“The Defence Department appears to be secretly mothballing our aging F111 fleet, putting Australia’s air power at risk,” The Bulletin reports today (here).

The Bully calls
the F111 “a proven mainstay of Australia’s air defence and attack
capacity since the first one was delivered in 1973.” It tells how they
are “sturdy war planes, which can take off in Australia, drop a hefty
load of bombs in south-east Asia and return without re-fuelling.” And
it warns that as Australia waits for the new Joint Strike Fighter to
come into operation: “Military sources say the RAAF has embarked on a
plan (on instruction from the government, it must be assumed) to
mothball all remaining G-model F111s by the end of next year. Air force
insiders fear this retirement by stealth of the F111Gs will be a
prelude to the withdrawal from service, much earlier than announced, of
the remaining 27 operational fighter-bombers. It will, say the critics,
create a dangerous capability gap which could be exploited by emerging
regional powers acquiring new-generation attack and strike aircraft
well ahead of Australia.”

Meanwhile, the US Air Force AIM Points website
says: “Based on engineering assessments, the Air Force estimates the
B-1 and B-52 will be operational until roughly 2042, while the B-2
bomber will be operational until 2058.”

The B-52 is an older
design than Australia’s F111s. They are from the same design generation
as the swing wing B-1 bomber. The US has determined that retention and
upgrade of its long range strike bomber capability is essential in
order to deal with the changing nature of the global strategic
environment. Defence insiders say that concerns about what is happening
in the Asian region underpin this decision.

So why are senior
officials in the Australian Department of Defence so hell bent on
killing off our long range strike bomber capabilities?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey