Enjoying your coverage of the JSF stuff over the last few months, but thought you might be interested in a few bits and pieces that must remain off the record.

Re. “Nelson, Peacock and the Boeing connection” (12 April, item 2). I (personally) would be careful with statements like “air force experts have been bobbing up everywhere criticising the [Super-Hornet] purchase on the grounds that it is not capable of doing the required job” (Richard Farmer, yesterday, item 2)… Some of these experts are in fact regarded with well-earned derision within Air Force and industry ranks, and many have political axes to grind (passed over for promotion etc.).

That is not to say that some (several) decisions of the DMO and Defence generally have bypassed the carefully developed Kinnaird processes, but a great deal of this is election-year agitation. For example — Joel Fitzgibbon has privately assured the New Air Combat Capability Team (purchasers of the Super-Hornets and presumptive JSF) that Labor will (if elected) buy the aircraft, but for now has to make trouble for obvious reasons. The message being — don’t be too dissuaded from the real task at hand, and keep doing what you are doing.

The argument about sub-standard capability is a false one, too. Aircraft-to-aircraft, the case is seductive (and the disgraceful 60 Minutes report of a few weeks ago has fueled this), but there are several points to consider if you dig deeper:

1. Australia doesn’t fly “just” an F/A-18 on its own — it will do so with the support of Airborne Early Warning & Control and a range of support systems that will render our overall capability far superior to that of any of our presumed regional rivals.

2. There is no Biggles-type dogfighting anymore. In air-to-air combat, if the antagonists are in visual range, it is almost certain that both pilots will end up dead. Message — it’s the missiles, stupid. We don’t just shoot bullets anymore — and Australia’s weapons systems and electronic-protection systems are far superior to anything in the region (now or planned). An incoming missile can “pull” more “gs” than a manned aeroplane can (air-to-sea missiles can pull several tens of “gs”, whereas pilots black out around 9. Missiles are far more maneuverable, so our systems do not let the bad guys inside the danger zone). Result — aircraft these days are essentially bomb/missile trucks where air-to-air combat is concerned. We want ours for ground attack capability and the Hornetis the best choice for this in the current context.

3. Through-life support (including Australian industry capability) issues further support the Hornet option. Many (not all) of the systems are identical or similar to those on the Hornet A/Bs that we already have. Pilot training issues, ground support etc. likewise. It is the best transitional option for us.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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