“Stealth” is the ability of specialized combat aircraft to avoid radar. It is also a crucial element of the sales pitch using sleight-of-hand tricks performed by the makers of war equipment and Defence in an effort to separate you from your money.

We have been here before when, recently, Parliament believed a fraud. Makers of Australia’s latest fighter jet purchase, the Boeing Super Hornet, and their accomplices in Defence hoodwinked the last Defence Minister Dr. Nelson into believing that the aircraft is stealthy. This argument was used to justify the acquisition decision to the public post hoc, to help sell the idea. The problem with this is that the Super Hornet is far from stealthy. Even Boeing’s competitor, who is no stranger to marketing spin, doesn’t agree with that one. This, along with other sales fibs, went almost unchallenged and Parliament handed over the money. This was clearly a case of the fox telling the farmer the definition of a chicken.

In 1999, when a U.S. Air Force F-117 stealth fighter was shot down using old technology surface-to-air missiles, Lockheed Martin, the company that makes the aircraft, had this to say: “Even a standard turning maneuver could increase the aircraft’s radar cross section by a factor of 100 or more”. Lockheed Martin and Defence are now trying to play the stealth card to convince Parliament that it needs the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

Modern military technology that will be fielded in the Pacific Rim now and into the future will be able to detect and defeat the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which depends mostly on stealth for stealth’s sake as its main defence. The F-35 will not be the best stealth aircraft on the market. It will be the most export-friendly of stealth aircraft that the U.S. can sell to a wide variety of countries with a wide variety of security risks without giving away the secrets to all of the billions invested in high technology weapons research and development over the years.

What does a stealth aircraft need to be truly survivable? The ability to go extremely high, extremely fast and carry a lot of air-to-air weapons. The F-22 is such an aircraft. It is solid, mature and in production. The F-22 has also taken on the mission for which only it can survive: to detect and eliminate new generation surface-to-air missile sites. There was a special program crafted years ago to export the F-22 to Australia. Defence Minister Fitzgibbon should ask why the U.S. no longer sees Australia worthy of the responsibility to field top of the line defence equipment.

An Australian commitment to the F-35 could cost as much as $16 billion dollars. And that is just the start-up acquisition cost. The on-going cost to the Australian public, over the life of the program, could easily be double or triple that amount. This will be something to think about in the post-economic downturn if Australia falls for the “blue-sky” marketing of the F-35, an aircraft that may take years to prove it’s worth, if ever.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey