Mar 21, 2010

JSF-the truth about that rushed $3.2 billion commitment?

There is a fascinating insight into why Defence Minister John Faulkner's advisors may have been so keen for him to commit $3.2 billion to the JSF project last November contained in thi

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

There is a fascinating insight into why Defence Minister John Faulkner’s advisors may have been so keen for him to commit $3.2 billion to the JSF project last November contained in this passage in the GAO or Government Accountability Office report into the fiasco published last week.


Get it. Faulkner was conned into promising $3.2 billion upfront for 14 completely useless, undefined, and definitely undeliverable by 2014 initial low rate production F-35s because Lockheed Martin is running a project with the capacity to swallow a very large fraction of US and western allied GDP .

And it isn’t anywhere near to delivering the air power superiority that is promised either, in a world where the changing nature of the threat in our region would make it irrelevant even if it did work as promised.

Flashback to Faulkner’s words, or rather those written for him, about how spending this incredible amount of money on an initial batch of F-35s would enable us to better assess their costs?

Give us a break. Are we getting our money back if they prove too costly? Or are we just shoving cash into the program up front because it badly needs the loot before it gets closed down or substantially slashed?

Back in January when the head of the JSF project was fired for incompetency it was revealed that the jets Australia had signed up for aren’t defined as doing anything. They have no firm capabilities. We’ve bought something that even the US government can’t work out what it will actually do, because it’s capabilities are undefined and unknown. Faulkner has no way of knowing whether the first JSF’s we get will be 1% relevant to the product we want because it will at least have decals in common, or 50% relevant. How dumb is this?

Faulkner must ask himself, who was it who urged this on me, and what did they then know about this program that has only recently been disclosed in a US procurement audit in January and now in the GAO report as being in serious if not terminal difficulties.

Defence has gone deadly quiet about the JSF program and the con-job on the Minister for these initial production units since the GAO report was released last week.

Perhaps the defence bureaucrats who one might reasonably conclude have been masquerading as Lockheed Martin marketing assistants and apologists, have digested it and come to the same conclusion as Bill Sweetman on Aviation Week’s The Ares Blog, who says:

“The good news for the JSF program in the March 20 GAO report – combined with the other numbers released in March – is that the program is no longer at risk of failure.
The bad news is that it has already failed.”

But can someone please explain why voices of dissent on this program like Air Power Australia, or career bureaucrat Erik Peacock, have been so accurate, and the defence establishment almost totally wrong in every single thing they ever said about this project?

Why is failure so ingrained in the defence establishment. Why can’t we get submarines right, why can’t we get helicopters right? Is it because good people get trapped in an administrative culture that tries to call winners too far in advance and then gets enmeshed in group think, where the investment in a solution becomes so large so quickly that contrary voices or changes in technologies or the recogition of changed circumstances have to be suppressed? Is it because foreign policy or trade imperatives have excessive leverage over prudent acquisition? Or do we just engage our money faster than our brains?

Whatever the reason, we face a crushing financial burden to support a failing project, or if Sweetman is right, some very serious writeoffs and fresh investments in an alternative solution, whatever that proves to be.


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50 thoughts on “JSF-the truth about that rushed $3.2 billion commitment?

  1. 12bravo

    At the risk of being accused a cheerleader or whatever other term you might want, aren’t you getting just a tad hysterical here, Ben?

    The program acquisition cost for the USAF’s ENTIRE F-35 purchase is USD$323 Billion (AUD$358b), spread out over nearly 30 years. Australia’s GDP last year alone was AUD$1.05 Trillion, (USD$920b). The USA’s GDP was USD$14.27 Trillion in 2009. Over the F-35’s projected acquisition span, the US’s GDP will be roughly $430 Trillion, whilst Australia’s will be in excess of $35 Trillion.

    At least try and rein in your hysterics Ben, this is getting embarassing…

  2. Ben Sandilands

    Did you read and understand the remaining part of page 4 of the report, that is, below the section you drew your quote from?

  3. 12bravo

    Not really, I am not all that interested in audit reports to be perfectly honest. Especially reports filled with such definite terms like, “may, might, projected” etc, no matter WHO is authoring them.

    I have never shied away from the schedule problems the F-35 is facing. It most certainly is and I’m very glad that RAAF has ended up with the highly capable Super Hornet to help it manage this delay. I do note however that amongst the multitude of official criticisms of this project, there is not one official criticism of the F-35A’s capability.

    Food for thought…

  4. Ben Sandilands

    In terms of capability this report and the Gilmore report in January identify a lack of definition of capability, never mind deliverability to a schedule and price. The GAO report identifies issues that might only be rectified by resdesign or retrofits. I’m aware that retrofits are an integral part of most if not all major defence acquisitions, and civil ones for that matter. Redesign is another matter. There are references to capability issues starting on folio page 29. including issues with hot climate operations and the unintended capability to set fire to aircraft carrier decks and damage runways. I think it is fair to summarise part of the concerns of the GAO report as being the large scale but late production of units in advance of complete testing and the risk that they can only be rendered effective by significant additional design and modification work.

    We are looking, in part, at the difference between marketing and reality. Defence appears to have been much better at delivering the marketing message than a timely response to reality.

    ‘Firepower’ pills anyone?

  5. Bushranger 71

    Hi 12Bravo,

    With respect, are you not being just a tad arrogant? An Australian National Audit Office report on the Tiger helicopter was pretty scathing, yet DoD went ahead with the project with predictable adverse consequences.

    Capabilities of F-35 versions are still somewhat mythical as the aircraft has not yet been adequately developed with around 4,000 proving test flights still necessary. JSF effectiveness as a weapon system cannot be quantified before the aircraft is operationally proven and maybe another decade before a mature design emerges.

    In such circumstances, how is premature outlay of $3.2billion justifiable for a non-capability?

  6. Alex Smith

    I always find your articles so interesting. I guess that’s partly because I’m a typical boy, fascinated with boy (war) toys, but, you provide a more detailed discussion that is often difficult to find. Thank you.
    As far as your assessment of the JSF program & the DoD acquisition skills go, I sadly have to agree. Do heads ever roll over these monumental blunders?


  7. eldudeasaurus

    The F35 JSF is obsolete now. It will be no match for Russia’s new Sukhoi PAK FA T50, an aircraft that will begin proliferating in our region in 10 years or so. Australia needs to withdraw from the JSF program and convince America to lift the export ban on the F22 Raptor. This issue is about more than cost & budget blowouts, its about Australia’s ability to protect its borders, resources and sovereignty, while underpinning our foreign policy. Australia’s failure to purchase the correct front line fighter will have dire consequences in the near future.

  8. abarker

    If we get the F22, can we get the version that transforms into the evil robot?

  9. doofloofus

    What a silly, silly, silly article Ben. So silly I’ll have to address of the idiotic points each in turn.

    First of all the LRIP F-35A’ will go directly to 2OCU for type conversion, they wont be fighting anybody ever. They will be brought up to Block 5 standard as the software updates come out.

    Second of all we were ALLWAYS intending to buy LRIP F-35A’s because of the need to begin conversions from the F/A-18C due to their all around knackeredness. Realistically there is no other choice.

    Third of all:
    “And it isn’t anywhere near to delivering the air power superiority that is promised either, in a world where the changing nature of the threat in our region would make it irrelevant even if it did work as promised.”

    Says who? What capabilities does it lack that are so vital in being relevant? Please don’t start talking about kinematics or you are going to look even sillier than you do know.

    Fourth of all:
    “Faulkner has no way of knowing whether the first JSF’s we get will be 1% relevant to the product we want because it will at least have decals in common, or 50% relevant. How dumb is this?”

    As far as I know the only major difference between the Block 3 and Block 5 F-35A is the software. Therefore this point is a non sequitur.

    Fifth of all (and here’s the douzee):

    “But can someone please explain why voices of dissent on this program like Air Power Australia, or former senior Canberra bureaucrat Erik Peacock, have been so accurate, and the defence establishment almost totally wrong in every single thing they ever said about this project?”

    Oh dearie me, APA Ben? Using the most discredited and compromised lobby group in the Australian defence community as a source!?! What exactly has Air Power Australia ever said about the F-35A that is anything close to accurate, especially in terms of capability? Their arguments are so filled with logical inconsistency and flat out misrepresentation that their criticism can hardly be ladled credible.

    In any case Both Carlo Kopp and Peter Goon have a stated financial interest in the RAAF not moving forward with the F-35A. I find it hilarious that you can label the people at the RAAF LM lackeys and then portray Kopp and Goon as noble “dissenters” when all they have done is launch a decade long smear campaign against the RAAF, DMO, DSTO and the F-35A.

    Sixth of all why haven’t we got the submarines right? The only issue with the Collins is their crew or the lack of a crew. How many nations design and produce unique submarines? Why haven’t we got the helicopters right? Are you talking about Chinook’s, MRH-90, ARH or the sea sprites? The issue with eth Sea Sprites was trying to fit 21st century avionics into a 1960’s airframe, which funnily enough is exactly what those dissenters over at APA are proposing for the pig.

    I see what you mean though about the ingrained failure in the DOD; C-17, M1A1, HUG 2, C-130J, A330 MRTT, ASLAV, JORN, Javelin, Bushmaster, AN/TPQ-36, F/A-18F BII, JDAM & Harpoon BII have been complete and utter disasters.

  10. doofloofus

    [email protected]

    Obsolete!?! lol. The Pak Fa isn’t even all aspect LO. Its sensors, comms and EW suite and its HUI is basically off the Su-35BM (which was used as an avionics test bed for the Pak-Fa program) so its inferior to the F/A-18F BII. The F-35A will be miles ahead in terms of information superiority.

  11. eldudeasaurus

    [email protected]
    Information superiority!! Hmmmmmnn…. very handy, our F35 pilots will have complete situational awareness. They will know their aircraft can’t fly as high, as fast or is as manoeuvreable as the aircraft that is just about to blow them out of the sky. And the fact that they are just about to get blown out of the sky means their aircraft wasn’t as stealthy as it was supposed to be. Thats a 16 Billion Dollar Bummer.

  12. SBH

    Abarker, we do not currently have the sufficient on-shore processing capacity to convert raw energon crystals into the liquid form. Without significant infrastructure development the evil robot F22 would be left powerless or seriously damaged by exposure to raw energon radiation.

  13. Michael James

    Damn SBH, I was banking our future defence hopes on Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots tio protect us from the Decepticons and their ability to transform into transform into Sukhoi Su35s and Pak-FAs, in fact they have cunningly disguised themselves as New Guinea Su35s (I saw it on the Air POW-er Australia site so it MUST be true!).

    I wonder at the mentality of people like eldudeasaurus and other APA fan boys.

    Which part of ‘The F22 is never going to be sold to anyone besides the USAF and is going out of production’ don’t they understand?

    Is that simple statement of fact from the US Government too hard for them to understand?

    As for the stalking horse of the Pak-FA, the damned thing has only just flown, they have probably a decade of development ahead of them before it can come into IOC with the Russian Air Force, that is presuming that the Russian’s can even afford the damned thing in the first place. We are talking about an Air Force that has struggled to buy 20 fighter aircraft a year over the last two decades.

    The F35 has problems; well that’s hardly a surprise. It is the largest military aviation program in history and will be built in three versions to support dozens of users who will operate the aircraft in a program that will see the F35 in production for decades.

    Surprise surprise, it has problems.

    There is no viable alternative, the F22 is going out of production as its too expensive for even the USAF, the rest of the aircraft available don’t come close to what is being offered by the F35 and its too big, too important and too critical to too many governments and air forces to be allowed to fail.

    I ask the F35 critics here a simple question.

    What is the viable alternative to the F35 to support the RAAF for the next 2-3 decades in the face of a changing air combat environment (and the F22 is not a viable alternative so you have to actually think about your answer rather than parrot APA’s ravings).

  14. Alex Smith

    Doofloofus, I believe the airframes of the Sea Sprites ultimately proved unairworthy or prohibitively expensive to make them airworthy.

    I also believe the Russians might up grade the software they apply to the Pak Fa. Yes, even the Ruskies are capable of up grading.

  15. Ben Sandilands

    Putting aside for a moment the strong and different opinions people have as to the merits of any of the jets mentioned, is there not a case for Australia to have been the customer from hell, rather than a poodle to be patted on the head?

    Surely nothing that has happened to this project would be as bad or challenged as it currently is if the sort of pressure that is becoming apparent in DC had been aggressively applied even as little as a year or two ago?

    For example, earlier GAO or audit type reports are full of ominous observations. By and large those concerns were ignored, batted to one side, or left without traction in the public arena perhaps because of the political cycle in the US.

    There is a public administration aspect to this situation independent of the technical aspects. Without diligent public administration, and a media willing to do more than regurgitate tame media events and releases, even the best project can be severely damaged.

  16. doofloofus


    Right, because its 1940 and air battle is dominated by the post merge “dogfight”!?! (sarcasm by the way).

    Here’s a question for you, in the BVR regime what good does a higher cruise or sprint speed do you if you cant detect, track or engage your target???

    Also how do you know the F-35A will be less manoeuvrable??? MAYBE in the supersonic regime but the extremely high wing sweep on the T-50 means it’s will bleed energy in the subsonic.

  17. David Klein

    You have raised a valid point Ben about the media being very tame on this issue and you would think the penny would finally drop with another political Defense decision making disaster waiting in the wings, with the potential to almost cripple the economy with another military lemon. The same goes for the lack of media interest in CASA with it’s quasi aviation industry self regulation, in adopting safety management systems to save inspector resources, and totally ineffective enforcement provisions in comparison with the FAA for major regulatory breaches. Both these topics would be ratings winners on either Four Corners or 60 minutes if they had investigative journalists worth their salt.

  18. NickD

    Ben, what evidence do you have that Defence is “conning” its minister? That’s a very serious claim to be making.

  19. Fueldrum


    ****The only issue with the Collins is their crew or the lack of a crew.***

    Please. Even the Minister himself has conceded that there are serious engineering problems with all six boats stemming from their design and manufacturing, both of which Defence and its subsidiaries were supposed to supervise.

    Regarding the retention of crew personnel, keep in mind that job satisfaction is usually a major factor in retaining skilled crew. The engineering problems, which the minister has conceded still exist more that 13 years after HMAS Collins took to the water, have been a major impairment to submariners’ job satisfaction (as one would expect)

    Your are correct that some of Defence’s recent purchases have worked out well (C-17, M1A1, C130J, JDAM, F/A18F). These have been the programs where Defence has purchased a finished product that works, rather than a proposed design that hasn’t been vetted by a rigourous resting program. The programs where we have accepted a salesman’s pledge as fact (F-35, Tiger ARH, Seasprite, Collins) have usually worked out poorly.

    Design and development programs are of course necessary, but equipment selection decisions should be based of facts, not forecasts. That is, decisions to build or purchase weapons should be made AFTER a prototype has been built and subjected to a rigourous testing program. It takes longer and costs more but it avoids the chronic problems we’ve been having.

    Fly before Buy!

  20. NickD

    Signing up to participate in the development of the F-35 will allow Australia to buy aircraft relatively early in the production run. If we’d waited until after the aircraft was ready we’d be slotted in towards the end of the production run, meaning that F-35s wouldn’t be available to replace the F/A-18s when they reach the end of their lifespan. The delays to the F-35 project, somewhat ironically, mean that getting in towards the start of the production run are of greater importance to the RAAF than they were originally expected to be.

    It’s also worth noting that there isn’t a satisfactory off the shelf alternative to the F-35 – the F-22 simply isn’t available, and all the other options are generation 4 or 4.5 aircraft reaching the end of their development paths which will become obsolete in the next decade or so (particularly if the F-35 works out), and hence would be very poor value for money. The F/A-18F is arguably the most suitable of these aircraft, and no-one is arguing that its anything better than a short term stop-gap until something with higher performance becomes available.

  21. Thomas Paine

    I believe Fitzgibbon did inquire of the F22 but nothing has ever come back on that front that we know of.

    [Fitzgibbon keen on US F-22 Raptors
    In February, Mr Fitzgibbon said Secretary of Defence Robert Gates would lobby the US Congress on behalf of Australia to secure a sale of the highly-advanced fighter plane.]

    It was discussed and well known before the last election that the JSF was becoming a con job and would put Australia at a severe disadvantage in the region.

    It won’t matter how arrogant some here get, the facts are the facts and they should be thinking of the defence needs of the country over and above their ‘necessary’ positions, as if we didn’t know.

  22. Fueldrum


    Have you read the audit report Ben is citing? I have only skimmed it but the problems seem worse than even a skeptic like me had feared. Planning to buy a “short-term stop-gap until something of higher performance becomes available” would be a splendid idea. Most of the available options would be competitive in our region at least for awhile, and would retain a useful strike capability after 2025.

    Please stop assuming that the current estimates for f-35 delivery dates, production costs, operating costs and performance are going to be realised. I am unwilling to assume that the F-35 will be “something of higher performance,” without a reasonably tough testing program. The various audit reports over the last several years support that position.

    On the other hand, if you prefer to be futuristic, consider that the best option in 10 years time might not be a manned fighter at all. If current UCAV concepts work out the F-35 will be really obsolete before the RAAF even gets it. A workable and reliable UCAV would be immune to GLOC, would not expose its crew to enemy missiles and would not be burdened with the weight and drag of a canopy, cockpit and pressurisation system.

  23. 12bravo

    I said F-35A, Ben. I doubt many USAF jets will be flying from USN carriers… The problems you have identified relate primarily to F-35C and F-35B, neither of which are slated for service within RAAF.

    This type of argument is akin to the disingenuous attempts about the place to show how “expensive” the F-35 is. They simply take the highest figure of the latest “projection” and ascribe that to the F-35A variant that Australia is and always has been soley interested in.

    It is also interesting to compare these costs to other fighters. Rafale as an example, a rival to the F-35, in full rate production is currently costing the French Government 150m Euro per aircraft, whilst Singapore’s F-15SG aircraft came in at a cool USD$109m a piece…

    Even at a $113m (which is the “highest” cost for an F-35 variant ever announced, NOT the cost of the F-35A) the F-35 would be a steal…

  24. 12bravo

    Hi Bushranger,

    I never said the audit reports weren’t worthy documents. I simply find them dry and tedious is all…

    How is the investment in F-35 justifiable? Probably using the same methodology as any other major advanced, acquisition. How “operationally proven” was the F-111 or the Hornet at the time of their respective acquisitions?

    How “operationally proven” were the UH-1B helos that RAAF began operating in 1962, but ordered in 1961, a good year and a half before the US Army ever deployed them operationally, for that matter?

    In is an inescapable fact, that if you want leading edge capability than you have to order it at the beginning of it’s lifespan.

    As good as the Super Hornet is IMHO, or as good as F-16’s might be, neither is at the bleeding edge of air combat capability, but neither would be risky acquisitions. The F-35, like the F-111 previously, are. At least in terms of development and schedule risk.

    Capability wise, neither is in significant doubt, beyond those who don’t bother to truly look beyond marketing material…

  25. FtD

    One thing we didn’t discuss is when I looked at the ‘partners’ of the F-35 program, they are UK, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Norway & Denmark. Countries with large or large-ish air force: UK, Turkey, Italy have other not so old aircraft type/s to rely on if F-35 program delays into uncertain future but countries with small & aging AF: Dutch, Canadian, Norwegian, Danish which mostly rely on single type fighter & betting their future on the unproven F-35 I think is quite risky.

    RAAF i think falls into the later category since we’re now near single type fighter AF with the retirement of F-111 but luckily we procured some F-18F which is somewhat a relief…. but still our future success in the region is again betting on the unproven F-35 which at this stage still is not clear about its full capability, cost, timing etc.

    Maybe we can buy/rent more F-18 from USN if our own F-18A/B cannot last any longer & wait until F-35 is in full production ie block 5+ then we’ll a clearer picture… because at this stage RAAF is playing an ever more expensive guessing game which the endgame can be quite ugly

  26. david82

    Two points 12 Bravo.

    It is worth noting that the Superhornet maintains the confidence of the USN – until the point of the F-35 C’s service entry.

    I would like to focus on that point, because from a capability standpoint it says a lot.

    1) That the USN is satisfied that the E/F Model hornet is sufficiently capable to meet and defeat threats adequately in the mean time (keep in mind that the USN is the primary offensive arm in the U.S armed services in major conflict)

    2) That the USN recognises that upgrade commonality will inevitably mean that as developments to the F-35’s combat roles continue, that the E/F Model hornets will be superseded in fleet CAP by the F-35’s themselves.

    If considering the above, then one must give the platform from a software integration perspective, significant weight in the air to air role. Think of A/B Hornets being updated to where they are now C/D std.

    In that light, ones investment is more than justifiable when it gives you a shoe in for the next 30 years of tech upgrades alongside the worlds most potent air arms. Your systems integration are not just money set aside for dev in the USAF, but also the USN, RN, Canadians, Dutch (I’m sure the picture becomes quite clear here).

    The problem with aerospace commentary in Australian media, is that it is more like looking like the British Tabloid press. It takes it’s sensationalist cues from an air combat fanaticism group, that simply are not versed in any school of thought other than on paper capability statements of face value & dubious analysis and runs with it.

    Some very good points – though you are in a battle with know it alls…

    Comments like this: “It will be no match for Russia’s new Sukhoi PAK FA T50, an aircraft that will begin proliferating in our region in 10 years or so”, fail on so many grounds because they;
    – fail to ascribe development capability of the Russians
    – fail to ascribe actual experience in integrated stealth design whilst assuming that they have access to examples on integrated stealth design (constant references to f-117 being shot down & examined).
    -fail to ascribe that the Russians must also do systems integration with at least equal to or greater than effort than the program partners due to the catch up that is required.
    -ascribe all developmental benefit of the doubt to the platform, whilst doing the opposite for the f-35.
    -fail to acknowledge that their clearance or actual knowledge of the systems being integrated into the f-35 and the roles those systems play on the modern battlefield is pretty close to zero.

    That might sound arrogant – its just the way it is.

    But put it into context, People, notably those at APA have become too attached to their work, cannot accept their time, effort & layman analysis turned obsession as wasted (along with conflict of interest). After several public rebuttals we now get inundated with loads of self referenced layman analysis that is actually quite good when it comes to persuading the average Joe that the worlds foremost expeditionary air arms are blindly marching into oblivion & annihilation in future conflict.

    Arrogant? When it comes to policy making APA are in effect the Far right / Left of the political isle. They only gain traction in a void. Speaking of which, “The Truth” Wasn’t that a book Pauline Hanson Released in 1996?

  27. Ben Sandilands

    The F-35 is under executive scrutiny because of two USG reports, not because of media reporting tabloid or otherwise.

    Those key reports were by Mike Gilmore, the Director of Operational Test & Evaluation in January, and more recently by the Government Accountability Office.

    In the US we have the government firing the head of the program, recommending slashing payments to the prime contractor Lockheed Martin by $0.7 billion in round terms, and Congress being put in a position where it must recertify spending.

    But in Australia this was preceded by a new minister being conned by the all singing and dancing government employed Lockheed Martin fan boy club that is supposed to be the Defence establishment to put another $3.2 billion into the same program for jets that have NO defined capabilities, ostensibly to find out how much they cost to run. What a pathetic, and costly, farce.

    Gentlemen. Who is right? The US, to cut payments or Canberra to throw money at it. Who has been made to look like a complete fool and who has faced up the true realities of what looks like a failed project?

    Firepower pills anyone?

  28. Bushranger 71

    Doofloofus, Ben is on target re helos. See my series of contributions in the March 2010 archives, Ben’s ‘Chopper Choices’ thread (go via ‘Older posts’). But just to remake a few points here without detracting too much from the JSF debate.

    The Seasprite debacle was really not an airframe issue and this seems like Defence smoke to obscure their appalling management decision to allow local science and industry an attempt to gut an in-service aircraft cockpit and create a unique flight and weapons management system which was well beyond Australian expertise. Similarly with the initial weapons system installed in the Collins submarine.

    As many are now realizing, support of Australian defence science and industry as the major plank of defence policy is really just a low productivity employment program that is progressively degrading operational capabilities. Hardware acquisition is largely based on acquiring offset orders for industry irrespective of the military functionality of highly expensive products being peddled by the powerful arms industry. This philosophy has negated progressive optimization of in-service assets to maintain more credible combat readiness to which the taxpayer is entitled.

    ADF helo force capability has been going downhill for the past 20 years with both Army Aviation and the Fleet Air Arm now generally only achieving around 80 percent of budgeted flying hours. Technical deskilling of the military and outsourcing of maintenance has led to decreasing utilization of expensive assets which will only be exacerbated by acquisition of complex largely unproven and unsuitable hardware. The highly expensive deficient Tiger, MRH-90 and the emerging NH90 on present indications are all unproven dog aircraft that should never have been contemplated for regional operations. Unit cost for the first 2 is believed to approximate an absurd $45million per aircraft!

    Helicopters generally perform pretty basic functions and upgraded versions of Chinook, Blackhawk, Iroquois, Kiowa are very effectively performing combat roles around the globe. Had these ADF types been progressively optimized through manufacturer enhancement programs (Chinooks now excepted), maybe upwards of $4billion need not have been recklessly squandered on unproven types.

    Project Air9000 supposedly aims at rationalizing the number of helo types in service with the ADF, but it is really only throwing billions of dollars toward arms manufacturers and will further handicap not enhance expensive asset availability and compound soaring operating costs (RAN Seahawk $45,317 per flying hour!).

    A broad aim of defence spending should be to get the best value from hardware by capitalizing initial taxpayer investment, but the recently released McKinsey study in the US rates Australia and America as world worst regarding equipment output for every dollar spent. Consider again these extracts: ‘In general, countries that make it a point to support their domestic defence industries have higher procurement costs than those that rely on imports. Countries that procure older equipment from the global market tend to have very capable fleets for less money.’

    Nations may have to fight with what they have at any point in time, but the main thrust of Australian defence procurement planning has been more toward questionable futuristic hardware while allowing existing capabilities to diminish. To paraphrase a recent statement by Major General Jim Molan (Retired): ‘The Australian public would be alarmed to learn just what the ADF cannot do.’

    This parlous situation reflects very serious failings in leadership and public administration.

  29. Bushranger 71

    Hi again 12B; reference your March 23, 1222 post.

    What is being questioned this thread is the justification for throwing $3.2billion at Lockheed Martin to acquire just 14 aircraft that will be still very much under development with all of the necessary flight testing and proving incomplete. Has Defence not learned from other folly like the unproven Wedgetail, Tiger, MRH-90?

    Operationally proven in my view means full completion of a development program with all of the attendant systems/weapons testing and any other trialling required by the military with accurate published performance data available enabling swift introduction to service and prompt employment in combat operations if necessary. This was the case with the Iroquois, Caribou, Hercules, Orion, F-16, C-17, etcetera.

    Iroquois were first received by the RAAF at end of 1962/early 1963. Over the following 18 months, there was full-bore activity involving aircrew and maintenance training, Army support training, national commitment tasking and then operational deployment of a second new Iroquois squadron to Malaysia in June 1964, all only enabled because a fully-proven aircraft had been acquired.

    An appropriate balance between some higher technology and optimized well-proven capabilities is of course desirable, but we would have more effective military capacity by generally being a decade or more behind the leading edge of technology as outlined in the McKinsey study and certainly not being among launch customers as Wedgetail has shown.

    Our current pretty benign national intelligence assessments should be the basis for defence capabilities planning and armed forces structuring just has to be within limitations of what the nation can afford. This was adjudged by 75 percent of those canvassed by the DWP2009 community consultation team as being about 7.6 percent of government revenue in 2008/2009, yet defence spending has since gone way above that level which is causing increasing public concern considering other economic imperatives facing Australia.

  30. FtD

    Bushranger 71, I think our major deficiency in this country is the lack of population for such a big country. I think for our local industry to do some major works, we’ll need to have 80-100mil people in Australia. At present, our industry is too small to be considered as major player in global or even regional scale… another example is our car industry. our consumption as a nation is just too small to be considered to have separate car platforms to be economically competitive… Not saying Falcodore are bad cars but being made just for this country doesn’t make business sense.

    I’m not suggesting we just open the border & import more people but if our present population is around 80-100mil, then if we want to procure major military spending, instead of buying 100 fighters, we can look at 2-300 or RAAF have other platforms to rely on eg. Japan procuring new planes to replace their F-4 when they already have fleet of F-15….

    So my point is in order to make Australia competitive as major regional player, we just need more people….. but the aging population is not doing us any favour.

  31. Bellistner

    I ask the F35 critics here a simple question.

    What is the viable alternative to the F35 to support the RAAF for the next 2-3 decades in the face of a changing air combat environment[snip!]

    F-15, F/A-18E/F, and later versions of the Flanker family. Yeah, I know the last one is a political impracticality, but the damn things can play kinematic games with anything we can field, until the cows come home.

    If the US can make their 747-mounted ABL smaller, manned combat aircraft become impractical anyway.

  32. FtD

    If most of pro F-35 camp said the PAK-FA is still a wet dream for over vodka-ed Sukhoi engineers & the anti F-35 camp wants the program bankrupt next few years, then we won’t need to worry about 5th gen planes in this region & move back to 4.5 gen planes.

    Most likely Boeing will seriously develop their F-15SE then we may want to take a look & if RAAF goes to UAV for recon, strike alternatives, MQ-9 Reaper can be cheap & save option.

    I don’t think RAAF can afford to buy Su-35 as the whole ordnance need to be changed & it won’t go well with our US ‘partner’…..

    My RAAF without F-35 or F-22 RAAF will have 48 F-15SE & 48 F-18F with 6-12 converted to F-18G plus maybe a dozen of MQ-9

  33. Michael James

    Sorry FtD, but this isn’t the place for self wanking flights of fancy, you need to wander off to the Air Power Australia website for that.

    We are supposed to be dealing with actual reality here, something that the APA cheerleaders and F22 fan boys seem to have real difficulty dealing with.

    The question is not “What should we have bought?” The question is ‘Does the F35 provide the best value for the RAAF over the next 20 years?”

    In the opinion of the Australian Government (who are paying) and the RAAF (who will operate them) the answer seems to be yes.

  34. FtD

    Michael James, i’ve been wondering off to my la la land but as mentioned before Aust Govt lately has no track record in procuring sound equipment whenever they were bought off plan (subs, wedgetail etc.) & only did good when bought off the shelf items (M1A1, C-17 or soon to be F-18F)….. so will I put my money & this nations air sovereignty on the problematic & unproven F-35? No.. I think RAAF is buying themselves a very expensive headache for the next 20 years…..

  35. Ben Sandilands


    If we accept the logic that you bring to the discussion, how much better would the situation be if we had been the customer from hell from the outset rather than the tame poodle, as I asked earlier?

    At the moment our defence establishment is supporting with more money a situation in the management and delivery of the most important defence acquisition in our history that our vital partner in defence is tearing to shreds.

    The USG is doing to the JSF precisely what the Australian government did to the Wedgetail project, and shutting off enough money to make its displeasure clearly felt.

    Why shouldn’t we be consistent, and do the same in relation to the JSF?

  36. 12bravo

    For one thing Ben,

    We haven’t yet spent a cent on acquiring the F-35A. Government approved the $3.2b initial acquisition, but not a single contract has yet been signed.

    Secondly, before shooting your mouth or your pen off about price tags, it would behoove one to find out exactly what it is we are getting for our money. You called it “another” $3.2b. When was the previous one committed?

    The majority of that price tag, as is the case with the Super Hornet, is for ENABLING capabilities, not the aircraft themselves. The facilities and infrastructure that actually support the aircraft. Such are require irrespective of which aircraft is acquired.

    You may have noticed the GE F414 “un-installed” engine test cell that was officially opened at RAAF Amberley just the other day. The price for that was paid out of the announced budget for the Super Hornet. Similar will be required for F-35 or any other aircraft, no matter how many we operate. Do you think that things like this come for free?

    As for RAAF not knowing what capability they will receive, yah, right. They’ve spent 10 years hugging themselves and just hoping it will turn out okay. It’s not as if they’ve been studying this aircraft and it’s capability in every possible way…

  37. Ben Sandilands


    Time to knuckle down and read the reports cited here. Time to pay attention to what is being digested in DC. Criticism of media reporting is always welcome, but can we have the benefit of your criticisms of the Gilmore and GAO reports please. Where did the Americans get it wrong?

  38. NickD

    Have any payments actually been made for the 14 F-35s? Given that delivery of the first aircraft isn’t scheduled until 2014 and the DCP talks about an “estimated cost of $3.2 billion” for the 14 jets (as opposed to the contractual price), it seems unlikely.

    I’m still waiting for an answer on how you know that Defence has been lying to its minister.

  39. Ben Sandilands


    The thread is headed ….’rushed $3.2 billion commitment?’. We have committed this amount immediately before the US decides to reduce actual payments to LM by around USD 0.7 billion in this year. Why the rush?

    Nor have I said Defence ‘lied’. Promoted, deceived, failed to fully communicate, and so forth, Yes I have said all of those things.

    How long do you think it will take Defence to absorb the reports cited? How long for Defence to align its thinking with that of DC?

    I think such an ‘alignment’ has to occur, since we are unlikely to be banging on about how good the JSF is going to be for Australia in glorious isolation from the realities that are now being dealt with in DC.

  40. upandaway

    “We have committed this amount immediately before the US decides to reduce actual payments to LM by around USD 0.7 billion in this year. Why the rush?… How long do you think it will take Defence to absorb the reports cited? How long for Defence to align its thinking with that of DC?”

    Because the “special relationship” involves not asking any questions, and being the Customer From Hell only works if you are ready to ask pointed questions, both of yourself and on the product.

    AFAIK, most “partners” source their slides from Lockheed, so the leverage isn’t there. The alignment will only occur when JSF finally, finally runs out of juice a couple of years from now. Until then the Orwellian charades will go on and on… Until one day, they suddenly stop.

    Alternatively, if this project truly IS too big/stupid to die, it will stagger on with a token number procured in the US as well as the most “committed” allied nations: e.g. Australia, Norway. You’ll pay trough the nose for it, but proofs of loyalty requires sacrifice. Perhaps it will be worth it.

  41. Bushranger 71

    Hello FtD; reference your March 23, 1158 post.

    Best we do not sidetrack Ben’s JSF debate too much here; but growing the population of Australia entails enormous problems and potential consequences, not least being the enormous backlog in national infrastructure development. Interestingly, our present extreme rate of importing people (445,000 last year) has not hitherto significantly enhanced military recruiting. Views in some quarters that Australia can be a major regional player or a medium military power are somewhat unrealistic.

    Most Australians would favour support of home-grown defence industry where generating national income and not mainly subsidizing employment, but the underlying problem is that the big multi-national arms industry conglomerates have either absorbed or parent majority of our small military hardware related industries. The big predators are now feeding right across the defence spectrum and sucking the profits from taxpayer funding out of the country.

    Consider our questionable competence in building warships. The Kiwis are very unhappy with hardware produced in Australia and there has just been a substantial compensation settlement with BAE Systems. This of course does not augur well for fitting out of the 2 x Canberra class LHD (aircraft carriers) which will likely result in another huge project overspend. Support of Australian defence science and industry as the major plank of defence policy has cost the taxpayer dearly over time.

  42. Michael James


    Anyone who calls the Canberra class LHD’s aircraft carriers just excused themselves from any rational debate about defence in this country in the 21st century.

    Maybe you should go and do some basic research on the Canberra class before trying to insert yourself into a debate on subjects you obviously don’t understand.

  43. Freetime

    Michael James,

    Ironically, you just shot yourself in the foot. From Wikipedia:

    [i]… the ships will be fitted with a ski-ramp and could be certified to operate STOVL aircraft … While the tender released for the Canberra class did not specify that the ships needed to be capable of operating STOVL fixed wing aircraft, it has been proposed that such a capacity be included in the final design.[/i]

    In any case, the type of vessel is also known as a helicopter carrier, and anybody knows that both helicopter and fixed wing are aircraft.

    For somebody who’s gone to the trouble of making no less than 4 abusive references to Air Power Australia, your posts have been remarkably devoid of any information to back up your position. I suggest you follow your own advice.

  44. Bushranger 71

    Hi Michael J,

    Freetime kindly beat me to the punch.

    Go have a look at the image on this link – circulated by Tenix-Navantia in their sales pitch – displaying a mix of fixed and rotary wing on deck: http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/images/SHIP_LHD_Navantia_lg.jpg

    Also view the dialogue in the forum at this link: http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread289986/pg1

  45. Freetime

    Ben: You’re linking to the wrong report from 2008. The correct link is:


    Not sure what this says about some of the posts …

  46. Ben Sandilands

    Thanks Freetime. Link fixed. Def time for new specs!

  47. Fueldrum

    The GAO has access to at least as much information about the program as Australia’s Department of Defence, and probably more. The GAO’s information is also far more up-to-date than the information that was available to the Howard Government all those years ago.

    Some key quotes.

    ****DOD continues to invest in large quantities of production aircraft before variant designs are proven and performance verified. **** (that is, they haven’t been verified yet. This program was started in 1995)

    ****Slowed by late aircraft deliveries, technical problems, and low productivity, the flight test program only completed 10 percent of the sorties planned during 2009. **** (that is, the flight testing program has not shown yet that the aircraft performs as planned, or that it can be manufactured with the planned production processes)

    ****Other technical challenges include
    (1) relying on an extensive but largely unproven and unaccredited network of ground test laboratories and simulation models to evaluate system performance;
    (2) developing and integrating very large and complex software requirements; and
    (3) maturing several critical technologies essential to meet operational performance and logistical support requirements. **** (that is, these “critical,” “essential,” technologies haven’t been proven yet, despite the program starting more than 14 years ago)

    What does all of this mean in plain English? It means we shouldn’t assume that the F-35 (when and if delivered) will have the projected capabilities. A large number of people posting here have defended the F-35 on the grounds that it will have excellent capabilities when (and if) delivered and paid for. Given the recently published GAO report this is a very shaky assumption. The GAO doesn’t go so far as to say that the F-35 won’t have its advertised performance, perhaps because so little flight testing has been completed. They do point out that there is little reliable evidence that it will work as planned.

    Flight testing is expensive; why do it if we already know how the aircraft will perform?

    You might disagree with my view that the F-35 won’t be the right plane for Australia even if it does someday perform as advertised. Whatever your view on that issue, it is unwise to assume that the aircraft actually will perform as advertised.

    As I mentioned this program was started in 1995; the Apollo 11 program was completed in a shorter time without the aid of modern simulators and computers. If Lockheed feels the need to rely on “unproven and unaccredited ground test laboratories,” and the critical, essential technologies haven’t been matured and demonstrated yet, how do we know they will work at all?

  48. Bushranger 71

    Good analysis Fueldrum.

  49. FtD

    simulations are too easy to be configured to make the numbers look good (when deadlines loom)…. but once the plane’s up in the sky, there’s no way to hide from laws of physics

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