Defence is on the marketing horse for Lockheed Martin again.

Australian Air Force chief Mark Binskin has stated that 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters are needed to ensure a credible future air combat capability for Australia. What is alarming, however, is that the the aircraft is projected to be an additional two years late and to cost $15 billion more in testing and development.

Binskin and others state the need for the aircraft, but have little proof to back up the alleged combat prowess of the jet. Binskin’s quote in today’s Australian is cause for more worry: “We are looking at what will be the best multi-role aircraft in the world,” he said. “It will have the best radar, the best defensive system of any of those aircraft in the world. It will be supported by the best airborne early warning and control aircraft and the best tanker in the world and flown, maintained and supported by the best people in the world. I’ve got to tell you: the system ain’t going to get any better than that.”

This is interesting when you consider the airborne early warning and control aircraft he mentions is years late and few of the electronic sensing devices have been figured out. The project, known as Wedgetail, could even face the axe if it doesn’t show proof of life soon.

The F-35 has few test hours on it, and yet its first user, the US Marine Corps, is somehow expected to have theirs working in 2012. Worse is that no one has a clue what it will cost Australia, assuming it works. As Dr Gumley of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) stated, “Some time ago I said in jest that there are actually 108 different prices for the JSF out in the marketplace and every one of them is correct. Jest or not, this doesn’t inspire confidence when you look at the dance performed in a recent government hearing on Defence matters.”

Most of what the public has been hearing from Defence in relation to the F-35 is nothing more than marketing spin. Rumors presented in the news on what will and what will not be in the White Paper make the product’s purpose look more like a justification for hardware and less about strategic vision. When Defence officials start to display objectivity instead of marking spin hype, maybe we will get some value for our taxpayer dollars.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey