A leaked briefing about a recent Taiwan Straits war game has developed rapidly into an international crisis for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme.
The leaked Rand analysis obtained by Flight International reveals deep concerns about the US Air Force's current air dominance strategy relying on stealth, forward basing and beyond visual range kills.
Despite the report's impact on the F-35 programme, the Lockheed Martin stealth fighter is mentioned only briefly on a back-up slide. The F-35 was not singled out for criticism, but neither did its appearance in the war game measurably improve the blue force's odds of success.
"Rand did not present any analysis at the war game relating to the performance of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, nor did the game attempt detailed adjudication of air-to-air combat," Rand says. "Neither the game nor the assessments by Rand in support of the game undertook any comparison of the fighting qualities of particular fighter aircraft."
Maj Gen Charles Davis, chief of the F-35 joint programme office, and Lockheed Martin executive Tom Burbage attacked critical press coverage based on the Rand report, and attempted to reassure sensitive international partners nearing major acquisition decisions.
The frequency and timing of the published attacks, as well as their "completely" errant content, has prompted Davis to suspect foul play.
"It's disappointing and I guess not surprising that these articles come when they do," Davis says. "When articles show up that are just flat false there's got to be a reason for that."
Davis, who has previously accused Boeing of spreading lies about the F-35, could not provide a specific agenda motivating the programme's critics, but speculated "there's money involved and companies involved."
However, Australian MP David Jensen, an outspoken JSF critic widely quoted in the recent articles, has offered a sharp rebuttal to Davis. "Quite frankly that's baloney," says Jensen, who previously worked as a naval analyst within Australia's Ministry of Defence. "My point is that once the F-35 is detected the thing basically will just have to accept the conditions of the conflict."
Jensen advocates scrapping the F-35A and Boeing F/A-18E/F. He would prefer that Australia, increasingly flanked by Sukhoi Su-27-equipped nations, maintain General Dynamics F-111s and seek US export approval to buy Lockheed F-22s.