Senior
Australian Defence Force officials have cast doubt on whether Australia will continue with the nation’s
biggest defence purchase, the US Joint Strike Fighter program, in evidence
before the US Senate Armed Forces Committee this week, most papers report today.

Questions
have already been raised over the capability of the JSF, and now sharing of
sensitive technology for the aircraft is becoming a sticking point. “The US
Government must approve the provision of sensitive military data to foreign
countries that buy US hardware”, today’s SMH reports.

We’re not
alone in our concerns. Yesterday’s London Timesreported:

Britain yesterday threatened to scrap a
planned 10 billion pound purchase of the new Joint Strike Fighter if the United States refuses it access to American
military secrets.

Lord Drayson, the Minister for Defence
Procurement, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Britain would lose sovereign control
without the technology transfer deal.

The transfer is being resisted by both
Congress and Lockheed Martin, which fears that it would mean handing over
preciously guarded stealth aircraft technology to industrial competitors in the
UK.

The
Australian
picks up his noble Lordship’s comments in its report today.
It adds some from the head of the Australian Defence staff in
Washington, Rear Admiral Raydon Gates:

“Guaranteed
access to necessary JSF data and technology to allow Australia to operate and
support the JSF will be required before we join the next phase of the
project,” Admiral Gates told the committee, which is conducting two days
of hearings into the JSF. Admiral Gates said if the issue was not resolved it
would also have ramifications for future joint combat operations with the US…

Admiral Gates said
that “overly restrictive access to United
States technology could
have numerous negative consequences for both of us”. He said this included
“forcing Australia to
acquire systems elsewhere” as well as threatening the inter-operability of
the warplanes in allied assaults.

He added it would
“limit operational capability of Australian forces alongside US forces,
and reduce the level of co-operative technological development between our
governments and industries”.

The Brits
have been blunter. Back to The Times:

RAF chiefs say that failure to reach
agreement will leave them having to beg for help from US Lockheed Martin
specialists after each sortie flown by one of the new aircraft.

A weapon
like that ain’t much of a weapon.

Peter Fray

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