There’s
been plenty of skirmishing over Australia’s air defences the past few days.

The first
sortie was launched by Jason Koutsoukis
on the weekend in The Sunday Age.
He reported on fears of significant cost blow outs in plans to buy 100 F-35 Joint
Strike Fighters from the US – already up from $12 billion to at
least $16 billion. The story carried a warning from Australian Flight Test
Services chief executive Peter Goon of a further significant cost blow-out:
“The total cost of the JSF project has already increased significantly, with
the US General Accounting Office revising the cost
upwards this year, from $US256 billion ($A351 billion) to $US276 billion.”

On Monday,
News Limited metropolitans carried stories by defence correspondent Ian
McPhedran
on plans to permanently ground one of the planes the JSF is supposed to
replace, the F-111, within the next two years – believed by defence observers to
reflect Defence Department determination to push on with the JSF purchase.

Labor
defence spokesman Robert McClelland hit back with claims early retirement of
the air force’s F-111 combat aircraft would leave Australia’s defences exposed .
“Even on best estimates we will not have an Australian combat-capable joint
strike fighter until 2014,” he told AAP.

And there’s
more today inTheSMH.
It reports that the F-22A Raptor strike jet – pushed by some defence insiders
as a JSF alternative – could be purchased for a similar price to the first
batch of F-35s:

Data
from the US Department of Defence highlights a disturbing trend for the
Government: as the price of the F-22A declines, the cost of the Joint Strike
Fighter is rapidly increasing.

“It’s
extremely concerning,” said Dennis Jensen, a Coalition MP and a former
defence scientist. “What I want to know is how does Defence get the
numbers so wrong?”

There are
two issues here – cost and capability. Defence seems to want its new toys, but
they don’t come cheap and they’re not ready yet. The skirmishing is set to
continue.

Peter Fray

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