“The fate of the Royal Australian Air Force’s
veteran F-111 fleet will be decided in the next
couple of months as plans firm for the acquisition of up to 100 new Joint
Strike Fighters,” the aviation section of The Australian reported last Friday. The story continued:

RAAF head Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd said the plan
was to retire the F-111s in 2010, but that could be stretched to 2012.

“F-111 retirement is still linked to the
Hornet upgrade. 2010 is our desired time frame. We always had a hedging out to
2012 and we are looking at that,” he said…

“But the important point to make is that we need to
get out of the F-111 business before we get into the
JSF business…

He said the RAAF had conducted some preliminary
studies that indicated it would need about 100 JSFs to replace 21 operational
F-111s and 71 Hornets.

He said the US Quadrennial Defence Review – the
four-yearly review of US
defence programs released last month – made no mortal cuts to JSF, although
some flexibility had gone.

“The price has gone up slightly and we are looking
to see how that will affect us,” he said…

The
report has raise questions in some defence circles on what detailed analysis
has been done – and where the $179 million or so spent on the NACC/AIR6000
project since 2002 has gone. The JSF
Program is the largest defence acquisition project ever in the US, with current budget provisions
in the order of $US256,000 million.

Today’s SMHwarns: The ability
of Australia’s new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to evade
detection and enemy attack has been substantially downgraded by the US Defence
Department.

And a
Liberal MP and former senior defence analyst, Dennis Jensen, warns that the
fighters – at $15 billion the most expensive defence purchase in Australia’s history – will be unable to
maintain air combat dominance…

A second
Liberal, former RAAF test pilot David Fawcett, is said to be taking an interest in the topic. And the Parliament’s Joint
Standing Committee
on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Inquiry into
Australian Defence Force Regional Air Superiority
is only warming up as submissions come in.

Standby for a dogfight.

Peter Fray

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