Australia’s defence largely depends upon having the right submarines and the right fighter aircraft, all in sufficient quantities. With respect to the latter, the shortcomings of the F-35 are manifest to anyone who might care to inquire into the subject, as detailed on these pages a couple of years ago. It was easy enough to predict then that the F-35 program would be cancelled and then there would be a mad scramble by Western air forces to acquire one of the Eurocanards – the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale or the Gripen E made by Saab.
President-elect Trump has taken an interest in the cost of the F-35 as demonstrated by his short missives. So far he has concentrated on the F-35’s exhorbitant price and has tried to generate some competitive tension by asking Boeing for a price on Super Hornets. When he gets around examining the F-35’s effectiveness, then the program will surely die. The Super Hornet is not a solution because it was conceived, as was the F-35, as a light bomber — and bombers get shot down by real fighter aircraft at a great rate.
In response to the Trump missives, an editorial in The Australian predicted “Our defence planning would be chaotic if Washington cancelled the F-35s.” That prediction was easy enough to make because our defence establishment is run by the same people who promoted someone much admired by Anne Summers to be Chief of Army and put a global-warming believer in charge of the Navy. People of this sort tend to have a tenuous grip on reality, demonstrated by what they choose to believe uncritically. The most charitable thing you say about them is that they are of the Idiot-Yet-Intellectual class, as described succinctly by Newt Gingrich.
That is why I titled my last book American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare. Australia could, and should, do what Brazil did and sign up to licence-build a couple of hundred Gripen E in the country. It would be a rerun of the Mirage III. We made 113 of those at Fishermens Bend in the 1970s. Some ex-RAAF Mirages are still flying with the Pakistani Air Force. The Gripen E has much the same capability as the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale. They are all good aircraft, but the Gripen E (below) is half the price of the other two and costs a lot less to operate. Believe it or not, the Gripen E, if armed with the right missiles, is almost as good as the F-22, which would cost three times as much if the Americans would sell us a few.
But it would be a fool’s errand trying to talk sense to the RAAF, which demonstrated its devotion to the F-35 by pulling the wings of our F-111s and burying them in a pit near Ipswich (see the video below), wilfully destroying a couple of billion dollars’ worth of kit in order to make the F-35 acquisition more compelling. Thus the word “American” in the title of my book; if the centre doesn’t hold, what hope is there for a smaller country on the periphery of civilisation – a nation presided over by the sort of fools who believe in global warming and, like a dog unto its vomit, keep returning to the subject of a carbon tax?
The Turnbull government has destroyed our naval capability by opting for French vapour-ware as the replacement for the Collins class submarines. Soon they will have another decision to make: what will replace the F-35.
One thing is certain: unless and until the ranks of those guiding Australia’s defence, and its big-ticket materiel acquisitions in particular, are reformed and re-focused, the desk warriors currently whispering their wish lists in the ear of Defence Minister Marise Payne will run around like headless chooks.
David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare.