The silencing of JSF critic Bill Sweetman by Aviation Week in the US will not change the crisis that has overtaken the Joint Strike Fighter project but it will leave those who rely on the journal less well prepared for the serious and costly remedies which are going to be required to preserve American air defence superiority.

Fortunately there is little risk it will leave the US as badly informed about the situation as Australians who rely on the general media to do who do anything more than publish the misinformation that Greg Combet, Minister for Defence Materiel served up at the JSF Advanced Technology and Innovation Conference in Melbourne last Monday, May 3.

Defence analyst Eric Palmer has provided Plane Talking with a copy of the speech…which is a shocker…and some detailed notes which have been invaluable in preparing this report.

Combet’s speech was that of the captured, subservient customer, incapable of seeing beyond the interests of the seller of the massive multinational defence project. He is either ignorant of, or unmoved by, key findings about the project in the Government Accountability Office report into the project in March, and the more detailed and technical audit of the program in 2009 released in January by Mike Gilmore, the director of Operational Test & Evaluation.

To quote from Eric Palmer’s notes, here is part of the minister’s speech (bold type) with his commentary following in italics.

The aim of this conference is to help bring Australian technology and innovation together to the benefit of the JSF Program, because it is through our partnership in the JSF Program, the world’s largest collaborative defence program, that we will meet our strategic and economic goals.

There is no sound proof to state that the JSF F-35 program will meet “our strategic and economic goals”. If anything the aircraft will be sub-par as a weapon system and the definition of “economic goals” needs to be defined in significant detail by the Minister. I doubt that he has a grasp on this beyond some casual PowerPoint briefs that are based on Lockheed Martin talking points. In other words: “The fox telling the farmer, the definition of a chicken”. Unless the program shows proof of life with more orders of aircraft, Australia’s participation in this program will be a taxpayer-funded loss-leader. The hook was the seller of the aircraft (along with government support) stating that up to $5B in home industry work-share was possible with the program. (Note: This was promised to most JSF partner nations in briefings not just Australia.) This included the hype of up to $9B of home industry participation if the program did really well. What does Australian industry have so far? Not much but a few hundred million in contracts for a very troubled program.

You are all aware of US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates‚ recent statements on JSF cost and schedule issues, as well as on contractor performance not meeting expectations over the last year or so. The Australian Government welcomes the decisive action that he has taken to deal with these issues and we are committed to working with the US and other partners to make this Program a great success and a model for future international collaboration.

This is more wishful thinking. If anything, the Minister is not doing his part to protect Australian Industry by being an impartial overseer of the taxpayer’s money. Instead he has gone native to the program.

In raising his concerns about JSF cost and schedule issues, however, Secretary Gates stressed that he saw no fundamental technical challenges that threatened the ultimate success of the Program.

For anyone to say that there are “no fundamental technical challenges that threaten the success of the program” is the product of the south end of a north-bound mule. It simply is not true on any level.

Here is a summary of technical problems identified to Congress in the source material quoted earlier, which Combet presumably didn’t read, didn’t understand or didn’t intend acknowledging.

JSF enginesummary2Did the Minister really enter the room ignorant of these sections of the GAO report? Or was he trying to utter the sort of platitudes the the PM comes up with each Sunday standing beside the priest who never talks? Did it not occur to him that he was talking to a room full of people who were expecting big things from this project and are so far being showered with pennies and ‘promises.’

The JSF project is of immense importance to the future of Australia, and the western world. It deserves better than platitudes. It demands ministerial attention that is critical, focused and candid in its dealing with the Australian public, which needs to know, ‘we have a very big problem to sort out without delay.’

And in America, it deserves a more courageous and independently minded editor at Aviation Week than it has at present.

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