Awakening to a decade of defence failure

Now others are finally catching up with the fact that Australia's JSF program is in deep trouble, there's no excuse for politicians not to act. But there's also a solution Four Corners did not canvass.

Watching the JSF mistakes unveiled on the ABC's Four Corners last night was almost like watching the last 10 years of my life unfolding before me.

During that time I have been writing about the problems of the joint strike fighter, first in The Australian newspaper and then in Business Spectator (Shooting down lies from the sky, February 15).

Initially I explained to Australia that the JSF would be much more costly than people like defence chief Angus Houston were predicting. At the same time I wrote that it would not be available in 2012 as they predicted – it would be more like 2018 or 2020. That would leave Australia with a huge air defence hole. That’s what happened.

Then as the years went on my JSF commentary became even more serious for Australia as it became apparent that the aircraft could not do what it set out to achieve and was no match for its rivals.

Defence writer after defence writer went to people in the Department of Defence asking whether I could be right. They were told I had no idea what I was writing about and should stick to writing about corporations and business affairs. But it was not just defence writers who were misled. Defence ministers and the parliament did not hear the whole truth – perhaps because the Australian defence chiefs did not fully realise what was happening in the US.

I had backed Peter Goon and Carlo Kopp at Air Power Australia (plus others) and Australia owes a debt of gratitude to these people. The tragedy for Australia is that we were right.

It was great to have Four Corners play catch-up and explain how the disaster took place. It’s clear that the aircraft developers did not recognise the deep-seated problems early when they could be fixed relatively easily. Instead they kept forging ahead so the aircraft could get in the air. It is as though they believed their own nonsense. Now they admit errors and they say they can fix them (JSF delays allow time to fix problems: govt, February 19). That’s very doubtful. As I will explain below, the situation is far more serious than the ABC indicated but there is also a solution, which the ABC did not canvass.

In the early days of my writings I did not know the JSF was a lemon compared to its rival aircraft. It was all about cost and delays.

At the time the answer was to revamp the F1-11 but the air chiefs could not see the logic. As the delay became apparent they went for Hornets, which are simply not good enough and are a waste of money.

Then in more recent writings I highlighted the fact that the JSF had major flaws and could not compete with the Russian-Indian aircraft (which Indonesia has purchased) and the Chinese equivalent.

That means that neither the US nor Australia can defend northern Australia, which is where our minerals are.

It’s not easy to drop the JSF because a large number of Australian defence contractors will go broke if it is abandoned.

The ABC Four Corners program needs a follow-up which shows the solution – to merge the JSF with a de-mothballed F-22 program. The best of the JSF software would make the F-22 more than competitive with the Russian-India-Indonesian aircraft and with China.

My thanks to former editor-in-chief of The Australian, David Armstrong, and current editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell, who allowed me to tell what turned out to be the truth even though everyone said I was wrong.

And for the last five years at Business Spectator there was no question that I would be backed to the hilt even though the 40 or so JSF commentaries I have written did not rate as well as other articles.

Finally, Australia has had a succession of defence minsters (on both sides of parliament) who have not questioned their department. Only one, John Faulkner took the trouble to discover the truth, but found it so horrifying that he resigned.

Stephen Smith has now had the truth set out before him. He has no excuse for not doing the right thing by the nation.

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