After spending close to $100 million developing an Australian-designed radar warning receiver for the RAAF’s FA-18 fighters, Defence has instead chosen a system supplied by American company Raytheon, Minister Brendan Nelson announced on Monday.

And he tossed out what he thought was a get out of jail free card with his media release:

This decision does not reflect on the efforts of BAE Systems Australia and the CEO of BAE Systems Australia, Mr Jim McDowell, has assured me that no jobs will be lost as a result of this action.

Yet defence jobs and the future of Australian aerospace are a particular concern at the moment. One of the major concerns over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project is the tight control the US intends to keep over the technology involved. Australia – like all of the American allies planning to purchase the plane – will not receive access to the top level of technology.

This has operational concerns – as well as less obvious implications for Australian technological skills that are vital to defence self reliance. The “deskilling” of Defence was identified as a serious risk during the development of the Government’s Strategic Defence Industry Policy in 1998. Yet it appears the same Government is now accelerating the process.

Nelson may be able to say “the CEO of BAE Systems Australia, Mr Jim McDowell, has assured me that no jobs will be lost as a result of this action”. That’s all fine and beaut – but what about those responsible for this FA-18 FUBAR?

Is anyone going to be held to account? Or doesn’t the waste of $100 million and the weakening of our own defence capacity matter?

Peter Fray

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