Defence
Minister Brendan Nelson yesterday announced he will canvas options for
Australia’s grounded billion-dollar faulty fleet of Super Seasprite helicopters
– spending $100 million plus to continue with upgrades, scrapping them and
suing the contractors .

His review
comes just two weeks after the Auditor-General reported another copter, the
Tiger, was underpowered, unsafe and over budget.

The
Australian Defence Association’s Neil James has an idea for fixing the problem.
“If some of these decisions were made by people in the Defence Force rather
than by the ponderous Defence bureaucracy, we perhaps wouldn’t have some of
these problems,” he told ABC Radio.

Yesterday,
we observed: “Defence insiders say the whole AIR 87 project, initiated by former
defence minister Peter Reith, is a debacle. The say the acquisition project has
been grossly mismanaged by DMO, the Defence Materiel Organisation.”

And there’s
the rub. Look at how Nelson kicked off his doorstop yesterday:

Late in 1994 the Keating Government developed a
program for a helicopter which would be able to operate from our Anzac Class
Frigates. The tenders were let in 1995 and the contracts finally signed by the
Howard Government in 1997…

How many
defence ministers have been involved? Well, more than enough for Nelson to hide
behind.

Not that it
fixes the problem James is talking about. The three most pressing issues for
the ADF have been our over-stretched capacity, military justice – and
procurement programs.

There’s
been the suggestion that Robert Hill was pushed from the portfolio. Out of all
the ministers involved, has he also been set up to play the patsy?

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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