Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Pull out of jet deal, Govt urged




Pull out of jet deal, Govt urged

A Liberal backbencher says the Super Hornet can not compete with Russian-built fighters being deployed in Asia.

A Liberal MP says party leader Brendan Nelson made the wrong decision in his previous role as defence minister when he ordered 24 Super Hornet jet fighters for the RAAF.

Western Australian backbencher Dr Dennis Jensen, a former defence research scientist, says the Rudd Labor Government should try to get out of the $6.6 billion deal.

Dr Jensen told the National Interest program on ABC Radio National that the Super Hornet can not compete with Russian-built fighters being deployed in Asia.

"There've been numerous comparative analyses that have been conducted overseas and where ever the Super Hornet's been in the competition it's lost," Dr Jensen said.

"The problem with the Hornet is it is slow, it is sluggish in acceleration and its payload range capability is limited.

"And as such the threats that are emerging in the region will effectively fly rings around it."

Dr Jensen says the jet's manufacturer Boeing did a very good sales job on Dr Nelson when he was minister.

"I've seen another slide presentation that Boeing gives and it looks very, very convincing," he said.

Axe set to fall on fighter jets

Tom Allard National Security Editor FAIRFAX| December 31, 2007

The $6.6 billion purchase of 24 Super hornets as a stop-gap fighter jet is to be jettisoned by the Federal Government as it reviews all aspects of the program to give Australia a critical edge in regional air combat capability.

The Sydney Morning Herald understands that Department of Defence planners have been asked to present an analysis on all the fighter jet options to the Federal Government and how they stack up against likely adversaries, the first time such a study has been done for at least five years.

All projects in the $30 billion program will be scrutinised "with fresh eyes". That includes what aircraft are to be bought, how many, when and at what price. "Absolutely everything is on the table," a Government source said.

Even if contracts have been signed, as is the case with the Super Hornets, the Government is prepared to break them if the case is compelling. This is a shift from previous Labor thinking.

The air combat program is supposed to deliver air superiority in the region, long-regarded as fundamental to Australia's strategic doctrine given its large land mass and isolation.

The coming year is looming as a critical one. A final decision must be made on the centrepiece of the air-combat project - a $15 billion outlay on up to 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a high-stealth aircraft yet to be developed, has been troubled by delays and is at risk of big cost blow-outs.

The prevailing view in the Government is that it makes sense for the entire air combat force structure to be re-examined at the same time. The Defence White Paper - outlining the nation's long-term strategic priorities and being developed next year -is also likely to guide the review.

Writing in his local newspaper last week, the Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon, made clear his concerns with the Super Hornets, a purchase pushed through with great haste by his predecessor, Brendan Nelson, who is now the Opposition Leader.

"Few decisions of the Howard government were more controversial than its commitment to spend more than $6 billion on 24 Super Hornets without proper due process or capability justification," he wrote in The Newcastle Herald.

Dr Nelson sold the Super Hornet option to cabinet's National Security Committee this year without the co-operation of defence chiefs or undertaking the long due diligence and comparative analysis that usually precedes acquisitions of such scale and expense.

Before his pitch, RAAF planners had said an interim jet was not required. Defence analysts say it is the wrong aircraft anyway, lacking stealth and power.

The Herald understands that the Super Hornet contract - like those for all foreign military sales - can be abandoned, at a cost of about $300 million. If it is not dumped the Government may seek to renegotiate its terms, or buy fewer aircraft.

THE BLUEPRINT
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Up to 100 aircraft at $15 billion. Delivery from 2014.

F/A-18 Super Hornets 24 aircraft at $6.6 billion. Interim fighter. Delivery from 2009.

Wedgetail Six command and control aircraft at $3.25 billion. At least two years late. Delivery from 2009.

F/A-18 Hornets Upgrade to existing fleet of "Classic" Hornets at $3.1 billion. Completed by 2010.

Airborne refuellers Five aircraft at $2 billion.

Weapons programs About $500 million on new missiles and bombs. Deployed in 2010.

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