It is reported in The Australian that defence chiefs support the purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ( JSF ). In other news, the sun set in the west, and Britney Spears lip syncs parts of her live performance.

Australia’s national security committee may make an approval (also known as a “second pass approval”) today. But what do they have to base a sound purchase decision on? Nothing.

The supposed subject matter experts that are advising senior politicians have not done their homework. Let’s take a look of what they have missed.

While it is popular in Australia to mention that the F-35 acquisition could be up to $16 billion, no one knows how many aircraft can be had for that money. The “affordable” claim of the F-35 has not demonstrated existence. An F-35 that may be three to four times as expensive to acquire only means that if $16 billion is an absolute ceiling, Australia will never see 100 F-35 or even close to 50.

Until this cost issue is figured out by something more substantial than empty faith-based marketing claims by the US and their parrots in senior Australian Defence, there is no “affordable” price for this aircraft.

Most JSF partner nations are not rushing to make buy decisions of this aircraft soon for good reason. The biggest potential buyer of the aircraft the United States Air Force doesn’t know how it will afford more than 48 aircraft per year once full rate production kicks in.

For any time in the foreseeable future this is a cut of almost half of the aircraft the USAF planned to have. Unless there is an increases in top-line money given to the USAF each year — unlikely with a debt-ridden US economy and funding for two wars — the service will never see its planned number of F-35 aircraft.

Part of multiple vicious circles in all this, no one really knows when full rate production will start because basic flight testing of what defines a full go-to-war example of the aircraft is so far behind. Unless large numbers of the aircraft are built there won’t be an “affordable” price. Another adverse effect of lack of flight testing is lethality claims of the aircraft are a big unknown.

With all this, Australia and others cannot make an informed buying decision at this time for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If Australia goes ahead with this “second pass” approval today or really any time soon, it will be loading up too much risk on the Australian taxpayer.

This is a much bigger risk for Australian politicians than going along with this flying question mark just because either major party doesn’t want to look “weak on defence”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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