JSF not ideal but is now the only viable option for Australia's future air combat capability

Given government warnings of a tough budget, the timing of the decision to purchase more JSFs has sparked much uninformed criticism. Especially from those who ignore that defence investment is essential, not discretionary, and is anyway dwarfed by the eight-fold higher national spending on social security, health and education. Critics are also ignoring that defence is the only major area of government spending that is wholly funded federally, making such huge differences in national funding even starker.


Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Friday, 25 April 2014 (Anzac Day)
(published Tuesday, 29 April 2014)

Despite historical lessons that Anzac Day of all days emphasises about inadequate air combat capabilities, many still apparently misunderstand the plan to update Australia’s future capacity.

While the Australia Defence Association has long noted concerns about the F-35 joint strike fighter, the way it has been developed and the cost, it is now — however unfortunately — the only available option strategically, tactically, technologically and commercially.

That Australia and our allies should not let this situation happen ever again is irrelevant to managing the risks and costs now involved.

As is the invalid assumption that maintaining adequate defence capabilities for the long-term is somehow a discretionary choice.

Either generally or when fiscal conditions are temporarily tough.

Such capabilities instead remain essential national infrastructure to insure against general strategic risk well into our future.

Even more mistaken, intellectually and practically, is the flawed assumption that such long-term de-risking can and should instead be based only on supposed specific “threats”, or their absence, as some perceive them now.

And the even sillier notion that a large island-continent country in a strategically uncertain, and perhaps volatile, region over the next half-century can somehow forego having an effective air force.     

There is also a failure to acknowledge that our strategic environment geographically, demographically and economically means we have to continue cancelling out such enduring disadvantages partly by maintaining capability edges regionally.  

Clearly, no-one’s pension, health care or education is affected by the JSF decision. Except, of course, that it will help preserve continued provision of them.

The costs of the JSF have already been factored into long-term investment programming, will be amortised over three or so decades anyway, and the aircraft’s lifecycle is likely to be three decades or more.

Just as the F111 served for 42 years and the outgoing FA-18 will last around 40 years.

Finally, more F-18F Super-Hornets are not a viable alternative over the long-run operationally, technologically or financially.


Back to Letters: 2014