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Wednesday, 26 April 1972
Page: 2046

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) (Minister for Defence.) - I desire to take the opportunity tonight to reply to some remarks made late on Thursday last by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating). Unfortunately I had no knowledge that the honourable gentleman intended to speak about that matter so I now take the first opportunity to set the record straight. The honourable member said I was incorrect when I said that Australia has a fixed price per aircraft for the Fill aircraft of $5.95m and that would be less than the cost of the same aircraft to the United States Air Force. The honourable member could easily have obtained a copy of a statement which I put out on 16th December last outlining in full the costs associated with the Fill project. In that statement the honourable member would have seen that the basic cost per aircraft is $5. 95m. Of course, for 24 aircraft the total basic cost would be $ 142.8m. Escalation which occurred between 1965 and 1968 adds $24. 8m. Configuration changes made, including heavier undercarriage plus extended wings, added $3. 8m. Modifications - there have been some 100 modifications which have improved this aircraft enormously - totalled $35m. This brings the total cost for 24 aircraft to $206.4m.

That cost is fly-away cost, making the cost per aircraft $8.6m. The honourable member for Blaxland has mixed up the fly-away cost with the project cost. The total project cost, as previously announced, is $334m. That total is arrived at by adding to the $206.4m the cost of spares, $58.8m, ground support equipment and other support costs, S64.3m and a contingency of $ 14.6m. Honourable members will be aware that spares usually cost about half the total fly-away cost of aircraft. The honourable member for Blaxland suggested that the $3 44m is not a total or final cost and to that should be added the cost of the leased Phantom aircraft. I cannot understand how he seeks to add to the cost of the Fill aircraft the cost of hiring the Phantoms which were leased as an interim measure. The Phantom aircraft have provided the

RAAF with a most useful interim capacity and when the Fill aircraft are delivered the Phantoms will be returned.

The honourable member said that the RAAF is pushing for the acquisition of a tanker. It is quite wrong to suggest that the F111C needs a tanker to satisfy range requirements. The FI 1 1C as it is more than satisfies Air Staff requirements. It does this in range both with and without external tanks and it satisfies Air Staff requirements as to speed and bomb load. It is true that if we had a tanker the performance would be even greater, for 2 reasons. The aircraft could take off with a full bomb load from a small airfield and be refuelled in the air or alternatively it could be refuelled in air to give it incredible range. However without a tanker the specifications of the RAAF will be more than met. It is true that the Air Force is examining the question of replacing the C130A Hercules aircraft. Naturally when examining this sort of thing all aspects are considered. One aspect is whether we could get an aircraft with a transport role which could quickly be transformed to a tanker role. When the time comes this will be assessed and a decision made. If a decision is made to obtain a tanker the performance of this extremely good aircraft will be very fine indeed. To suggest that the cost of a tanker should be added to the overall project is quite wrong.

The honourable member said that the Fill is not a strategic deterrent without its nuclear bomb. To try to prove this he read from an article in a United States Armed Forces Journal' and he endeavoured to denigrate the Fill. In fact the article, entitled 'The Swing Wing May Surprise You Yet' is most laudatory about the Fill. There is no conflict whatsoever between the statements made by the Government and those reputed to have come from the United States Commander-in-Chief on the so-called shortcomings of the FU IB range and payload limiting its performance from a strategic point of view. There is no conflict between that and the fact that for the particular role for which the RAAF is purchasing this aircraft, it is undoubtedly the finest aircraft in the world today, and will fit in extremely well with our requirements. I should like to quote some of the things which the honourable member did not read from the article to which he referred. The article said:

Based on current experience with the Fill and other aircraft in SEA it required 5.91 Phantom sorties to attain the target damage obtained by a single Fill.

Despite the cost and problems associated wilh the Fill it still stands alone as the best aircraft yet developed for night and bad weather attack missions deep inside enemy territory. It is unique in its unrefuelled range capabilities. No other fighter in the world can cross the Atlantic unrefuelled which means that the Fill alone can be rapidly deployed almost anywhere in the world without waiting for tanker support.

There were other parts of the article which the honourable member did not quote, obviously because they were favourable to the Fill aircraft. It is easy merely to pick out unfavourable things and quote them. The article said also that one Air Force officer involved in the Fill programme had said that the FI 1 1 would look like a bargain in a few years. The article goes on to say:

It carries more bombs than any other fighter and surpasses all other known fighters for automatic navigation accuracy, weapons accuracy, maintainability and short or rough field operations. As a single ship attack aircraft it can operate as no other can without extensive air cover, tanker and electronic counter measures support. In addition it has a 24-hour attack capability in bad weather, giving it an 80 per cent advantage over other aircraft in the Europoean theatre.

So there is no doubt whatsoever that we are getting a bargain. Finally, the honourable member for Blaxland said that when we ordered this aircraft we did not get offset orders. The aircraft was ordered in 1963. It has been the policy since 1968 for the defence group to pursue a course of action leading to reciprocal purchasing. But the fact that we have done that extremely successfully since 1968 does not mean that we can go back to a 1963 order and expect to get offset orders. The honourable member said that we will repent at leisure. I can assure him that we will not repent. We will realise that we have an extremely good bargain in these aircraft from the point of view of both cost and cost effectiveness.

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