One of the foremost critics in the US of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) fiasco, Bill Sweetman, has been pulled off the case by his employer, Aviation Week, and a fire storm of anger is burning in the American media.
The issue is of critical relevance to Australia, who of all the allied partners in the project is the most generous in terms of brushing aside questions and pledging billions of dollars toward “low-rate initial production” JSFs that US government audits have condemned as being undefined, way beyond schedule, far above budget, and grievously mismanaged.
And with rare exceptions, the JSF issues are ignored in the general Australian media, or written up as puff pieces lifted from press releases by defence reporters taken on royal tours of lead contractor Lockheed Martin’s facilities in the US.
This sellout in Australian defence reporting and showcase of inept defence acquisition is now centre stage in the US.
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In the Flight International blog The DEW Line, Stephen Trimble, one of Sweetman’s most prominent rivals, lays it on the line.
Of course, Lockheed Martin denies involvement. And Aviation Week regrets the matter has become “public”, which is such nonsense. Sweetman’s sudden non-coverage of the JSF, which he has lambasted as a failed project that will destroy the air superiority of the western world, is unlikely to have gone unnoticed.
Sweetman is a significant part of the brand value of Aviation Week, which together with a decades-won reputation for defence and aerospace reporting integrity, has just been trashed by its editor.
Last week the Minister for Defence Material and Science, Greg Combet, delivered a speech about the status, progress, and national defence industry benefits of the JSF which was troubling in its gullibility. It was the sort of set piece that Sweetman’s reporting of the issues has already made impossible to deliver in Washington DC, or London, where answers to serious questions are now being pursued.
Combet’s words were typical of those of a buyer already captured by a seller, but in this case for goods that have no realistic delivery date, no final price, no guaranteed capabilities, no refunds, and disastrous implications for the defence of the nation.
Some notes on that speed by defence analyst Eric Palmer will be published on Plane Talking shortly.