Lowy Institute questions Australia’s F-35 future


When F-35 programme executive officer Vice Adm David Venletbriefed Australian defence journalists on the F-35 programme in late Februaryhe was bombarded with tough questions. The journalists, mostly sector veterans,had been following the programme for years and asked detailed questions abouteverything from costs to block software upgrades.

Their queries reflected the concerns some Australians have aboutthe troubled programme. The latest party to express doubts is the LowyInstitute for International Policy, an Australian thank tank.

In a report titled “Dangerous luxuries: how the quest forhigh-end capabilities leaves the Australian defence force vulnerable to missionfailure,” Lowy questions Australia’s focus on high-end, conventional warfare asoutlined in Australia’s 2009 defence whitepaper.

In the report appendix Lowy notes that if costs of the F-35cannot be managed, Australiacould end up with only 50-60 F-35s, compared with the planned 72-100. In amajor war, Lowy reasons, this limited number of airframes could be overwhelmedby a large force of qualitatively inferior rivals. The report refers to’Chinese MiG-21s’, though far more capable J-10s and J-11s would be the morelikely rivals – and, strictly speaking, China does not operate the MiG-21, butrather the Chengdu J-7.

Lowy’s proposed solution to potentially higher F-35 costs isthe purchase of additional F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets equipped with the AGM-158JASSM (joint air-to-surface standoff missile), as well as more extensive use ofunmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance and combat. 

The report also proposes that the USand Australia sign anagreement whereby F-22s would be based in Australiain event of emergency – rather than Australia trying to hold the forton its own. F-22s in Australiais an interesting idea. That said, in a world where Chinese warplanes directlythreatened Australia the USA may wellhave use for its 186 F-22s elsewhere. 

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One Response to Lowy Institute questions Australia’s F-35 future

  1. keesje 14 June, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    I sense a growing need for a stealth attack alternative to the Lockheed F22 and JSF.

    For Western countries as well as Asian countries.

    Who will jump in? Any combination of Dassault, Boeing, Saab, BAE, IAI, MHI, KAI, EADS, Mig, Embraer seems possible..

    The PAK-FA will benefit no doubt, considering how wide spread the Flanker family got. Maybe others will join India & Sukhoi in this program..

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