I’ve seen secret files and this jet will blow up in our faces
One F-35 Joint Strike Fighter war plane - or a year’s salary for 2061 nurses.
Eighteen JSFs - or Fiona Stanley Hospital, Australia’s largest tertiary teaching hospital, fully funded.
If we go the full hog and purchase the full fleet of 100 JSF aircraft as the Defence Minister would like, we could have every single Gonski education reform fully paid for with spare change for two more Fiona Stanley Hospitals. Health, education, welfare and infrastructure spending of the Government all face scrutiny of cost, likely success and whether our nation is getting the best bang for our buck. For the Joint Strike Fighter this cost benefit analysis has been thrown out the window.
Why? Because we are dealing with Defence. Identifying failure is this department’s Achilles heel. Raise matters of cost and competency with the top brass and you are quickly shutdown with “its classified”.
One of the most common statements from Lockheed Martin’s Tom Burbage and Kim Osley from Defence has been that critics of the JSF have not had a “classified brief”, and with a “classified brief” critics would be amazed and become strong supporters of the program.
Well, I am one who has had classified briefings. Indeed, on a recent parliamentary delegation to the US with five other Members and Senators, we received a classified briefing “in the vault” at Lockheed Martin Fort Worth Division, home of the developers and manufacturers of the JSF.
We saw their production line and had another classified briefing with the JSF Project Office in Washington DC. I remain deeply concerned about cost and capability.
One of the major issues I was determined to explore at these briefings was the so-called “kill chain”. That involves working step by step through an air combat scenario with contestable questions to find weaknesses.
But it wasn’t very long before the briefing came to a halt. The questions and capabilities that I wanted to explore related to data at an even higher classification level.
Previously, on news.com.au: They can’t fly in lightning
From all the US briefings, there was only one piece of information that was new to me.
In Australia, I received further closed door briefs, in more depth, that still haven’t drilled down to the level required. One aspect of the Australian briefing that rang alarm bells for me was being told that an aspect relating to radar detection was classified “secret” when it can readily be accessed in any radar text (for one, Merrill Skolnik’s Radar Handbook. If this publicly available information is being flagged as secret, what else is being hidden?
We are asked to take Lockheed Martin and Defence assurances on capability at face value, when all the cost and schedule advice to date have been incorrect.
Further, Lockheed Martin has provided what I believe to be misleading testimony to the Defence Sub-committee. They stated that in terms of performance “the aircraft will continue to be well in excess of its basic requirement. The airplane is meeting all of the other requirements today”.
How can this statement be reconciled with the JSF Project Office requesting that acceleration and turn performance requirements be relaxed to standards that would not even challenge 1960’s generation fighters?
Lockheed Martin also asserted: “We are probably actually several thousand pounds away from the first compromise of the performance requirements of those two airplanes”, one of which is the variant Australia is looking to acquire. Once again, for our variant, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation report finds that the aircraft is only 273 pounds away from that threshold weight.
Given these public domain, unclassified data points have shown Lockheed Martin and Defence’s claims to be hopelessly optimistic how are we supposed to take their claims on the classified issues at face value?
Australia’s Joint Strike Fighters are now about 8 years late, and at present, with no further increases in price, double the initial statements made on cost. Having the classified briefings give me no further confidence in this project.
If Parliamentarians cannot critique projects from a fully informed position, we are effectively writing a blank cheque for anything that comes under the Defence banner. We are hamstrung by the “classified” get out of jail free card. My time at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) gives me a greater understanding than most of information control and secrecy matters.
But Defence’s use of this trump card is now blocking Parliament from completing its intended function.
Lockheed Martin and the Defence Department extol the virtues of the Joint Strike Fighter, continually assuring anyone who will listen that all is well with the program.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is Australia’s largest weapons program in history. Alone, it is the single largest government acquisition ever. It was set to be a flag ship program, showing our defence force in all its glory. Instead it has showed how best this department lets complex programs slip out of cost and capability control.
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