If Australia is crazy enough to sign on for the gold-plated U.S.-made Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in an era of global economic meltdown, Defence will have a lot of explaining to do.

Let’s forget for a moment some of the more obvious facts that the jet will be Australia’s most expensive Defence purchase in history at $16 billion dollars for less than 75 aircraft. Let’s also forget that this aircraft has very little flight testing done on it and is yet to prove that all of its fancy high-tech war gadgets will work. Let’s forget that costs on the program keep climbing and schedules keep slipping. Let’s forget that this aircraft is not a total air-superiority machine and is mostly a tactical bomber designed to hang around and plink ground targets from middle to low altitudes. Let’s forget that Australia is being led like sheep to the slaughter by an arms industry that has the main goal of making the sale. Let’s forget that the Taliban, Australia’s current enemy, doesn’t even have an air force. Let’s forget all that and more.

If the F-35 does manage to squeak by all of those challenges and get deployed by the RAAF, remember the following: a recent US study states that the F-35 is twice as loud as current fighter aircraft designs.

Australian Defence has known about F-35 noise excess since 2002 when it received some expert advice on the topic. However, Defence leadership would rather keep quiet on this until it is too late to complain. The person that will make the big decision next year on whether Australia should go with the F-35, Defence Minister Fitzgibbon, may doom an area near his home district to serious noise pollution if he gives the nod to the purchase.

RAAF Williamtown north of Newcastle could very well end up upsetting residents. Some of the communities and planned developments around Williamtown will be at risk, even though they are outside the current noise contours. The influences of F-35 noise will be attached to both the Williamtown Airbase (and Airport) as well as the Salt Ash Range areas to the North. Areas like Port Stephens, Nelsons Bay, Tanilba Bay, Raymond Terrace, King Hill, Swan Bay, Medowie, Anna Bay, Karuah, Ferodale. This carries the real risk of stifling property value and the resulting community development even though housing is a vital issue for Defence and the future of Williamtown.

The top salesman for the Lockheed Martin F-35 project, Tom Burbage will be in Australia again soon to give another rose-coloured glasses briefing. Recently Burbage made a sales pitch to the Dutch on the F-35. The last slide mentioned that the noise issue was an “urban myth”. The F-35 noise studies done by the U.S. and by Australian Defence for the Williamtown area disagree.

Australian residents near future F-35 bases should demand answers from their elected representatives. The Australian Parliament should be asking Tom Burbage to provide the truth and not flowery sales hype on the F-35 project before it hands over any money. The Defence community isn’t being honest about the F-35 to the Australian public.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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