The
debate over Australia’s air defence will reach a key
point on Friday when Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs,
Defence and Trade holds public hearings as part of its inquiry into regional
air superiority.

The decision to participate in the Joint Strike
Fighter program, upgrade the FA-18 Hornet and retire Australia’s
F-111 fleet by 2010 has sparked off a furious debate amongst the defence
community.

Some
defence insiders fear the decision to acquire the JSF exposes Australia to a range of
technical, strategic, budgetary and risk management issues. Instead, they
advocate an alternate position: purchasing around 50 new F-22A Raptor fighters
to replace the FA-18 and evolving the proven F-111 airframe by following the
type of progressive technology insertion programs the US Air Force has applied to
ageing aircraft ranging from the B-52 and B-1 bombers through to the Chinook
helicopter. They claim this option would maximise Australia’s air
power capacity and save over $4.5 billion.

Interestingly, Liberal Member for Tangey and former
defence scientist Dr Dennis Jensen will
be one of the parties making submissions.

Details on the inquiry and submissions are
available at the Committee’s homepage.

Peter Fray

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