What Will Replace the F-35?

f35Australia’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.

  • en passant

    A short summary of our defencelessness. However, as every war has proved, victory or defeat is finally gained or lost by armies and … Oh, we do not have one of those either.

    This fighting and killing (even for our national survival) is so old-fashioned in this age of sexual equality, diversity, caring-sharing and climate change.

    Just call the UN if there is a problem …

  • mburke@pcug.org.au

    Keeping the F111s flying was never going to be possible short of diverting enormous resources, and burying them beyond recovery was a US government contractual requirement. Whether the F35 ever earns its keep remains to be seen, but people of a certain age who recall the Menzies government’s decision to prefer the then embryonic F111 to alternatives like the British TSR2 also recall that the “experts” of the day – no less prescient than their modern counterparts – had egg plastered all over their faces when the mature F111 performed well up to requirements.

  • Don A. Veitch

    Maybe we should buy the Russian Su-34, tested in actual fighting in Syria!
    The SU34 weighs 45t, carrying 8 tons of weapons with a maximum speed of Mach 1.8, with a ceiling of 18,000 m and a tactical radius of 4,000 km.
    Most importantly, the SU34 has an advanced equipment of electronic countermeasures against missile ground-to-air portable (MANPADS) systems, which Obama is attempting to supply to (moderate), terrorists in Syria!

    • Bushranger71

      Interestingly Don, the Su-34 is the Russian equivalent of the F-111. ‘E’ versions have recently created havoc regarding US Navy capabilities.

  • Bushranger71

    DT; it is a tad misleading to contend the potential for F-111 optimization would have required diversion of enormous resources. The Air Force had those resources at the time, but they were ultimately disbanded.

    The estimated cost of upgrade to give decades more life was around $2.6billion versus $6billion outlayed on the Super Hornet deal. The influences of Brendan Nelson and Andrew Peacock were significant; favouring Boeing.

    The Chief Scientist and CAF/CDF Angus should have both been castrated for the misinformation they peddled in Hansard and the parties who approved the burying of these perfectly usable airframes (instead of consigning them to dry climate storage) ought to be publicly vilified.

    It should be recognized that successive Federal Governments have permitted the big foreign arms manufacturers to own and/or control virtually all of defence-related industry in Australia. Boeing now owns the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation facilities at Fishermans Bend and Airbus owns Australian Helicopters.

    Former Ambassador to the US Kim Beazley walked straight into employment with Lockheed Martin when he came back to Australia. LM not only peddles the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but is also the middle man agency for a whole bunch of other acquisitions.

    There are around 188 military Star rankers for a piddling regular ADF of about 58,000, plus scores of so-called ‘equivalents’ in the Senior Executive Service within Defence. All of them are highly overpaid and beholden to political correctness in pursuit of even more lucrative Defence industry jobs post-military. If the military rank structure were compared with that existing around 1970, before the formation of the thinly-veiled unified ADF; the armed forces have since become hugely over-ranked, perhaps by a factor of 5 at higher levels.

    The Defence scenario in Australia is a huge charade and repetitive White Papers are really just meaningless camouflage of a hugely corrupt scene involving people at the highest levels in the nation. If ever the optimum level of a Royal Commission with unconstrained terms of reference was justified, that situation presents now for the Australian Defence realm.

    • mburke@pcug.org.au

      Woulda, coulda, shoulda, as Judge Judy is wont to say. I’d seriously doubt that refurbishment could have been achieved within the $2.6Billion estimate, or that decades worth of additional life might have been achieved. When was any such Australian project brought in on time and under budget? Who was going to supply the necessary spares for an essentially orphan aircraft? Even the Boneyard ghosts would have run out within just a few years. I also watched Pete Criss and other experts pleading to keep the Pigs flying, but while the F35 might not be the answer, nor is obsolescent technology. Even the C47 and, soon, the B52 eventually reach the end of their economic lives.

      That’s not to say I disagree with the rest of your comments. Sir Arthur Tange certainly did us no favours, and I watched at close quarters the the growth of the bloated and increasingly dysfunctional civilian and military monstrosity he created. Poor fellow my country.

  • Don A. Veitch

    Bushranger 71, you are ‘on the money’
    The USA has now become a second rate CONVENTIONAL military power

    It has to be stated: after 45 years of Republican Party ascendancy (including 8 years of an impotent Wall Street Democrat; 4 years of laughable Carter), the USA cannot activate its next generation fighting machines, has de-industrialised and has not won a war. This at a time when Russia has built its military technology and China flexes its muscles.

    The culprit in the USA is its toxic, idiotic economic policies variously termed ‘supply side’, Reaganomics,Chicago school, Austrian school, monetarism’, neo-classical, Washington consensus.

    Trump wants to make America great again. He dos not swallow the free-trade nonsense, and he has an ornery independent ‘streak’.
    When was America great?
    America was great in the 1950s when the Republican President (General) Eisenhower, administered (with WW2 skills) a dirigiste economy with New Deal principles (FDR’s). No laissez-faire here! Leadership and historically correct economics made America great.

  • Bruce MacKinnon

    Sourced from browsing the Web, having a modest interest in capabilities of military equipment (given our small size and isolation etc.) I have observed some very interesting things. I check Sputnik and RT daily as well as many other sources.

    Senior publicly quoted representatives of Russia’s military have stated that the so called radar invisibility of the F35 is a fraud. It was nice to hang a marketing campaign on, but not true. Why? It is pretty much invisible to modern radar, but the older type radar which was introduced in WW2 can see it quite plainly. Russia and China are well equipped with old type radar for this reason. In terms of acrobatics it is pretty woeful compared to Russian (and Chinese) , making it more vulnerable to air to air missiles.

    The designer of the F16 has written a review I have which describes it in extremely poor terms. Some in the US Air Force reportedly call it the “flying turd”

    US aircraft tend to need 20 hours maintenance for every hour in the air, while most Russian aircraft, which are incidentally much cheaper to buy, can commonly do 8 sorties a day in when required. They are also because of very outstanding design able to do world beating twists and turns and can do things no other aircraft are capable of. Here I describe the more recent Sukhoi and Mig aircraft. The latest MIG incidentally has a combat availability of 120-130,000ft and can fly at Mach 3 at that altitude for hours.

    As a person who despises corruption and dishonesty, I have been interested at times in how the Defence brass and the Military suppliers a intimately connected. It seems most are very hopeful of nice well paid jobs with these military suppliers when they leave the armed services, and quite a bit of covert fiddling with specifications after the contract (add-ons)goes on which greatly enhances the profitability of any contract for said supplier. Of course, if good profits are made resulting, nudge nudge, a nice job awaits for the military officer who is then used as liaison etc for costs, charged out at high rates per 15 minute interval, or perhaps less.

    Some senior Japanese businessmen reportedly joked that corruption in Australia is only remarkable in “how cheap it is to corrupt the Australians”.

    Of course I would not suggest everybody, there are many who are not susceptible, but they tend to be rather less frequent than I would ever have imagined based on what I have personally noticed.

    This situation is at least in part due to the limited career expectation/duration of military officers of most ranks and the need to find a new job at a difficult age and with skills which are not directly appropriate to many employers, unless the officer is some sort of technical specialist in demand in the private sector. This problem would probably apply to most western countries, and I have less perception of others situations.

    Another major problem in military procurement is rampant pork barrelling by politicians seeking jobs in their own electorates, rather than what is good for national defence capability. In Australia, politicians from South Australia would be good examples. It is a huge problem in the USA. We too, have to pay for this if we buy from them.

    We have a big continent to defend and a very limited taxation capability, and thus a comparatively tight pool of money. The current methodology of military procurement has been managerially inept not only here, but in the US, the UK and so many more. Russia, which incidentally really appears little or no threat to Australia, is running large rings around everyone else producing astounding defensive equipment on a very tight defence budget, in quantity, and is now a rapidly growing exporter again. We must somehow be able to learn from those who are performing better than us, without being egotistical and going into denial and self delusion.

    The performance of some of this equipment has been on display against IS etc. in Syria lately. Military equipment must not only be effective, but cost effective, very durable, and capable of performing in very adverse conditions, reliably. We must also have access to a ready and sufficiently deep supply of spare parts and ammunition without long lead times and long international journeys. Nor must we be sabotaged by selfish irresponsible and bloody minded unions, as happened so frequently in WW2.

    • Bruce MacKinnon

      Noting the contractual requirement to destroy the F111 when out of service, I would have turned a blind eye to that piece of bastardry as Nelson did at Trafalgar, and quietly put them away in safe storage at least with a good supply of spares etc, in case we need them again. They would be a lot better than nothing if we suddenly got into a lot of trouble.

      • mburke@pcug.org.au

        And who, pray, would store and maintain these unused and increasingly unusable museum pieces pending some possible future need? Who will train the crews necessary to train the crews to operate them? Nota bene, merely flying them is not operating them. The planes are early 60s technology and the physical airframes and engines are 50 years old or older. Would you like to send your children/grandchildren to operate these things. Not I.

        The problem was not in getting rid of the F111. It was in the usual idiotic Australian defence precurement processes. Dropping the F35 at this stage will be a very expensive choice.

  • Bushranger71

    Well DT, there are around 500 plus C-47/DC-3 still in service around the world (I was privileged to get about 2,000 hours on them). Have you not noticed the Basler Turbo conversion, among others, with the bigger cargo door?

    Similarly for the Iroquois (another 2,000 hours) with 5,000 plus Hotel models still in service worldwide. Dopey Australia could have upgraded our excellent condition fleet of 25 to as new high performance Huey II for about the cost of one pretty damn useless MRH-90 or Tiger.

    You do not seem aware that there is a pretty big ‘after market’ industry around the world that manufactures parts that are no longer in production. Sure there are licensing issues, but they are usually overcome by economic realities.

    For decades now, Australia has ignored the fact that we have had an ideal dry climate storage facility at Woomera, preferring to just virtually give away potentially useful platforms in which the taxpayer has significant investment. Former RAAF C-130A are still flying elsewhere and several refurbished C-130E were recently introduced by the Pakistani Air Force. And of course we more or less gifted Indonesia invaluable C-130H which are arguably the best tactical model for Special Operations roles – the RNZAF are refurbishing theirs to extend life. The C-27 Spartan forced on Australia by the US to replace the C-130H (and/or Caribou) is proving to be a dog.

    There are of course costs involved in dry storing aircraft, but the potential ‘insurance’ for Australia in having a facility like AMARC in the US could have far outweighed overheads. Now, there is a private enterprise move afoot to establish something similar at Alice Springs, which would foreseeably be very costly if ever used for defence needs.

    Back to the envisaged F-111 enhancement.

    When 2 squadrons of that type were in service, Air Force engineering and maintenance was largely integral. There was a dedicated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Amberley for the F-111 fleet and a co-located Aircraft Depot with capabilities for major repair and modifications. Logically, that is where optimization of the fleet could have been cost-effectively accomplished rather than contracting out to parasitic foreign multinationals who now more or less control all ADF aircraft maintenance.

    Post-Tange Reorganisation in 1974; Airfield Constructions Squadrons, Aircraft Depots, Stores Depots, Maintenance Squadrons and so forth were progressively closed down under the bullshit proposition that ‘outsourcing’ was more cost-effective. Alas, the writing was on the wall in the 1990s that the military was also to be technically deskilled along with the rest of Australian industry with the abandonment of fully-fledged apprentice training across Australia. Outsourcing is ongoing and I attended a function recently at Williamtown to mourn over beers the ending of integral maintenance for No. 76 Fighter Squadron (I also flew Sabres).

    Digressing a bit.

    I was in Russia a couple of years back and spent much time in military museums (also in Poland). The primary aviation museum in Moscow has 200 plus aircraft publicly exhibited, including the latest advanced types. Their full range of missilery and other weaponry is also displayed at nearby venues. Just awesome!

    Perfectionists might view some Russian aircraft types as being pretty crudely finished compared with products originated by western nations; but they clearly have a pragmatic built for purpose approach and their wide range of capabilities is pretty impressive. I also crawled through a decommissioned submarine and got to look at some of their nuclear capabilities.

    During WW2, the Russians were building C-47 Dakotas under licence and they even had a ‘Gooney Bird’ bomber, with 4 bomb racks to hold 4 x 500 pound bombs fitted beneath the centre wing section! On display at Moscow.

    DT; regarding your later question regarding who would maintain and operate old technology platforms.

    While some systems like hydraulics and cable driven controls have been replaced by fly-by-wire, it is not rocket science for people who have been trained in a later era to adapt to older technologies. How else would these ‘lifeless’ platforms still be successfully operating around the world? Apart from plumbing etcetera; many systems are optimized to solid state and glass cockpits are now the norm for the likes of Basler DC-3 and Huey II.

    I was involved in airline flight training for 10 years during transition to glass cockpit technologies and there are still pilots around the world who transition back and forth between early and later cockpit technologies and flight management systems. Flight simulators help a lot in this adaptation process.

    Finally I offer this solution to the F-35 debacle, which has been a huge political blunder for the US.

    I am a John Boyd disciple and his original vision of creating a cost-effective lightweight fighter was spot-on, as proved by the ultimate success of the F-16; albeit it could have been even better had his advice been heeded. But since then, a vast amount of research and development work was progressed resulting in a very superior F-16XL design version.

    Considering the F-16 production line is still functional, it would make more sense to incorporate some F-35 systems technologies into the F-16XL and offer that to the world as an affordable alternative to the F-35.

    Abandoning the Joint Strike Fighter project would of course be hairy as nobody knows what sideline contracts are involved. But US politicians should never have entertained Lockheed Martin involving other nations as partners in the project. It may cause all sorts of embarrassment if Donald Trump forces abandonment of the JSF, but the US military-industrial complex just has to be brought to heel.

    There is an even deeper swamp to be drained in Australia, with even more crocodiles!

    • mburke@pcug.org.au

      You’re preaching to the choir on most of these issues. Just read in The Australian today about the brawl over where the Army’s new vehicles are to be built. Regardless of the objective merits of each contender’s case, it will be petty Party politics that determines where they’re built, just as it’s pure politics that drives the US military-industrial complex (and the British, French and everyone else’s). Remember the TSR2. Empire Preference trade politics drove Australia’s early World War II aircraft procurement before Lend Lease. Nothing has changed, and nothing’s likely to change, short of disaster.

  • Bushranger71

    See this link for detail re the F-16XL: http://www.f-16.net/f-16_versions_article1.html

  • nfw

    But what about all that great F35 and other military advertising at Canberra Airport. I often used to think, “Must buy a six pack of F35 or submarines on the way home”.

    • Bruce MacKinnon

      The crews might come from retired pilots etc called up for war service. If we get in a big stoush its going to be all hands on deck. We cannot retreat to Antarctica. There are plenty of places in the US where prev. model planes are in reserve, military ones. Remember the re-weaponed rust bucket flotilla of old US warships Britain used in WW2 to protect convoys on the Atlantic run? The merchant ships were extremely glad of them.
      We do not have a big tax base but we have a lot of country to defend. We must be very Scottish and frugal, and make everything we have paid for work to the max. A classic example was at the end of WW2, the most effective Australian designed weapon of WW2 was the simple and very robust Owen gun. The sniper hose. It really turned the tide in PNG. 303s would not cut it in the jungle. So when the war was over the got them all and dumped them in the bottom of Sydney Harbour. Brilliant! Next thing we are at war in Korea and we have tossed our best guns in the sea. Remember the F111 is/was nuclear bomb capable. Its like owning a car. We are poor militarily, but is it better to own a well maintained 1995 car to get you from A to B than none if you cannot afford a new one? No prestige, sure but we are talking survival.
      We should keep and maintain all superseded military small arms and ammunition. Not give them to Indonesia to point at us one day. They may suddenly come in very handy.
      As for contracting out maintenance, I was not aware of this. Are we barking mad? It is so difficult for young people to get real jobs now. This work and training ground would be invaluable.

      • Bushranger71

        I did RAAF pilot training 57 years back, some 200 plus pilot courses ago. Interestingly, the start numbers and graduation rates remain about the same today at around 50 percent, yielding about 50 pilots per year. Not widely known publicly, but the ADF has also been recruiting trained foreign source military for some years now and a few foreign pilots are commanding Air Force flying units.

        Apart from Strategic Air Command effort (B-52s etcetera) that was not based in country, the primary USAF commitment in Vietnam was from their Tactical Air Force. This was very heavily staffed overall by guys with grey hair who had been called back in to the military.

        On arrival in Vietnam, I was surprisingly appointed Squadron Air Weapons Officer and on Day 2, our Armaments NCO came up to me saying: ‘Sir, we have a few problems.’

        All aircrew carried bloody dangerous 9mm pistols and the ammunition which had been provided from Australian War Reserve stocks was suspect. We went somewhere quiet and popped off a few rounds which were more or less just dropping out of the barrel. It was 9mm Owen gun ammunition from WW2 stamped 42/43.

        I was a lowly Flight Lieutenant at that stage without any real authority, but a solution to the problem was obvious. ‘Ernie; we have an aircraft going out to sea for door gunner training shortly; load all of that old ammunition on board and dump it.’ ‘OK Sir, but what do we do then?’ ‘Just requisition some new stuff through the US supply system.’
        (Australia and New Zealand paid for every round fired).

        The Squadron was also bereft of doorgun mounts when deployed which had to be scrounged from US sources and refurbished. We also carried a couple of early model Armalite AR-15 weapons at Crewman and Gunner stations as back-up for M-60 doorgun unreliability. But the AR-15s were very prone to stoppage due to dust so virtually useless.

        We replaced the Armalites with robust SLRs with the flash eliminator removed and a thread keeper substituted, thus shortening the barrel and fitted 30 round magazines. These worked perfectly in all adverse field conditions. We also extensively modified US designed doorgun systems to achieve much enhanced reliability in close quarters engagements.

        The point of these comments is to emphasize that combat readiness can only be claimed if all required systems are proven and kept functional with fresh ammunition. It is immoral for the Government to commit the military to combat, such as in Korea and Vietnam, ill-equipped to perform their functions.

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.