Strike hard at defence cover-ups

A cover-up culture in parts of the Australian defence force won't be cleansed until obfuscations over the Joint Strike Fighter disaster are properly dealt with.

Never underestimate the skills of those who cover-up sins or mistakes in large organisations. Facing the problem and taking the necessary early actions is a management technique that works, albeit one that is often not used because it can involve career setbacks.

In theory, the forces in large organisations that develop cover-ups into an art form should be exposed in both the abuses Royal Commission and the defence inquiry.

But as I understand it, many of the people who executed the cover-ups are not going to give up easily. While there is no statute of limitations on sexual matters there may be time limitations on inquires into cover-ups. That will open a whole legal minefield, which, unless cleared quickly, will mean that neither the abuse Royal Commission nor the defence inquiry into abuse will get anywhere.

Already it would seem that the defence inquiry will be concentrated in defence personal, when some of the worst abuses took place among outsiders working for defence.

Whereas in the wider community there is recognition of wrongdoing and a genuine attempt to overcome it, I don’t believe that can take place in defence until the biggest cover-up of all is unveiled for all to see – the Joint Strike Fighter disaster.

I have been writing about this looming disaster for a decade, first in The Australian newspaper and then, for the last five years, in Business Spectator. The people who covered up the abuses were not the same as those who covered up the JSF but they both drew on the same defence organisation cover-up culture. The JSF cover-up goes to the top echelons of defence and has been taking place for a decade.

It started with cost over-runs and silly estimates of when the aircraft would be available. As these concealed cost over-runs and delays got worse the cover-ups extended to putting out false JSF cost estimates that did not include the aircraft’s engines.

Now the cover-up extends to the fact that the JSF has deep structural and design flaws, which mean that it is not as good – and never will be as good – as the rival Russian/Indian and Chinese aircraft. Indonesia, which is buying the Russian/Indian aircraft, will control northern Australian air space.

What the cover-up experts did not foresee was the impact of the US 'fiscal cliff' is on defence expenditure. The New York Times this week has published a detailed coverage of the JSF problems but has not taken the key step of declaring that America has been beaten and the JSF is a lemon.

But that won’t be long. The US cover-up, which is similar to Australia's, is unravelling. The Australian cover-up means that we can’t face the problem and work on the solution, which is to help the US merge the JSF with the brilliant F22 aircraft, which has been suspended in an attempt to fix the JSF. If we do not help the US take corrective action what seems likely to happen is that the development of new US aircraft will fall over the 'fiscal cliff'. That would be a total disaster. I believe the JSF is our worst cover-up because it will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Here is a link to the NY Times article.

Below are links to previous articles I have written on the JSF:

No defence for poor JSF planning, May 25 2011

The sound of a JSF death rattle, October 4 2011

Headed for a JSF tailspin, December 13 2011

Time for a JSF dogfight, March 23 2012

The defence budget cut that wasn't, May 4 2012

Averting Australia's defence force demise, October 10 2012

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