House debates

Thursday, 23 October 2008


Joint Strike Fighter

4:49 pm

Photo of Dennis JensenDennis Jensen (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Concerns about the Joint Strike Fighter, the actions of its proponents and Australia’s plans to buy the troubled aircraft are continuing to deepen. I recently received a document prepared by the RAND Corporation think tank as part of a major US war games exercise, in which the JSF was pointedly criticised. The blunt assessment was that the JSF could not turn, could not climb and could not run. That is an assessment shared by many air combat experts around the world. The document’s findings were also supported by the results of the war games themselves.

The RAND report, and some leaked details of the related Pacific Vision war games, held at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, were released to the media by me in a bid to stimulate debate on what could be a disastrous purchase for Australia and may ultimately put at stake our very sovereignty. The storm of publicity predictably drew angry reactions from proponents of the projected US$500 billion project, particularly from the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, some elements within the US defence department and even our own military, which apparently briefed the defence minister on the subject and told him the reports were false.

RAND Corporation itself, whose Project Air Force section was behind the document, is funded by the US military and eventually issued a brief and puzzling statement denying reports on the matter but failing to address any of the substance. At the same time, the lead author of the report suddenly departed from RAND and had his email address cancelled and his biography removed from their website. The author, a very senior and highly respected analyst named John Stillion, had worked for RAND for many years and was one of the top staff at Project Air Force. His abrupt departure amid the controversy over his report raises some deeply disturbing questions.

There are suggestions in some quarters that he was dismissed over the document and that his removal was ordered by the US military. I sincerely hope that this is not the case. My office contacted the head of Project Air Force and was told that Dr Stillion no longer worked there. No other information was provided. I should stress that Dr Stillion was not my source, regarding the document he wrote. I have never had any contact with him.

With so much money and so many careers riding on this project, obviously criticism or even debate is unwelcome. If any forces within Australia wish to pursue a witch-hunt in a bid to stifle debate on this issue, then I have a warning: I will make it my personal duty to pursue those conducting the witch-hunt. I will not accept people taking such action for any reason other than the demonstrated national interest.

The program general manager of the JSF project, Lockheed Martin President Tom Burbage, and the program executive officer within the USAF, Major General Charles Davis, intimated that those who released the RAND Corporation document and made statements about it had a vested interest. Well, that person is me, and I do have a vested interest. I want to ensure that Australia purchases the capability that it requires, not merely a capability it has been sold.

I expect the Defence department or DSTO, or both, to have conducted their own studies comparing the JSF to the Russian-built Flankers that are beginning to proliferate in the region. Presumably those results would prove the same as those suggested by the RAND document. Have Defence done any such analysis? If so, what were the results of that analysis? If they have not, why not?

The frantic reactions to reports on this subject—and I am aware there have been many aggressive and angry behind-the-scenes approaches, to journalists and others, as well as the public statements—would appear to prove that the criticism is justified. The planned JSF purchase would be central to Australia’s defence up to 2040, or even beyond. If the product is flawed, then our entire national security policy will be as well. And that is too important for us to ignore. We must serve the interests of Australian sovereignty and security, not the selfish interests of those who have tied their careers to this project, or the interests of a foreign corporation.


No comments