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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 763

Dr JENSEN (6:18 PM) —What I will be speaking about today are issues relating to Defence, a department that basically has a litany of disasters associated with it. It is a department that, quite frankly, is in comprehensive need of reform. In fact, it is difficult to think of any major acquisition that is not in trouble. For instance, there is the issue of 12 submarines that is identified in the Defence white paper. That, quite frankly, is a joke. At the moment, we are having a great deal of difficulty in crewing even three of our six Collins class submarines. Indeed, we are having a great deal of difficulty with the maintenance of those submarines. The white paper has not even identified a capability gap requiring 12 submarines, and yet there it is: a huge expense for the future.

As a way of highlighting the problems within Defence, and particular of major defence acquisitions, I will be discussing the issues relating to the joint strike fighter or the new air combat capability. When you have a look at Defence claims—and indeed to outside claims—with regard to the capability, you see that Defence, far from being experts, have a history of very bad calls in terms of timelines and costs, never mind issues relating to capability. Only a few short months ago we had the head of the Defence Materiel Organisation, Dr Stephen Gumley, telling us that everything was okay with the program. It was all hunky-dory; he was certainly not losing any sleep! The fact is that very recently the United States Director of Operational Test and Evaluation was incredibly damning of the program. In that report they stated that even with favourable test results from now on and with more test aircraft and more funding, initial operational tests and evaluation could—I repeat, ‘could’—be finished by 2016.

They stated that LRIP, or low-rate initial production capabilities, are not representative of the fully developed capability. The Director of Operational Test and Evaluation warned against using computer models before they are ready and have been demonstrated to accord with reality. I have to say that that reminds me of another area where computer models are used an awful lot—and that is on climate change. The F35C, which is the carrier-capable variant, through weight problems leading to increased landing and take-off speeds, is already over tyre-limit speeds. In other words, the speeds that are required of the aircraft are over what the tyres are rated for. That has led to various things being done in an attempt to reduce weight, which I will go into a little bit later.

They have had problems with software instability in the program. Thermal management is an issue. The aircraft is incredibly dense: it has a whole lot of avionics; a powerful radar for its size; and an engine that, of necessity for its thrust, runs very hot at its core. Therefore, they are having problems with cooling, particularly of the fuel. The fuel that they bring back is overheating and they are having problems with pumps and so on.

Also, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation identified that the JSF is vulnerable to battle damage. In order to try to bring the weight down—particularly for both the F35C, the carrier variant, and the F35B, the marine short take-off and vertical landing variant—they removed fuel-safety check valves. In other words, if you have a problem and there is a fuel leak the fuel will continue to pump. They have removed fire extinguishers in certain areas and so on. Those are not good things for a combat aircraft.

In fact, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation says that the aircraft is vulnerable to fire if hit, and battle damage to controls could cause the loss of aircraft and pilot. This is certainly not something we want to see for our people within Defence. This report of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation is more at odds with the official schedules—here I am talking about the schedules of Lockheed Martin, the United States Air Force and our Defence department—than any program before. In fact, this program is so badly off the rails that US Secretary of Defense Gates fired the program manager within the United States Air Force. I have to say, Secretary Gates has been an incredible fan of this aircraft. He has been spruiking it as if he is a salesman for the project. It is only latterly that he has come to a realisation about the significant issues there are associated with the program.

The issue of costings is very interesting. In 2002 Colonel Dwyer Dennis, of the US JSF Program Office, said to Australian journalists, ‘It will cost about $37 million for the conventional take-off and landing aircraft, which is the air force variant,’ which is actually the variant we will be getting.

At Senate estimates in 2003, then Air Commodore John Harvey said the cost would be US$40 million. At the Senate estimates hearing of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, in 2003-04 once again, then Air Commodore Harvey said, ‘It will cost US$45 million in 2002 dollars.’ Again at Senate estimates in 2006, Air Commodore Harvey said, ‘The average unit recurring fly-away cost of the JSF will be around US$48 million in 2002 dollars.’ In November 2006, again Air Commodore Harvey said, ‘The JSF price for Australia will be $55 million on average for our aircraft in 2006 dollars.’

In 2007, in a briefing to the office of the Minister for Defence—and I was at that meeting—Air Vice Marshal Harvey stated:

DMO is budgeting around $131 million in 2005 dollars as the unit procurement cost for the JSF.

That is very significantly different to the numbers that had been peddled before. Dr Steve Gumley, in October 2007, said:

There are 108 different cost figures for the JSF that I am working with and each of them is correct.

Clearly, they are all wrong, given the way the numbers have been going. Despite what had been said at the meeting at which I was present where they referred to the unit procurement price as $131 million, Dr Steve Gumley, in July 2008, to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, said:

… I would be surprised if the JSF cost us any more than $75 million in 2008 dollars at an exchange rate of 0.92.

Then in September 2009 Dr Gumley confirmed previous advice—that is, $75 million in 2008 dollars, at an exchange rate of 0.92. Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defense, in February 2008, said the cost would be about $77 million per copy. In 2009, in the Australian Financial Review, I stated that costings were demonstrated by binding information provided to Norway that it would be between $165 million and $235 million per aircraft. Air Vice Marshal Harvey criticised my costing as being an Israeli ‘never to exceed’ pricing. He was very critical of what I said at the time. Now what do we find? We are purchasing aircraft at $229 million each. Admittedly, this will also be paying for certain infrastructure and so on associated with the new aircraft, but the estimate is that the unit procurement price is about $178 million each. We have seen a whole litany of wrong costings by defence. We have seen other costings done by me and other people which have been far closer to the mark.

I see very little due diligence. I have to admit to my chagrin that this was a decision that was initially made by the coalition government, but the current government has a lot to bear in this regard, with the honourable exception of the member who is sitting in the chair at the moment, the member for Brisbane. The fact is there has still been no coherent comparison of all contenders, and this is a travesty in a project which is going to cost tens of billions of dollars.

In terms of time lines, in 2006, then Air Commodore John Harvey stated that the first JSF would be delivered in 2012 and achieve an initial operating capability in 2014. In fact, they will be lucky to achieve an initial operating capability by 2018. On 23 February 2006, in a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade looking at new air combat capability, after Harvey had said that it would be 2012 for the first delivery, I said we would be unlikely to receive any JSFs in 2012. Consider who is right on that one.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether the JSF is good enough for us, whether it has all the capability we require when you look at the region. The fact is that, just in the last week, we have seen the shape of the future of our competition and that is an aircraft made by Sukhoi called the PAK-FA, which is the Russian aircraft that is made in direct competition to the F-22. Looking at the shape of the aircraft, in my view the stealth capacity is not up to the F-22, however it would be in the same ballpark as the JSF. But it has significantly greater capability, particularly in terms of aerodynamic performance and many of the sensors that it employs.

The concern is that the new air combat capability or the JSF, if we continue down this line, will be around in the time that my great-grandchildren are around. Do we really believe, particularly given that the PAK-FA has already flown and the Russians are looking at marketing it in the second half of this decade, that the JSF is going to cut it in this time frame, when my great-grandchildren are around?

On the issue of capability, Defence are betting on what are called stealth and network-centric warfare and they are also saying that, in terms of air combat, manoeuvrability and aerodynamic performance no longer matter because the missile will do the manoeuvring. Interestingly enough, a Rand Corporation report said of the Joint Strike Fighter, ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.’

Let us have a look at some of the concerns about the Joint Strike Fighter. First of all, they talk about the issue of stealth. There are problems with the aircraft in terms of its stealth capability. It is very compromised and it is focused on what is known as the X-band or a certain range of frequencies of radar in the frontal sector. The problem that is the Russians are already developing longer wavelength radar for fitment to aircraft and they will be able to be back-fitted to aircraft like the legacy Flankers and also PAK-FA. Another problem is that the Joint Strike Fighter does not have good stealth even within the X-band from either the side or rear quarters. They are also betting on network-centric warfare, which is basically getting a whole lot of information that is not directly available to your aircraft and its own sensors—in other words, it is sharing of information.

The point is, in terms of concept this is really nothing new; it has been around since the days of sail. If you have your fleet here and the enemy fleet there and you cannot directly observe them as you have a frigate in between, semaphoring the disposition of the enemy fleet is a form of network-centric warfare. Another problem with network-centric warfare is that it necessitates that you transmit information. As soon as you transmit you are detectable; people can detect you all emissions, so that it is a very significant concern as far as the stealth of these aircraft is concerned.

Let us have a look at the issue stealth. What happens in an engagement? The Joint Strike Fighter holds its missiles in an internal weapons bay. As soon as it wants to shoot it has to open the weapons bay doors, which means that you can detect the aircraft very easily with radar and target it. In addition to that, the Russians have infrared search and track detectors, and the European pirate infrared search and track has similar capability. Head-on it is able to detect aircraft at 50 kilometres, from the tail at 90 kilometres and an AMRAAM launch—advanced medium-range air-to-air missile—at 100 kilometres. So it is far from ‘You will not know that you have a problem until the missile actually hits you up the backside’, as Defence are fond of saying.

In terms of the missile doing the turning, the problem is that missiles do not tend to work as advertised. Let us go back through a bit of history here. The AIM-7 Sparrow missile, which was used by the Americans in Vietnam, had a probability of kill of 0.7 in tests. That means that 70 times out of 100 the missile killed its target. It went to Vietnam, and that went down to eight times out of 100. The Vietnam era AIM-9 Sidewinder, once again, in tests got 65 out of 100; in reality, 15 out of 100. The AIM-9 ‘Lima’ got very good results in the Falklands of 73 out of 100. By the time of Desert Storm, they had worked out how to combat these things, and it was down to 23 out of 100. AMRAAM, the missile that we have, at the moment has a demonstrated capacity of 46 out of 100. It sounds good, but that is against fleeing non-manoeuvring targets that are not using electronic countermeasures and do not have beyond-visual-range missiles themselves. This is all a very significant concern for us. Defence are telling us that beyond visual range is what it is all about; we are never going to have within visual range again. So why does something like the F22 have a gun?

Let us have a look: how can we improve the situation with Defence? In my view, the first thing that we can do is look at decoupling the funding of DSTO from Defence. DSTO must have the capability to act and conduct research in a completely independent manner while still doing the work required to support defence projects. The DSTO leadership must not be in a subservient position to Defence leadership. There should be completely separate chains of command reporting to the Minister for Defence. There should also be DSTO and Australian National Audit Office personnel integrated with all defence acquisitions and project upgrades. The Defence Materiel Organisation will probably need to be dragged kicking and screaming into this, as they will resist these measures and use arguments stating that they will not be to operate efficiently while hamstrung by these personnel conducting oversight. They will also say that there should only be this sort of oversight when a project gets into trouble. That is nonsense. Oversight is required to prevent trouble from occurring.

In terms of a legislated approach to reform, perhaps we should have something like an Australian version of the Goldwater-Nichols act that was introduced in the United States in 1986 under Reagan, which did a considerable amount to improve the issues relating to US capability in both acquisitions and upgrades. The policy must be put in place to allow robust debate within Defence and at all levels on capability issues. There must be no censure of Defence personnel who question capability, doctrine, ideology or the way things are done. Defence must engage with its critics in the Australian community and address concerns with actions, not disparaging rhetoric. We see an organisation such as Air Power Australia, which has been criticised ad nauseam by Defence, and yet it has a far more accurate record in its estimates of price, time lines and so on than Defence has. Fixing Defence is critical to Australia’s future, and I urge the government to carry out comprehensive reform in this regard. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)—It being nearly 6.40 pm, I interrupt the debate in accordance with standing order 192. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.