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Labor supports call for open examination of fighter replacement.

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Robert McClelland MP Member for Barton Shadow Minister for Defence

28 September 2006

Labor Supports Call for Open Examination of Fighter Replacement

Labor backs the call today by retired Air Vice-Marshal Peter Criss for an open examination of the Government's unconditional support for the Joint Strike Fighter project.

Shadow Defence Minister Robert McClelland said broader debate about this most vital national security issue was absolutely essential.

Air Vice-Marshal Criss was Air Commander Australia and states that he is concerned about Australia's support for the JSF project and apparent continued rejection of the proven and tested F-22 Raptor.

Estimates put the current cost of replacing Australia's serving strike aircraft as being in the order of $16 Billion or $3000 for each Australian family.

Air Vice-Marshal Criss has called for an open debate involving all interested partiers to critically evaluate the Government's position on the acquisition.

Labor supports his demand.

There is every indication that having effectively committed to purchasing the JSF the Government is ignoring the warning signs of unproven capabilities, increased costs and likely delays.

The decommissioning of the F-111 aircraft in 2010-2012 makes the project time critical.

Accordingly now is the time for those advising Defence Minister Brendan Nelson to have their advice examined and evaluated by impartial Australian experts.

(Please find below the statement by Air Vice-Marshal Criss)

Contact John McNamara 0418 308599.

Air Vice-Marshal Criss has called for an open debate between all interested Australian parties at a neutral location on all aspects associated with the selection of a replacement aircraft or aircrafts for the existing F/A-18 and the F-111 fleets. He said he had heard the Minister recently quoted as saying that the JSF may not be the aircraft for Australia but the F22 would not be a contender.

"The basis of this position must be divulged to the Australian public in open forum and be subjected to critical evaluation by interested Australians - not interested foreign contractors and Defence Department bureaucrats advising the Minister." From Air Vice-Marshal Criss's perspective, the decision to join the collaborative development team working on the JSF in the late nineties was commendable; however, unfortunately some appear to have allowed this investment to incorrectly influence the potential procurement advice going to the Minster he said.

Air Vice Marshal Criss was present at discussions between the Chief of both the United States and Australian air forces in the late nineties when the F-22 was offered to the RAAF and it was dismissed out of hand by the Australian delegate. "At the time very little was known about either aircraft and the F-22 was being quoted as approximately four times more expensive than the JSF so I thought the Australian position was understandable at that time".

"Today, and especially by the expected delivery time for the JSF in 2012 (or perhaps later), there appears to be very little if any difference in price between the two contenders and yet there is no comparison in capability, with the F-22 demonstrating proven performance well beyond anything the JSF is likely to deliver when it eventually comes off paper and into production."

Criss remembers well what Secretary of Defence McNamara sought in the early sixties with the intended multi-role F-111 - "we got an excellent bomber but a worthless fighter - the two roles are too incompatible for a common platform and I don't care how far technology has moved since the McNamara days."

"What concerns me is that if the Minister is now saying that the JSF may not be the aircraft for Australia, and I think he is right, and if the Minister is dismissing the F-22 out of hand without disclosing the basis for this decision, then the only other possible contender that could remotely fit the Australian requirement would be the Boeing Super

Hornet, a slightly more advanced version of the aircraft currently in service with the RAAF, employing technology far inferior to any potential adversary in our region and incorporating technology far inferior to anything the JSF or F22 has to offer."

Air Vice-Marshal Criss said that those advising the Minister must be prepared to have their advice examined and challenged in an open forum on neutral ground by appropriately cleared impartial Australian specialists.

"Frankly, it is not good enough to hide under the security classification bubble to protect the Minister and the Government from very close scrutiny of this critical national defence issue - the future generations of all Australians depends on getting the F/A-18 and F-111 replacement decision right, and up to now what I am reading is exactly that - a claim that one aircraft is better than another but I can't tell you why.

"What I am seeing is a classic 'Yes Minister', and Sir Humphrey would be proud but I am not", the retired Air Commander Australia said.