Only a matter of time, is the way bannerman has viewed this occurence. With the much vaunted, yet clearly flawed Joint Strike Fighter delivery date being pushed further and further out – now slated for 2013 – Australia’s defensive capabilities were always going to be left wanting. This is a re-run of the late 1960’s purchase of that era’s leading edge tactical strike aircraft, the General Dynamic F-111.
An innovative design with its swing-wings, the F-111 faced the exact same problems of test and failure which currently plague the F-35. This is the you-beaut replacement for the obsolete F-111 and F/A-18 aircraft currently on Australia’s air defence inventory. Originally slated for delivery by 2010, the date has been pushed back twice thus far, and all while Australia has already shelled out US$150m without actually committing to purchasing the aircraft.
Now it seems, just as a stop gap mind you, the Howard government wants to cover its……bets……by purchasing 24 F/A-18E Super Hornets at a cost of US$2b. That’s an additional US$2b on top of the cost of the F-35’s already mooted at A$16b and climbing. This is just in case, you understand, we start having more than estimated F-111’s failing to maintain readiness status. But is this purchase a result of fear-mongering against the F-111?
Arguments put forth to justify the early retirement of the F-111, and those asserting that no strike capability gap will exist, are by any measure very weak if not plainly incorrect. The strategic consequences of this decision, if followed through with, will be profound as Australia’s strike capability dips to parity with other regional nations. The Amberley WSBU with its unique systems integration capability will wither away, damaging the industrial base possibly irreparably. Australia’s credibility with the US will take a serious hit, as the US Air Force will have to beef up PacRim assets to offset a 50 per cent reduction in effective RAAF combat strength, likely to persist even with the introduction of the second tier JSF. The RAAF is now well on track to becoming a ‘boutique air force’ suited primarily for second tier support roles and with a very limited capability for independent operations of any kind. In a period of increasing strategic risk across the region and globally, this is not a path Australia can afford to take.
The above is a summation of the current situation being foisted upon the RAAF as seen from Dr Carlo Copp of Defence Today magazine. So, who’s telling the truth on the matter of obsolescence?