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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3350


Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (21:30): Slated as Australia's new air combat capability, the troubled Joint Strike Fighter program is beyond overdue. Service entry is expected, at the very minimum, to be more than six years later than anticipated and far too expensive. Adding insult to injury, the question concerning the aircraft's credibility as an effective air combat fighter in the expected time it would operate remains to be answered. The Defence Subcommittee hearing pertaining to the Defence annual report, held on 16 March, was a staggering event for those familiar with this subject. First was the admission by Air Vice-Marshal Kym Osley that, in terms of aerodynamic performance, the JSF was designed to have similar performance to a legacy F16 or F18 with air-to-air missiles and external fuel tanks. He stated that this was representative of how a legacy aircraft would be loaded for combat.

When legacy fighters enter combat, however, external fuel tanks are dropped, resulting in a significant reduction in drag. This means legacy fighters are superior in performance, when compared to the aircraft supposed to replace them, after they drop those tanks. The JSF will mark the first time in Australia's air combat history that a fighter replacing an older one will have inferior overall aerodynamic performance. Defence still contends that the overall capability of the JSF is superior and that it will defeat all known threats. Upon my inquiry about what threats had been evaluated and what models, apart from man-in-the-loop flight simulators, had been used, Air Vice-Marshal Osley refused to specify.

To get a handle on the assertions made by Defence, I worked through a step-by-step process on an eight-versus-eight combat. It was evident that this process was not going to end well for the JSF, so the 'we are getting into classified areas' get-out-of-jail-free card was pulled. I can inform the House that we were not even close to classified data. We were discussing actual combat firings of the JSF's main air-to-air missile—information in the public domain which demonstrates that, in a permissive environment, it has a probability of kill of approximately 0.5, meaning that its missile hits its target half the time. In reality, against a capable threat, the missile is only likely to kill the enemy one time in five.

Perhaps the JSF being a lousy air combat fighter is the actual reason for the classified card being pulled. The trade bible, Aviation Week and Space Technology, had a report called 'Raptor's Edge' in 2009. In this article, analysts from the USAF and Lockheed Martin, the company making both the F22 Raptor and the JSF, stated that, against Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters, the Raptor had a kill ratio of 30 to one and the JSF three to one. That sounds reasonable until you realise that the Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters are nearly 30 years old already. Against aircraft 30 years newer, such as the Su-35S, the PAK-FA and the Chinese J20, you can imagine the results are likely to be very different.

I made the point about the vulnerability of the JSF against these aircraft during the hearings. REPSIM, an analysis company with personnel praised by the Chief of Defence Force, has shown that against the Su-35S alone, the JSF would be shot down at the rate of 5 to 2—never mind the more capable, stealthy PAK-FA and J-20. The chief executive officer of the Defence Materiel Organisation, Warren King, also indicated that there were no thresholds in place, in terms of either schedule or cost, which would lead to the JSF decision being rescinded. This is staggering as it amounts to an open chequebook—we are going to aggressively purchase the JSF, come hell or high water, no matter what date the aircraft becomes available.

The simple fact is that the fighter pilot's holy grail is the ability to engage, destroy the enemy and disengage at will. With the JSF, the terms of the engagement will have to be accepted, even if highly disadvantageous. This does not bode well for the most important military capability of all—air combat.