Unlike some posters here (hi Nabs), I don’t get to go to the trade days at the Australian International Air Show. On the public days, the defence hardware makers all go hide themselves away, leaving the punters to gawp at the various flypasts and aerobatics displays. I enjoy Jurgis Kayris as much as the next overgrown little boy, but his show was irrelevant to my real purpose of braving the 100 km/h dust storm afflicting Avalon that day – seeing what tidbits I could learn about what the hell the Australian government is doing with its military aircraft purchases.
While the latest news is that the price of the all-singing, all-dancing Joint Strike Fighter is apparently to go up yet again, amongst the trade press lying around on the commercial stands at Avalon there’s another piece of evidence of a severe lack of foresight in the government’s procurement strategy for air defence.
There was a little publication with a stand at Avalon called Australian Defence Business Review, which has all manner of interesting things to say. There’s a large amount of highly complex technical and financial material to digest on their website, much of which the guys at Aus Air Power would dispute strongly. However, there was one very interesting fact in there that allows all sorts of unflattering conclusions to be made about the government’s defence acquisition policies (or lack of policies).
In previous upgrades to our present Hornet fighters, the government chose to spend $300 million equip them with the JASSM cruise missile for air-to-ground attack. However, the Super Hornets we are purchasing can’t carry it. Instead, they will use the JSOW glide weapon. The JSOW is an unpowered gliding weapon, with a much inferior range compared to the JASSM. So we will be left with the very short-range Hornet that can carry a longer-range cruise missile for ground attack, and the somewhat longer-range Super Hornet that can only carry a shorter-range glide bomb.
So why are we going with these odd weapons choices for our new fighter planes? Because it’s what the US Navy uses on their planes, and it’s the only way that they can guarantee that the Super Hornets will be fully operational when the F-111 is retired in 2010.
The decision to purchase the JASSM, an air-to-ground strike missile, was made in 2006. We announce we’re buying a plane primarily for the purpose of air-to-ground and maritime strike in 2007, and it can’t carry the hot-diggity new missile we bought at very considerable expense for the job last year.
Whatever your view of how much, and how, we should spend on air defence, and defence more generally, this reeks of policymaking on the run costing us a) big money, and b) leaving us with a less capable defence force than we could otherwise have.