Obliterating billions in the afterburners of the JSF
Australia’s air combat capability is critical to defending our nation. In the 21st century, those who control the skies control the world. The stealthy fighter designs that will soon dominate our region are the Russian T-50 and the Chinese J20 and J31. Australia’s fighting men and women are stuck with squadrons of obsolescent and uncompetitive fighters.
In 2004 the Defence Teaming Centre issued a document praising the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). They stated that the RAAF would achieve an initial operational capability (IOC) in 2012. Now, Bill Sweetman in trade journal Aviation Week and Space Technology says the earliest the US will achieve delivery is 2020, so what hope do we have?
Sweetman states “The users and taxpayers need an IOC date, IOC capabilities and some real cost numbers. If that’s too much to ask after 11 years, it’s time for someone to get fired.”
Our Defence officials simply aren’t asking the hard questions and have resorted to reassuring Parliament and the public that there is nothing unusual about the protracted development of this aircraft, acting as de facto salespeople for Lockheed Martin.
Organisations such as Air Power Australia (APA), and indeed me in Parliament have made it our priority to challenge the blissful ignorance of cost and schedule blowouts and poor capability.
Critics have been lambasted by Defence as not having the necessary “classified information” to make informed judgements and assessments. Problematically when it comes to cost and schedule, the critics have been on the money whereas Defence have fallen short by blindly believing Lockheed Martin’s assurances.
APA did an analysis of the JSF’s performance in 2006, matching it against the official JSF Operational Requirements Document (JORD). JORD stated the JSF, in terms of sustained turn rate at 15 000 feet had an objective of 6G, with a minimum threshold of 5.3G. APA calculated it would achieve 4.7G.
Due to the inability of the aircraft to achieve the standard, the JSF Project Office has requested that the threshold be reduced to 4.6G. Similarly for acceleration at 30 000 feet from Mach 0.8 to 1.2, the JORD threshold was 55 seconds, with an objective of 40 seconds.
APA calculated over 60, and the JSF project office has now asked for this to be relaxed to 63 seconds. The JSF’s performance in acceleration and sustained turn is equivalent to the 50 year old F-4 Phantom, known to be a truck. This is an absolute disgrace.
The head of Lockheed Martin’s JSF effort Tom Burbage told Parliament last year that “The airplane will continue to be well in excess of its basic requirement. The aircraft is meeting all of the other requirements today.”
The A-model Australia is getting can’t even achieve its specified range let alone “other requirements”. Surely Mr Burbage should be called before Parliament to explain why he made statements that, at face value, would constitute false or misleading testimony.
There are now assurances from Defence that this degradation in performance will not adversely affect the JSF’s combat performance. Yet the JSF is nowhere near the likes of the F-15, F-16 or Sukhoi Flanker, never mind the aforementioned T-50, J20, J31 or indeed F-22.
In reality Defence and Lockheed Martin are drinking the same Kool-Aid, where aerodynamic performance no longer matters. They say the missiles will do all the work. So even if the JSF goes down to Cessna levels of performance, it won’t matter, they’ll keep pushing on with the project regardless.
Defence have continually insisted that the JSF would cost in the region of $75 million each, where it is now clear that Australia will be paying well in excess of $130 million per plane.
Defence and Lockheed Martin have either misled Parliament, or have been absolutely inept in their estimates of cost, schedule, and aerodynamic performance.
They insist classified capabilities are spot on. But why should we believe them when the pool of people checking these capabilities would, by necessity, be far smaller than those checking the unclassified aspects which have proven to be hopelessly optimistic on all counts.
Defence and Lockheed Martin would have us believe air combat has entered the realm of magic. But it’s the fundamentals that matter, the cost, schedule, and performance data.
Every time the Government bets another billion on the magic and props the JSF project up is another investment that could be better spent. It’s time to call the JSF what it is, a failure and cut it from Defence.
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