Writing in The Weekend Australian today, Professor Leahy says the government should reduce its planned $16bn purchase of 100 JSFs and keep the 24 Super Hornets now operated by the RAAF to give the air force a mixed fleet of about 60 fast jets: "This would mean even fewer air combat aircraft, which would result in considerable savings."
"The 2000 white paper team simply got out a pencil and on the proverbial back of the fag packet, added up the number of F/A-18s and F-111s subtracted one and ... hey presto, it equalled 100". White further commented: "The fact that the number we chose as the initial planning assumption has survived until now tells you something rather unsettling about Defence capability planning."
Unfortunately Leahy then goes in to the F-35 faith-based argument mode:
Despite the hysteria and the protestations of long-term naysayers the JSF should mature into a very capable aircraft. As part of an emerging air combat "system of systems" it will be an important capability for the RAAF.
Pointing out massive program management defects is now "hysteria".
Leahy then goes into the hysterical mode by asking for caution,yet not knowing or caring that the F-35 fantasy was based on high-volume production and figure out the problems later.
Despite the ugliness of the current situation, Defence Minister Stephen Smith needs to remain calm. Importantly he shouldn't commit to too many JSF too quickly.
This is a problem worth creeping up on and maintaining as many exit points as possible. In the absence of an imminent threat we should take the time to determine if the JSF is affordable and works as advertised. Most importantly, we need a clear statement of how many air combat aircraft we need.
Then he really gets out of his alleged skill-sets:
A technology leap beyond manned aircraft is becoming a real option.
We are already operating drones and may soon acquire a large and sophisticated unmanned maritime surveillance platform. Unmanned combat aerial vehicles are not that far away and will be in reach if the JSF program keeps limping forward. There will be risk but interim options are available.
Sorry sir. UAVs are only useful for certain things. Certainly not for air defense. That is fantasy. Once you deny the network it is all over. And, network nodes can be located. Great plan sir.
Then there is one small paragraph of gold-plated wrong all tied up in a neat ribbon:
The Super Hornet is proven and capable. We are introducing long range, accurate artillery and attack helicopters to provide intimate support to the army in the field. The Growler electronic warfare system is a powerful force multiplier. Cruise missiles are a proven technology and air-to-air combat is increasingly about long-range missile engagements.
The Super Hornet is proven and capable against one air force that buried their jets in the sand and another that didn't even fly. One great point in all of this: yes, precision artillery should help the guys on the ground very well. And, the cannon pukes don't collect flight pay. Attack helicopters are great for a lot of low-risk war. The Apache, grown for a Fulda Gap need, 30-some of them getting shot to pieces in daylight because of a stupid decision (Karbala), yet redeeming itself as a great night-time, VTOL, net-centric COIN killer with the "Close" in close air support. Too bad we have the rent-seeker approved Tiger. The Growler will be great against legacy threats. Want to refight Allied Force 1999? Great. It will die against emerging SAM threats (not enough jam power/range) and get run down and killed by modern air threats. Cruise missiles are a proven technology. Just that the target better be worth the cost and again, it might not get through with defense threats as much as it could back in the day. And by the way, it is the other guy that has super-sonic cruise missiles. Outmatched in that area. Finally: air-to-air combat is not "increasingly" about long-range missile engagements". It is just one more part of the total tools in the bag. We will have AMRAAM that has a 50pc PK against unsophisticated targets, and against emerging threats may have a PK something like the Vietnam-era Sparrow. And for within-visual-range? We will have high-off-bore-sight, helmet-cued dogfight missiles (HOBS), and so will they (parity). They will have better performing aircraft: another minus in our column. Finally, they will be able to show that claiming the F-35 is a true stealth aircraft in PowerPoint, doesn't make it so.
Great analysis sir.
Prudently we must retain some air combat capabilities, but there is an opportunity to accept some risk and decrease the number of the mixed Super Hornet and JSF fleet from "about 100" to say "about 60" in total of both types and wait for the next technology.
100? 60? What is the difference? Both aircraft will not be able to stand up to emerging threats, yet the Super brings so much more value to a joint operational commander today than hope tomorrow for non-emerging threats. In other words: for non-emerging threats, the Super wipes the floor with the Just So Failed.
So yeah, maybe 60 is better when reality and "anything is possible if you are willing to lower your expectations" is added to the skills-challenged planning of the day.
The second option is to reorganise the Defence budget. Reorganising means focusing on the most likely tasks for the Defence Force and properly funding the capabilities required to meet them. At the moment, with the exception of operational deployments, Defence is being forced to underfund everything and thus introduce the risk of widespread long-lasting damage to a broad range of capabilities. This is the so-called and dreaded salami slicing that Defence should be avoiding. This option would mean even fewer air combat aircraft, which would result in considerable savings for the Defence budget.
Well, OK, but why not look at "savings" in the areas of flag-rank and senior executive service bloat and the dysfunctional DMO?