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Stephen Smith's Super Hornet itch

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15 February 2012 09:36

Here's what Defence Minister Smith said in parliament yesterday, in response to a question noting that the US has announced a slow-down in production of the Joint Strike Fighter:

Since July last year I have been saying the absolutely essential decision for this year is a judgment about whether we are at risk of a capability gap. What would potentially cause that capability gap? It would be a delay in the production of the Joint Strike Fighter and the ageing of our classic Hornets, which have served us very well, and continue to serve us well, but are currently the subject of a deep maintenance program. So that is the risk to our capability—that the Joint Strike Fighter is delivered later than was originally expected or anticipated. I have indicated that we will do an exhaustive review of that this year and make a judgment about any gap in capability this year.

I have said that the Super Hornet is an obvious option so far as any filling of a gap in capability is concerned. We have made no decision about that, but the fact that we have 24 Super Hornets and the fact that 12 are wired for 'Growler' is a relevant, material consideration.

The Canberra Times had a long piece on the RAAF's fighter requirements last weekend which noted Smith's repeated hints that he favours the purchase of additional Super Hornets. According to the article, Smith is ignoring advice that it would be more cost effective to do a thorough upgrade of our current fleet of 'classic' Hornets:

A life extension program for the ''Classic'' Hornets has been described as ''the least bad option'' by senior Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Andrew Davies and is supported by former chief of air force and now Williams Foundation spokesman, Air Marshal (ret) Errol McCormack. It has also been endorsed by sources close to Lockheed Martin. ''The only justification for a second Super Hornet tranche would be a catastrophic failure of the JSF program resulting from a natural disaster that saw Fort Worth (the site of the production line) sink into the earth,'' we were told. ''In the event of minor delays is the Australian Government really going to spend billions of dollars for a few months of bridging capability?''

I guess 'sources close to Lockheed Martin' would say that, given Lockheed would rather see Defence Department dollars going to its JSF program than to Boeing for its Super Hornets.

FWIW, here's a post I wrote in September last year arguing that there's no need for us to rush into a Joint Strike Fighter purchase. Hugh White seemed to agree.

Photo by Flickr user Official US Navy Imagery.

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