence establishment that behaves like the marketing arm of a US defence company that has been exposed as struggling to deliver on its promises by this report and the earlier defence acquisition audit by Mike Gilmore, the US Director of Operational Test & Evaluation.
Quaint though the notion of accountability in defence, or any government acquisitions, is in this country, Australia’s commitment to the JSF has now been overtaken by diligent government oversight in the US.
Given our slavish tradition of being led by the nose by the Pentagon in defence matters, is it not time for Faulkner to fall onto line, and condemn the state of the project, and demand changes in his own see-nothing-know-nothing, tell-the-minister-nothing defence establishment.
Or does he want to do a Garrett, and let it smoulder for as long as possible before it all goes up in flames.
Faulkner has already told parliament of his displeasure over excessive expense claims in defence. How about outright lies about the state of the JSF program?
What can be more important that to get timely, impartial advice and warnings about the state of the JSF project, things clearly not shared with the minister when he signed a $3.2 billion deal in November.
The chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, says the outlook is ‘dismal.’
Levin says “The facts are painful because you got a 60-90% increase in the projected cost of each plane.”
Will the minister please clarify whether this means the $3.2 billion initial deal for non-performing jets which will be late as well as useless now rise above $5 billion?
And could the minister explain why the only truthful official statements about this project are being relayed by the media from Washington, and not from Canberra. Why doesn’t he try something novel, like informing the public himself without taking a cue from DC?