Enormous problems with Australia’s multibillion dollar commitment to the Joint Strike Fighter have emerged from an audit review just delivered to Congress by Mike Gilmore, the US Director of Operational Test & Evaluation concerning the JSF project in 2009.

Only 16 test flights of 168 planned in 2009 — and the 5000 needed to complete System Design Designation (SDD) — were made in the year and only 12 out of more than 3000 SDD success criteria were verified.

The report identified a range of problems that would cause the loss of pilot and aircraft, some of them caused by the removal of fire protection systems to speed up a program top heavy in reliance on modelling rather than testing.

It says “thermal management challenges” hamper the ability for the F-35 to operate in hot and high-density environments.

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The defence analyst at Air Power Australia, Dr Carlo Kopp, says the language used in the audit review is without precedent, and is an ominous pointer to the alarm and dissatisfaction with the massive multinational project that is now being voiced on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, all remains subservient and obsequious in Canberra, despite the calamitous consequences that the failure of the JSF would have for national defence, and the clear failure of the defence materials office to either understand what was happening with the project in the past year, or tell the minister what they knew.

On November 25, Defence Minister John Faulkner praised it as a true fifth-generation multi-role fighter and announced a $3.2 billion purchase of 14 initial production F-35s for delivery from 2014 for the purpose of training and cost analysis.

The total commitment is to 100 of the jets, at a claimed total cost of only $16 billion, and no, the sums don’t ring true no matter how they are dissected, with 72 of them deployed as fully operational between 2018 and 2021.

The Gilmore report says that at the earliest the demonstration phase of the project will not be achieved until the end of 2013, and that assumes 50% of the work involved is successfully achieved in the final 12 months, which it describes as a high-risk proposition.

It says of early examples of the JSF that “the process to accurately predict and verify the interim capabilities of each [batch] is not complete or coherent.

“Expectations of capabilities provided in the early lots of low rate initial production aircraft need to be adjusted to the realities of what can be developed and verified before delivery,” meaning those Australia is spending $3.2 billion to get from 2014 if everything works perfectly from now on.

Kopp describes the F-35 as the most dangerous new combat aircraft ever contemplated or committed to by Australia.

It seems inconceivable that Australia’s defence establishment would not have known the seriousness of the deficiencies in the JSF at a time when Faulkner, as a comparatively new defence minister, was being jollied into signing off on absurd statements about this project last November.

Which raises the question, what is the biggest threat to national security? Our defence materials procurement and strategic analysis processes, or the armed forces of populous resource poor nations to our north?

A more detailed report appears in Plane Talking.