For those that cling to the view that all is well with the Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF F-35 project this story of the hour on Bloomberg may loosen your grip on fantasy.

This is a straight up and down leak to a mainstream news resource that, logically, can be explained as a considered strategy to break the news and desensitize the public and political consequences of project failure well in advance of the major shocks.

It’s where you put a story for those that don’t decipher Aviation Week or read Bill Sweetman on its Ares blog, or Air Power Australia, and who are still being fed crap by journals that trade soft coverage for advertising.

The question that one hopes Australia’s defence minister Stephen Smith will ask of his minders and masters in our defence establishment this morning is “when did you know this and why haven’t I been told”.

Smith is surrounded by people who act as if they are the agents of the project, not its customers. The lack of critical analysis and demands for action by the US to resolve the JSF issues has damaged the national interest, and a completely new, more ruthless, more performance oriented defence establishment is urgently overdue. The concept of critically managing rather than just applauding major defence commitments remains an alien notion in Canberra.

The Bloomberg story details more project delays and cost rises, and significant technical delays. This is arguably useful to the US defence establishment in that it draws attention away from the view that the F-35 actually has nothing to offer by way of air superiority compared to countervailing emerging projects in Russia and China, as even the US Air Force Association recently made plain.

If enough noise can be made concerning the cost overruns and technical and managerial delays to the project then the fact that the F-35 is too limited in its design to deliver its intended benefits in a world that has changed beyond recognition since it was devised in the 90s can be kept out of the main frame of public and political scrutiny.

The Bloomberg report says, among other things, that ‘Defense Secretary Robert Gates is set to be briefed tomorrow by Pentagon officials on a review prepared by the F-35 program manager, Vice Admiral David Venlet. ..Venlet’s review will disclose broad ranges of potential expense growth, officials said. Software, engineering and flight difficulties are proving greater than expected, the officials said.’

A technical baseline review of the F-35 is being prepared for a major examination of the $382 billion JSF program, scheduled for Nov. 22 by the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board, the officials told Bloomberg.

“It’s premature to discuss anything,” said Cheryl Irwin, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told Bloomberg.

Which is a bit rich, considering the Pentagon is intent on defusing as much of the damage the F-35 disclosures will cause in advance.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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