Wednesday September 03, 2014

Comment: Mixed Fleet Future for RAAF?

A file image of a RAAF Super Hornet. (Dept of Defence)

by Kristian Hollins

In the haze of further indecision by government yesterday, a few key points were lost in the ether which might give an indication of the way government is progressively thinking.

When Australia made the decision to buy-in to the ambitious Joint Strike Fighter program, it was with a view to resolving two fleets–one an air combat fighter/attack, one a tactical strike platform–into one. The JSF would be able to fulfil both roles, and a single fleet is cheaper and easier to maintain.

Fast forward eleven years and the Australian air combat capability is in a more precarious state. The F111 has been phased out, the classic fleet is slowly but surely doing the same, and the F-35 has experienced delays enough to make these other factors appear threatening.

With hindsight, the decision by then-Minister Brendan Nelson to purchase 24 Super Hornet aircraft as a short-term bridging capability, seems inspired.

The decision by Minister for Defence Stephen Smith to convert the 12 pre-wired Super Hornets into EA-18G Growler variant will have long terms consequences. With Super Hornets now increasingly ingrained in RAAF’s fleet structure, there seems little reason to maintain the argument of a ‘single-type’ future. The Minister’s comments yesterday indicate the same.

“So we are now not just looking at Super Hornets as transition but looking at the longer-term potential of Super Hornets and Growler and Joint Strike Fighters essentially as a mixed fleet … we’re now not just looking at transition, we’re looking at the longer-term potential use of Super Hornets, Growlers, and Joint Strike Fighters.”

And again: “So this is now not just a narrow gap in a transition from classic Hornets to Joint Strike Fighter. It is the longer term strategic merits of the utility of the Super Hornets together with Growler, in combination with Joint Strike Fighters.”

Once more with feeling: “Whether it’s 24 Super Hornets, 36 Super Hornets, or 48 Super Hornets, for the foreseeable future that would still give us a substantial edge in our part of the world. And the introduction here of Joint Strike Fighters would obviously also have a substantial edge.

“But we have no reservations about a potential combination of Super Hornets and Joint Strike Fighters because on any measure, that gives us a significant edge into the future in our part of the world, just as currently the combination of Classics and Supers gives us that edge.”

Despite the Minister’s gushing praise for Super Hornet, he said government remained committed to the F-35.

“The commitment so far as Joint Strike Fighter was concerned in the 2009 White Paper was that the previous Government and the current Government were committed to the Joint Strike Fighter program; that we would look to the purchase of up to 100 Joint Strike Fighters, but the precise number would be subject to advised Government decisions as we went. And the only decision that the Government has made with respect to purchase of Joint Strike Fighters is we’re contractually committed to two. We’ll receive those in the United States for training purposes still on the 2014 timetable. And we’ve indicated publicly that we will also purchase an additional 12, our first tranche. That will essentially give us a squadron.”

And the mixed fleet option may not be diminishing as quickly as first thought. Boeing’s Muti-Year Contract with the US Navy for Super Hornet production will see aircraft delivered out to 2015. Beyond that, AA understands Boeing will maintain the facility’s industrial base with additional single year contracts or other orders, perhaps even using company funds, as they have previously in the case of the C-17 production line.

Australia has, for many decades, operated mixed fleets. While not the ideal way to manage air combat capability, it may be the most logical, both in terms of avoiding a capability gap and for bespoke fighter/attack and tactical strike capabilities, and despite the cost overheads.

Comments

78 Responses to “Comment: Mixed Fleet Future for RAAF?”
  1. Josh says:

    For what the F-35 has got, it will be a awesome jet. Just production is taking longer than predicted, but don’t worry hopefully their wont be a gap and we won’t need to spend anymore money. But if it did arise, and we had to, expanding out and looking at the eurofighter or F22… We could write a LOR for 2-3 squadrons of F22′s from LM and could be worth a try considering we have RAAF pilots flying the F22 over in America now….

    But if we go with the rhino again, we need single seaters and I don’t reckon we have seen the full capability of the rhino yet, so wouldn’t be a bad idea, and then send some rhinos to 2OCU and 77SQN to start with

  2. John N says:

    Josh,

    The system doesn’t work like that, you don’t just send a Letter Of Request (LOR) to the aircraft manufacturer.

    The US Government doesn’t allow just anyone with a pocket full of $’s to go to say, LM, Boeing, etc, it places strict controls on who and how defence equipment is supplied to, eg, you wouldn’t allow Iran or Nth Korea to do that.

    LOR’s are sent to the US Government, they process through the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), see link below:

    http://www.dsca.osd.mil/

    The sale of equipment has to be approved by the US State Department and is notified to the US Congress, anyway, when you get a chance have a look through the DSCA site.

    The next step is that the equipment is usually purchased through the US “Foreign Military Sales” (FMS) system, FMS facilitates sales of US arms, defense equipment, defense services, and military training to foreign governments.

    When Australia uses FMS, for example, the purchase of the 24 F/A18F’s, “technically” the US Navy is the customer of the aircraft, weapons, etc, they take delivery and then they are “signed” over to us.

    (AA, maybe one day you guys could publish an article in the mag of how the DSCA and FMS systems work in detail?)

    And not all US equipment is allowed to be “exported”, some is only available to the US Military itself.

    Yes there are Countries, such as Australia, who have a good relationship with Uncle Sam and are given access to equipment that others won’t be allowed access to.

    Getting back to your idea of going to LM for the F22A, it was banned from being exported, yes Australia and Japan, at least “internally” in those two countries showed interest, but as I understand it, never made a “formal” request to seek US approval to lift the export ban.

    The short answer, the aircraft is out of production anyway, the long answer is more complicated than that.

    And in any event Australia will either have a force of F35A’s + Growlers or have a mix of 35A’s, Super Hornets + Growlers.

    Cheers,

    John

  3. Peter says:

    To Gerard Frawley (australianaviation.com.au)

    Hey, I’m not abusing anyone. Why don’t you for once listen to what I got to say Gerald, because the others seem to reject my explanation about the reasons why the F-35/Super Hornet/Growlers are not up to the job, so don’t you ever ever give me a last warning. From the very beginning I was civilised with my explanation from the start and all you people start to behave like I’m an idiot making up all the stories. Why don’t you next time Gerald warn the others. I’m sick of tired of you warning me for absoletely nothing.

    Cheers

  4. Sam says:

    @Peter well if the shoe fits…

    @John: Just to clarify your use of the word “banned”: It has been legislated into U.S. Federal Law that there will be no exports of the F-22, in case there was any confusion of it being an informal agreement

  5. Peter says:

    To Gerard Frawley (australianaviation.com.au)

    Excuse me I have done absolutely NOTHING WRONG so accusing me is not going to help. Ok if you want to know why I’m so frustrated is because most of you guys don’t get the fact that the three aircraft, the F-35, Super Hornet and the Growler are unable to stand up to emerging changed threats etc etc.You have a close look at my comments of why what my friends, myself, my colleagues and acquaintances are explaining these very specific reasons.

    That is why I’m trying to make you guys understand that these aircraft are inferior to the Russian/Chinese fighters, advanced SAMs/AAAs and the counter stealth radars can see them etc. You people are seem to be conned with LM and DoD bureaucratic reasons.

    John N, Pez, Sam, Air Observer, Anon, Steve, Dane and other pro-F-35 advocates really need to keep that in mind what I said about this issue, that includes you Gerard Frawley.

  6. John N says:

    Hi Sam,

    Yes, regardless of the word I used, eg “banned”, I was making the point to Josh (and others) who talk or suggest that the F22A be purchased, that they are barking up the wrong tree.

    Not only is it out of production, but it also “wasn’t available” for export outside of the USA.

    Cheers,

    John

  7. Peter says:

    Observer

    If APA were in charge of the RAAF we would have upgraded F-111 with F-22′s that should be aloud for export with 747 tankers that are certainly NOT overkill for the job.

    The obsolescent Super Hornet/Growler/upcoming lemon F-35As that are overkill for the job.

  8. Peter says:

    Sam

    Of this being an informal agreement of not selling the F-22 to the Allies from the U.S. Federal Law is a complete insult.

  9. John N says:

    Peter Peter Peter,

    What can I say?

    I can’t, and won’t, talk for Gerard, the rest of the AA team or anyone here, they, I’m sure are fully capable of answering for themselves.

    The issue, for me anyway, is that with the line that you and APA push, is well known, it is constantly repeated, without deviation.

    As I said to you before, regardless of the article that appears, if it has something to do with the F35A or the Super Hornet (lemons and super dogs as you continue to call them), is that we hear “exactly” the same points and arguments, they do not deviate one way or the other.

    It is just an endless commentary of every single thing that you and APA have said before, Ok, I get it, don’t need to hear exactly the same each and every time..

    Can I please ask you this one simple question? Please admit (and I know you don’t like or agree to it) that the current choice for the RAAF is between either the F35A and the Super Hornet, or a combination of both, is that true? Yes or No?

    If it is true, how about making some comments on the “specific” article or question?

    What is the point of constantly repeating the same thing? How about adding value to the specific discussion?

    If that is impossible for you, then why bother? Why?

    John

  10. Peter says:

    John N

    LOR’s are sent to the US Government, they process through the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). Thats ok.

  11. Sam says:

    @Peter: whats insulting? the law is that the F22 cannot be exported. why is that insulting to you? I didn’t make the law… lol

  12. John N says:

    Sam,

    I’m with you, every country has the right to say what that country allows, or doesn’t allow, to be exported.

    If it is in their interest, they may well do it, if it’s not, well that is their right not to.

    It’s no different to here in OZ, we are one of the world’s largest producers of Uranium, if we decide it’s in our interest to ban a sale to a particular country, then that is our choice.

    If the US decided that it was in it’s interest to keep the F22A all to itself, well, fair enough, if you don’t like it, develop your own!

    John

  13. Dane says:

    You know what I love John N? I have asked Peter time and time again about a suitable 5th Gen alternative available now, that is not Russian or Chinese built and compatible with our recent tanker purchase. The only real answer I’ve got is…well, nothing. The F-15SE has come a number of times, which, let’s face it is not even a real contender as it’s not even close to production at this point in time. The Sukhoi family of fighters have been mentioned, however, out ties with the US, our want to keep pilots alive, and the complete incompatibility with our ground and air support vehicles are all major hurdles to have to over come.

    So Peter, I put it to you. What are the realistic, available now or within a similar time frame to JSF, proven and effective alternatives to the so-called “lemon?”

  14. Anon says:

    Peter

    Maybe “Gerald” is sick of you cutting and pasting stuff from the APA website.

    Why don’t you tell us what PRIMARY SOURCE information you have? Oh, and the guy in the hobby shop doesn’t count!

  15. Air Observer says:

    @Peter
    The F35 was designed by fighter pilots for fighter pilots. That is not spin, it is fact. Despite politics the growing number of pilots who have flown it talk to pilots who haven’t and they are drooling over the Lightning. Get used to hearing the name. By all accounts, LM’s talking up of its many attributes have somewhat overshadowed its chances in a good old gunfight. That’s what we’re talking about isn’t it Peter? WVR.
    Skunkworks apparently didn’t forget that and apparently neither did Israel, the WVR always go for the gunkill obssesives who have made the least stink about it. The pilots are grinning. Maybe they know something you (or the rest of us) don’t.

  16. Peter says:

    John N, Pez, Sam, Air Observer, Anon, Steve, Dane, Gerard Frawley (australianaviation.com.au) and other pro-F-35 advocates

    It is unlikely that the F-35 will meet its Joint Operational Requirement Document (JORD) minimum goals of having a “significantly” better sortie rate than the aircraft it is to replace. It has also failed the goal of being an instrument for affordable tacair recapitalisation.

  17. Air Observer says:

    @Peter
    Oh, by the way the Aussie Superdogs didn’t just spank the Su’s, they did it whilst delivering two seperate strike packages before hightailing home for a cold one. Availability put the field to shame.
    If it’s a dog it’s a Red Heeler.

  18. John N says:

    Hi Anon,

    Mate, I’m still laughing, “the guy in the hobby shop” that’s a winner!

    Wonder if they stock models of 5th gen Russian and Chinese aircraft??

    If I could buy you a Christmas drink I would.

    Yep, thats the winner!!

    Cheers,

    John

  19. Josh says:

    Hey John, Yes I know you can’t just send a LOR to the aircraft manufacturer, just brainstorming on the subject. I still believe we will have super hornets and F-35′s and more super hornets….. Just saying it would be a good idea if USA start back up the F22 program and we could get some raptors.. We have some guys already flying them, wouldn’t be a bad thing….

  20. John N says:

    Again, Peter Peter Peter,

    What can I say?

    All you did to reply to me was “cut and paste” my points to you, add little bits and twist them all around, that, to be honest is pretty pathetic and childish to say the very least.

    If AA doesn’t ban you, and that is up to them, well consider yourself banned from me ever ever replying to you.

    Have a nice life!!!

    John

  21. Peter says:

    Anon, Air Observer

    What’s the guy from the hobby shop got to do with this issue? The APA have far more interesting information.

    The F-35 was not designed by fighter pilots for fighter pilots. That is spin, it is fact. Despite politics the growing number of pilots who have flown it talk to pilots who haven’t and they are drooling over the Lightning etc etc. Why don’t you get used to hearing the facts. By all accounts, LM’s talking up of its many poor rumour attributes have somewhat overshadowed its chances in a good old gunfight. the Good old gunfight is so much better.

    Skunkworks apparently didn’t forget that and apparently neither did Israel, the WVR always go for the gunkill obsesives who have made the least don’t stink about it. I’m grinning here. I know something you (or the rest of you guys) don’t.

  22. John N says:

    Hi Josh,

    I wasn’t sure if you knew exactly how the process of LOR’s, etc worked, if you do, great.

    And yes “brainstorming” is ok, but you also have to look at the other side of the coin too.

    Sorry, but seriously, forget the F22A, it isn’t going happen, it’s gone, finished done, even some in the USA want more, and that isn’t going to happen, so what really are the chances of Australia getting them? The answer is none, ok?

    Yes there are/have been Australian exchange pilots flying them, but one or two does not equate to enough knowledge to transfer to the equivalent of an Australian based Sqn.

    The various “exchange” programs have been going for many many years between Australia, US, UK, NZ and Canada, and will continue well into the future.

    Just because an Aussie goes to the US and crews on a particlar system does not automatically mean that we acquire that exact same aircraft.

    For example we have guys, and I assume girls too, that have been working on the E3 Sentry aircraft, what they have learnt is then transferred to E7A’s (Wedgetail’s) here.

    Cheers,

    John

  23. Peter says:

    Air Observer

    Do you know what a dog means?, its not a Red Heeler. A “dog” is a fighter which does not perform.

  24. Air Observer says:

    @Peter
    I am aware of that Peter. I just don’t agree with you. I simply place my own opinion and then respect you for yours. In the right hands with the right tactics it performs just fine. Play to your strengths and shield your weaknesses that is true for every fighter, as dissimilar training proves time and again. The Tornado was an air to air dodo. Link 16 and a change of tactics later, an Eagle killer. I am old enough to remember the Harrier being called an underpowered, underarmed, snail, only for it to prove an extraordinarily adept dogfighter during the Falklands conflict… in the right hands, with the right tactics.

  25. Sam says:

    What I’m curious to know Peter, is how you *know* the F-35 is so deficient in all of the areas you’ve identified. The APA have had nothing to do with the F-35; not in the development, testing or operation of the aircraft. The information they have is based on JPEGS and stat sheet information, which is hardly indicative of anything.. so we know they don’t *know* anything for fact, it’s all speculation. So how can you be sure?

  26. Josh says:

    End of the day, the LOR has been sent…. Clearly we will be getting 24 more super hornets, hopefully some single seaters, and later on our F-35′s…..
    No debate really….

  27. australianaviation.com.au says:

    @Peter – I did warn you. Thanks for playing, but calling someone “brainless” is abusive, and calling someone an “outlier” – presumably meaning an outright liar – is defamatory.

    To everyone else, thanks for contributing, but I think we’ll close of comments on this one now.

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