“Australia’s $13 billion joint
strike fighter is on track for delivery to the RAAF from 2012,
according to Defence Minister Brendan Nelson,” The Australianreports today. “In an interview with The Australian,
Dr Nelson strongly defended the JSF as the best possible choice to
replace the frontline combat force of F-111 bombers and the F/A 18
fighters.”

That’s nice. The neophyte Defence Minister has
decided to ignore any recommendations that the Joint Standing Committee
on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade inquiry into Australia’s air
defence capabilities currently underway
might come up with. So much for the Committee’s work – let alone
concepts like Parliamentary oversight. Surely, as a doctor, Nelson
knows hypotheses need to be tested?

Well, Crikey understands
from defence industry sources that Nelson has been mulling over the JSF
for a while, and that his declaration is deliberate. Deliberate – and
ill considered.

There are genuine concerns in the United States
over the JSF program – not just its costs, but the program as a whole.
There are fears that it has become a Trojan horse – a Trojan horse to
chase funds, a cash cow and a technology cow. A cow that will be
slaughtered and then carved up.

Sure, aircraft will be produced, but in lower numbers. This will make them more expensive.

When
Australia announced it would buy the JSF, we were talking 2002 dollars.
The final product could be something very different – along with the
final price tag.

Two of Dr Brendan’s colleagues have the technical wherewithal to determine what is going on – Dr Dennis Jensen, the Member for Tangey, a former DSTO scientist and engineer, and David Fawcett, the Member for Wakefield, a qualified test pilot and former commander of the Aircraft Research and Development Unit.

Perhaps
the Defence Minister should ask the pair to test the evidence coming
out of the US – and at least have a look at what the Committee Inquiry
produces, even if he doesn’t like it.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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