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Thursday, 15 May 1980
Page: 2333

Senator MacGIBBON (Queensland) -Mr Deputy President- {Quorum formed).I would like to take the opportunity on the first reading of this money Bill to talk for a short while on the tactical fighter force replacement for Australia. The history concerning the selection of a new weapons system for the Royal Australian Air Force goes back nearly 10 years. The search for this replacement aircraft was reduced to a short list of four aircraft. Last year the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) reduced the number to two aircraft. There is a projection that in October- November 1980 a decision will be taken on the selection of this aircraft for the RAAF. This is a very important decision for Australia. My concern is that there has been no parliamentary discussion on what is really a very important matter. I can understand this in part because it is a very technical decision.

What we are buying is not simply a fighter aircraft; it is a weapons system with all that is entailed in a complex modern electronic weapons system. Quite obviously, the final say must come from the highly informed technical people that we have in the search committee that will make the recommendation to the Government. At the same time it is only proper that the Parliament, exercises its duty as the custodian not only of the public purse but also of the welfare and defence of this country, in some way enters into the discussions as to what sort of aircraft is required before the final decision is made, however imperfect our knowledge might be at the time. Defence is important to Australia. It is very important that we try to learn as much as we can about it so that we can contribute in our small way to the decisions that are made in this Parliament. I am heartened by the approach that the present Minister for Defence has taken in calling for a bipartisan approach to defence. It is heartening to note that on some issues there has been a response from the Australian Labor Party to accept this bipartisan approach to defence issues. I am quite sure that on something like this tactical fighter force replacement aircraft which is of such major importance there will be no problem of party political divisions. I look forward at a later stage to members of the Australian Labor Party contributing to this debate.

The problem is an intensely technical one. I think we can attack this technical problem if we have some basic scientific education. If we are prepared to put some hard work into looking at the numerous technical journals that exist around the world and if we know something about contemporary weapons systems. We can reduce this complex technical argument to some basic characteristics. All systems have basic operational characteristics. It is not really important for us to know what the ultimate sophistication of a system is in manufacturing or in performance terms. What is important is that we try to reduce the arguments to a basic level so that we can understand what a system will do and what it will not do and how the system fits in with the needs as we perceive them for Australia.

Senator Jessop - In order to do that, Senator, you need some practical input as well as technical input.

Senator MacGIBBON - Yes, but I think we can do it if we do some work. I would like to make a small diversion here because most of the problems that face Australia- problems like the transfer of technology, the technological revolution, the displacement of people from traditional jobs into new jobs- will increasingly come before the Parliament. It is important that in some way or other this Parliament acquire skills that it has not had before- skills which formerly have been related purely to legislative processes and analysis of legislation; hence, the great preponderance of lawyers in both Houses- and develop the technical and scientific skills necessary to examine the problems which Australia will face in increasing numbers in the years to come. It is quite intolerable that Parliament will have to accept advice purely from public servants or from advisers on these technical matters. Somehow or other the Parliament has to acquire this scientific expertise so that new techniques applying to the Australian community can be evaluated by some resident capacity within these chambers. I hope that this discussion tonight makes a start in some small way on the evaluation of what is really a very complex technical problem.

I would like to say that none of the information I will quote comes from classified sources. It has all been acquired from technical journals, from the manufacturers and from various governmental releases, not just the Australian Government, over a period of years.

The importance of this decision to Australia and to this Parliament falls into two clear categories: First of all, there is the military importance of it and, secondly, the financial importance. The military importance, of course, is related to the defence of this country. I must start by looking at the strategic threat which faces Australia. The strategic threat that faces Australia falls into two categories. One category is the major threat of World War III. The second, and more likely threat, is the regional threat coming from minor forces operating in this area. If we are involved in a major threat the whole of the Western world will be involved. The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will be our allies. From the point that I am trying to work to tonight, the consideration of the TFF replacement, the only critical tiling from an equipment point of view is that the aircraft we buy must be compatible with that of our nearest ally, which is the United States. Since both aircraft are United States sourced there is no problem in that direction. The regional threat is quite a different situation. In many respects it requires different equipment and from a requirement point of view it has certain characteristics.

The first thing that must be hammered and hammered with great force is that in the event of a regional threat to Australia the most likely consequence is that we will be operating on our own. We cannot rely on the support of our allies so the defence equipment and armaments must really be sufficient for the task. They cannot be subservient or supplemental to the larger force structures of a major ally like the United States or NATO. The second thing I would say about a regional threat to Australia is that the threat clearly will come through the land bridge between Australia and Asia. No one will attack or harass this country by any route other than an approach through the archipelago from the Malay Peninsula through Indonesia to New Guinea and then to Australia. They are not going to come in a fleet of ships out of the Southern Ocean or out of the Pacific. They are not going to fly in in a squadron of aircraft from the Pacific or from anywhere else. It will be a progression down that land bridge. This is important in relation to the TFF replacement.

Clearly, to counter this attack we will need all three Services. Essentially the control of that threat will rest with the Air Force, first of all, to maintain the sovereignty of the air space over Australia and those regions over which we wish to exert power and, secondly, for a strike capacity against the established forces on the land mass, on the archipelago, and to harass their lines of communication and their logistics. This is a task that cannot be done by either the Army or the Navy; it can effectively be done only by the Air Force. We have a requirement both for an air superiority weapon in the TFF and for a potentially strong strike force against ground forces in the land masses near this country. Presumably with this in mind the Royal Australian Air Force requirement for the TFF was written. I have not seen this requirement but it is a reasonable presumption that it concerned manoeuvrability, range requirements, electronic fit and weapons/ ordnance carrying capacity, which would have dealt with the load to be borne and the type of weapons, air to air and air to surface.

The importance of this in a military sense is that whatever selection we make will give us certain characteristics to cope with a regional threat. Those characteristics must be appropriate for the regional needs at present but most importantly they must be able to grow with potential changes in equipment and material through a fleet life that is projected for 30 years. Not only must we have flexibility because it is expected in the 30-year life of this aircraft that it will go through at least one major electronics and weapons refit but the basic fuselage and engine combination must have a degree of robustness and a defence against undue fatigue wear. We must have some understanding that there will not be a very high attrition rate because quite possibly through the 30-year cycle that we want for these aircraft the production line will close down. The aircraft must be capable of some developmental potential.

Another important consideration for this Parliament of course is the financial implications. This purchase has been billed as the biggest contract that has ever been written by Australia. It will cost $1.5 billion or more. No one knows yet how much it will cost because the tenders are not in and they will not be in for some months yet. That is a great deal of money for the Parliament to commit the Australian Government to spending. I would like to put that expenditure into perspective. We intend to purchase 75 aircraft at a rate of delivery of one a month. The purchase will be spread over six to seven years. It will not be an expenditure of $1.5 billion or $2 billion in any 12-month period. The other comparison I would like to make is the comparison between the expenditure on this defence item and the Budget projections for expenditure in the 1979-80 financial year. On education we are spending $2.5 billion, on health we are spending $3. 1 billion and on social security payments we are spending $8.9 billion. That is a total of $14.5 billion in this year alone for health, education and welfare against a projected defence expenditure- admittedly only on one item- of $1.5 billion to $2 billion which will be spread over a period -

Senator Rocher - It will be spread over six or seven years.

Senator MacGIBBON - As Senator Rocher so correctly says, that money will be spent over six or seven years. Whilst it is important that we recognise it is a big sum, we have to see it in the context of current budgetary expenditure. The two aircraft on the short list are the McDonnell F-18 and the General Dynamics F-16. The fact that those two aircraft were nominated out of the short list of four aircraft has led to the presumption by many people that both aircraft are equal for the task that the RAAF requires. That may be true but it may not be true because one does not have all the information available on which to make a complete assessment. One of the reasons for opening up this matter for debate tonight is that the assumption that both aircraft would satisfactorily fulfil the task may not necessarily be so.

I would like to discuss in basic terms the relative merits of both of these aircraft on the short list with particular reference to their air frame, their engines, their electronics, their ordnance and their cost. I should like to examine first the air frame of the F-16. This is a single-engined lightweight fighter. It first flew in 1972 and was the result of a design study into a minimal technology aircraft. In the late 1960s the F-15 and the F-14 came along. They were aircraft of great size, enormous cost and enormous complexity. They were very capable aircraft and are still the top allied aircraft from an air superiority point of view. But there was such a reaction to the great expenditure in the development of each aircraft relative to costs at that time and to the complexities of them that the United States forces went towards a design study to find out how cheaply and how simply a fighter aircraft, purely for an air superiority role, could be built. The F-16 was one of the design studies and it was a very successful design study.

The aircraft is relatively lightweight by jet fighter standards. It has an empty weight of 15,376 lb with a maximum take-off weight of 35,050 lb. Its method of construction accords with contemporary modern design practices. It uses a considerable amount of composite epoxy graphite fibres on skin construction and load bearing areas, combined with honeycomb methods of fabrication and the use of titanium forgings and milled sections in the fuselage. It is a very light and a very strong air frame. It is a single-engined aircraft, as I mentioned earlier, in contrast to the F-18, which is a twin-engined aircraft. Being a twin-engined aircraft, the F-18 is a bit heavier. Empty, it weighs 20,145 lb and has a maximum take-off weight of 49,800 lb.

The F-18, however, is a later generation aircraft. It is a further development down the path taken by the F-16. It incorporates more composite materials and more titanium structures than the F-16. The aim of this is to produce an aircraft which is both lighter and stronger than an aircraft which uses conventional materials. Although the F-18 developed out of the Northrop design plan similar to the F-16 lightweight fighter it has been built to a United States Navy specification. Therefore, it is much heavier and very much stronger than the original Northrop design because the United States Navy specifications traditionally have tended toward the conservative side from an engineering point of view. It has a very strong air frame. Being produced for marine applications, it has considerable corrosion protection within the fuselage, which for the life of the aircraft that we are looking at is very important, but let me hasten to say that there is nothing inadequate about the corrosion protection or techniques used in the F-16. One of the possible advantages of increased strength as a requirement for carrier landings and the generally rougher life of a navy aircraft is that in the attack role, in the low level mode, the fatigue resistance of the F-18 will probably be quite good. This is important to us because we have had a fatigue problem with the Mirages. The current lighter was built as a European air superiority aircraft and is used by the RAAF in a ground attack role. Their fatigue rate poses a problem. I emphasise that both air frames, the F- 1 8 and F-16, are very strong in absolute terms. They are stressed to nearly 10G. Manoeuvrability is critical with these aircraft. They are both more manoeuvrable than any preceding jet fighter aircraft. Both have their strong points and their weak points. By all accounts there is not much to choose between them for manoeuvrability. It is rumoured that there have been some minor manoeuvrability problems with both aircraft, but it is expected that these can be solved without much trouble as the aircraft are developed.

The next point to look at is the engines in these aircraft. It falls into two categories: Firstly, the argument against the single and twin engine installation; and, secondly, the reliability and performance of the individual engines selected. The old argument between single and twin engines has gone on for most of the life of aviation. If an engine is lost in a single engined aircraft the aircraft is lost. There is not much ambiguity about that, particularly with jet fighter aircraft. They are not amenable to landing in fields or beside roads, and the possibility exists that if the pilot does not get out early he will be lost too. So if an engine is lost the aircraft- which is worth something like $ 15m- is lost. That is important not only because of the individual loss of the aircraft, but also because of the continued capital cost of aircraft while the fleet is in service.

The attrition rate over a 30-year period is higher in general with single engined aircraft than with twin engined aircraft. That can be critically important when production lines close down and forces have to live off" their present stock of aircraft. This has been a significant factor, of course, in the RAAF Mirage fleet. The attrition rate has been quite high. Another thing that is not often recognised with single engined aircraft is the fact that there is usually only one generator on the engine installation and if that generator is lost on take-off the mission must be aborted. All of the electronic kit will not work for very long off the batteries so even a component failure such as a generator or an alternator leads to the mission being abandoned.

The advantage of a single engined aircraft is a saving in the capital cost. The airframe can be built lighter and only one engine needs to be purchased for that aircraft. Presumably, because there is only one engine to overhaul, there is also a cost saving. Of increasing importance at the present time is the question of fuel saving. A single engined aircraft, for roughly the same operational parameters, would expect to use about two-thirds of the fuel used in a twin engined installation. That brings in costs over a fleet life which can be very significant. A twin engined aircraft offers safety and security. If one engine is lost the aircraft will get home. If a generator is lost the aircraft does suffer because of the redundancy of the other auxiliaries and accessories on the other engine which serves the aircraft.

Senator Tate - Whom are you barracking for?

Senator MacGIBBON - If the honourable senator listens he will improve his education. The disadvantages of the twin engined aircraft are a higher airframe cost, a higher fuel bill and a higher overall cost. The argument favours the twin engined aircraft particularly because of the Australian terrain, the distances that have to be covered and, presumably, the long over water flights.

Militarily, it is clear that most air forces around the world- French, German, Luftwaffe and Canadian- favour the twin engine installation. I am aware that a United States Navy paper published recently shows that there is not much difference in Navy's experience with the operation of single as opposed to twin engined aircraft. I have not seen that paper, but I point out that since the United States Navy operates a very conservative design philosophy on their aircraft, it is probably not a true comparison across the board of single versus twin engined aircraft. About the only criticism that is raised against the twin installation by those who favour the singles is that if something like a turbine blade comes loose and is thrown through the bulkhead into the adjoining engine both engines are lost. But that is an unlikely circumstance and it certainly has not been the experience in this country with the Pratt and Whitney TF-30 engines in the Fills. There is no history of engine failure in one engine leading to failure in the other there.

The second point in relation to the selection of engines for these aircraft turns on individual engine reliability. Here we move into an area where some presumptions are necessary. The F-16 has the Pratt and Whitney FI 00 engine which is a superb design on the limits of technology. Pratt and Whitney, of course, are probably the leading engine makers in the world. The company has built an engine right to the theoretical limits of contemporary design. The engine has been used since 1972 in the F-15 and it has had some problems, but I stress that they are much fewer in number in the F-16s both in service in the USAF and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries. I have no doubt that those problems will be cured in the future by the development work of Pratt and Whitney. Since the engine is highly stressed and highly developed the probability is that it will not go on for the time between overhauls of a more conservatively designed engine. It may well prove to be more expensive on overhaul than a less highly stressed engine.

The F-18 is equipped with the General Electric 404 which is again a new engine and which replaces the J79 of which General Electric built over 16,000. Again it is built to contemporary design standards, but its design philosophy was to be five to six per cent below theoretically obtainable limits. It is a very conservatively built engine and while it has not had the time in service of the F100 it has performed very well and the expectation is that it will be both economical and reliable in service.

While I am on the subject of engines, let me refer to reports in the literature that the F-16 has undergone design studies for re-engining with other engines. One of those proposals is to downgrade the performance of the aircraft by changing its engine. In that way it can be sold to Third World countries. The USAF or one of the American forces did a design study on the installation of a different engine, and one must make the presumption that there were some problems in the eyes of the USAF in the fleet life of the F 100. This is important in relation to the fleet life of the aircraft because, as I have mentioned, attrition can be a problem. It is hoped to get 30 years' service out of the fleet. Engine reliability is a critical factor on the survival of that aircraft.

But the air frame and engine is only a vehicle. Aircraft must have certain performance characteristics, but the heart of the whole system is the electronic fit, particularly the radar fit, in the aircraft. There are many sensors in use today but the pre-eminent and most important sensor still remains radar. The integration of the radar to the weapons system is really the critical thing both from an air to air mode and the air to surface mode.

One of the basic determinants in a fighter aircraft is the size of the space in which the radar can be fitted. Radar depends on its antenna to get its signal out, and in a fighter aircraft the only place it can be mounted is in the nose. The F-16 has a Westinghouse radar which was built for a clear weather day-fighter role for the armament that it carries, which is the Sidewinder infra-red missile. This is a short range missile operating up to a range of about 4 nautical miles. The small antenna which is a consequence of the small cross-sectional area in the nose of the F-16 means that it is hard for the F-16 radar to attain the range that we need. Radar propagation turns on this antenna size. The more energy that is put into it, the more heat one gets.

The radar antenna on the F- 1 6 is an air-cooled rather than a liquid-cooled system, which again limits the power that can come out of it. Also, the smaller the antenna the greater the difficulty there is to control the propagation of the main beam, the forward lobe; the more energy that is put into the forward lobe, the bigger the side lobes which are developed. Once side lobes are developed the equipment becomes prone to electronic counter measures jamming, and false signals come in to the receiver. It is very hard to do much about this when the equipment is of minimal size. The hardware changes present their own problems because, as I have said, there is a trade-off between the antenna gain and the side lobe propagation. To reduce the side lobe the energy in the main lobe must be reduced, but the range over which the radar will operate is thereby reduced.

Conversely, if software changes are introduced to reduce the false alarms which come in from the side lobe patterns, early detection may be compromised- I stress the word may'- because the criteria become more stringent for declaration of a target. This is a critical consideration because at present the aircraft is fitted with Sidewinders. The Sidewinder, being an infra-red weapon, is compromised in wet weather application. The F-16 is not an allweather fighter. It is outranged and outgunned when fitted with only Sidewinders.

The next step from an armaments point of view is to go up to a Sparrow weapon, which weighs roughly 400 lb and which operates over a range of roughly 1 5 nautical miles. It is a semiactive radar guided weapon. The requirements for a Sparrow weapon are, first of all, that the target acquisition for the radar exceeds the range of the missile and, secondly, that there be some illuminator built into the aircraft itself because the missile homes on the reflected radar signals off the target aircraft. The space exists in the fuselage in the F- 1 6 to fit a continuous wave illuminator for a Sparrow missile but it is not provided for on that radar at present. Indeed, no air force in the world operates the F-16 with a Sparrow missile. Without a Sparrow missile the aircraft is not as good as the Mirage which it seeks to replace with its Matra 530 missile which has the ability to operate over medium ranges. More importantly, with the development of the advanced air to air medium range missile- the AAMRAAM- which will operate to about 30 nautical miles, which is due to come into the United States Air Force service in 1 985-86 and which the RAAF hopes to fit to its aircraft towards the end of the century, we need a range for targe acquisition considerably in excess of 40 nautical miles. There are considerable doubts as to how the F-16 radar can be modified to cope with this. Firstly, there are no guarantees that technically that goal can be achieved and, secondly it will involve us in an increased cost of purchase.

In contrast, the weapons system of the F-18 uses the Hughes AN-APG 65 radar which is a new digital radar developed out of the AN APC 63 fitted to the FI 5 which is regarded as being the best air-to-air radar available at present. Not only does it have all the target acquisition factors that we need for the missile fits up to the AAMRAAM, but also it has a whole range of side functions. Basically I estimate that the antenna size of the F- 1 8 is 50 per cent larger than the F-16 which gives it a much greater energy capacity.

Senator Tate - How does it fit into the nose?

Senator MacGIBBON - It is a larger crosssectional area, and it has also a liquid-cooled antenna. It has a whole range of extra functions. For the information of the honourable senator, it has good side lobe suppression. Range is no problem with it at all. It has pulse repetition frequencies, in the high, low and medium range. It is suitable for the AAMRAAM. It has a trackwhilescan capacity. It can acquire 10 targets simultaneously and portray eight of them on the cockpit screen. It has a silent track capacity and it has an illumination system for the Sparrow AIM 7F which gives it the contemporary medium range missile. It has very good electronic counter-counter-measure facilities many times the capacity of the F- 1 6, and it has both a ground mapping facility and a terrain avoidance mode. It fills all the requirements that we need at the moment, and it has the capacity to grow and develop. Radar really is what it is all about. The F- 1 8 radar has the capacity today to satisfy our needs and to grow in the future. That is a positive accomplishment. We do not have to be involved in new developmental costs, and we do not have any uncertainties about acquiring that capacity in the future.

I would like to deal with one of the arguments which appeared in the popular Press recently, namely, that if we take the F-16, all we need is some Grumman E2Cs to operate as top cover, as control aircraft, to provide the radar sophistication that the F-16 lacks. That is simply not true. We need the Grumman E2Cs in their own right because of their command capacity and because of their great electronic capacity.

Senator Tate - Can I ask that the honourable senator table those pages of the Pacific Defence Reporter from which he is quoting extensively?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Jessop)- Senator MacGibbon, a request has been made that you table the references from which you have been quoting.

Senator MacGIBBON - I will be quite happy to do that when I have finished my speech. The other thing we have to think about is the existence of a Russian aircraft called the Foxbat MIG25A, which is the most sophisticated fighter the Russians have at present. It has also been said that we do not have to worry about that aircraft. But we do have to worry about it in the sense that in 1 0 to 1 5 years ' time that aircraft will be available to other nations which are friendly with the Russians, just in the way that earlier Russian aircraft have become available down through the years. It will become a regional threat to us in 10 to 1 5 years ' time.

The next thing I would like to look at is the ordnance and surface attack capability. As far as I am aware, both aircraft will carry all of the ordnance that is currently available in the military arsenals at present, including the harpoon.

Senator Wriedt -Wouldn't the DC3 do that?

Senator MacGIBBON - Not really. It might do for the honourable senator but not for me. The load capacity of the F-18 is slightly greater than the load capacity of the F-16, but it has the advantage that it has a target acquisition capability that the F-16 does not have. It probably has, as I said before, a better fatigue life in the low level role, and it would give us the capacity to mount an effective strike force against any land and sea forces around this country that we might be faced with.

The final point that I should like to deal with is the cost and the Australian industry participation program. The Government has set out that 30 per cent of the cost of these aircraft will be covered by Australian industry participation programs. I have no quarrel with that. The only personal view that I would inject into the matter is that it is more important to go for quality than for quantity. We certainly need to have the capacity to repair aircraft in this country because, as I said before, in a regional threat we will most likely be operating on our own. If we are to repair them, we have to have some manufacturing capacity in the high technology fields. But in the metalworking and composite fields the applications from there to the general community are quite restricted. I would rather see the emphasis put on the development of electronic equipment in the aircraft, because that is what it is all about. There is a much greater application for electronic technology and the spin-offs from that within the community at large. Secondly, we have a specialised regional application. Many things do not work very well in the environmental conditions that we have in Australia- the tropical conditions, the heat and the dust- and there is a great incentive for us to develop and to refine the electronic side of these weapons systems for Australian application. I would rather see the AIP program slanted more towards the electronic field than towards the metalworking field.

Finally, we come to the cost. There has been a great deal of discussion about the cost of these aircraft, which is understandable because they are both undergoing developmental programs, and these are times of high inflation. The important point about this is that it has been said that one is very much cheaper than the other. The only evidence we have is the Canadian contract that was announced three weeks ago. The Press releases stated that the difference in price was only 10 per cent between the two purchases. A Press release of 10 April 1980 from the Hon. Gilles Lamontagne, the Canadian Minister of National Defence, states:

A detailed cost analysis indicated that the overall cost to Canada of purchasing the new fighters and operating them into the next century is virtually identical for the CF- 1 6 and CF-18A. Here again each has certain advantages which balance out in the total picture. The CF- 1 6 uses slightly less fuel, but attrition costs are higher, as I mentioned a moment ago, and certain maintenance costs are expected to be greater.

Senator Colston - What date was that?

Senator MacGIBBON - That was 10 April 1980, after the Canadian decision to buy the F-18 was announced. Cost is hard for us to determine, but that is the only evidence we have. What I have attempted to do is to put some of the basic characteristics of these two aircraft before the Parliament. There may well be classified information which materially affects what the final selection should be. But, be that as it may, this is a very important decision which this Parliament has to face later this year, and it is incumbent on us as responsible members of the community, to find out as much about the characteristics of these aircraft and their applications to Australia's needs, so that we can contribute towards making the correct decision. I table the papers from which I have been quoting.

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