Feb 092010

Robert Gottliebsen reiterates something that I, as an aircraft enthusiast and follower of advanced aircraft design & development have also be writing about for a long time now. The risks of resting Australia’s air defence capability wholly and solely on the development of the much-vaunted, yet unproven F-35 or Joint Strike Fighter program.

For all our politician’s approbation of the program and praise for the US-Australian alliance, we risk shelling out massive sums for an aircraft program which gives every impression of being another F-111 in the making. Those old enough to recall – and this is a problem with defence bureaucrats and politicians per se in that they tend to forget about history when it’s politically expeditent to do so – will remember the dramas the Menzies, briefly the Holt and subsequently Gorton goverments had to contend with during the long delayed and expensive F-111 program in the sixties.
The F-111 was intended to be, as is the JSF, all things to all buyers. A miracle aircraft which would be fighter, bomber, interdictor, ground attack and air superiority master of the skies. By the time Australia took delivery of the aircraft, the F-111 was a low to medium level fighter-bomber, and we had to requisition our own reconassiance version from General Dynamics. Certainly, the F-111 has proven to be a genuine workhorse, but it’s capabilities had to be supplemented with the purchase of the F/A-18 Hornets in the early eighties, effectively putting to death once & for all the concept of the multi-role combat aircraft. Yet here we are again, a mere forty-odd years later, neck deep in another you-beaut, all-things-to-all-people combat aircraft purchase.
There are better aircraft available and available right now. Be they Russian or American, it really doesn’t, and should not, matter what the country of manufacture. Our near northern neighbours are committing to the new generation Sukhoi, and with perfectly understandable justification. It works. The Sukhoi is superior in every way to the F-35A, which is the version we’re supposedly committed to. Twin engined, stealthy, faster, capable of greater ceiling and broader flight envelope, the Sukhoi is the clear choice. Failing that, the F-22 Raptor from Lockheed Martin, itself superior to the F-35A, and also available right now. But the American’s won’t sell it to us, even though we’re such great buddies and staunch allies.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men appear vowed and declared to remain bent over this barrel with pants around their ankles and nether regions suitably greased. As a tax payer, let alone aircraft enthusiast, my anus puckers everytime I hear or read about the Joint Strike Dumpty.

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