The Williams Foundation unequivocally endorses the government’s decision to place a firm order for 14 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. This represents strategic thinking of the first order, for which the Rudd government, and indeed its coalition predecessors (who took the decision to join the nine-nation JSF program in 2002), deserve credit. No single defence force-structuring choice in the next two decades is likely to contribute more to Australia’s national security.
Australia’s geostrategic circumstances are unique, and require a unique force-structuring solution. Because we inhabit an island continent, our military strategy logically should focus first, on controlling events in the approaches to our north and northwest; and second, on protecting ourselves, our friends, and our allies throughout that region. The most recent Defence White Paper, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, explicitly recognised those strategic imperatives.
The Australian Defence Force must be paramount in three crucial roles if it is successfully to prosecute that strategy:
- Information/Surveillance/Reconnaissance (ISR),
- Control of the Air, and
- Strategic Strike
Numerous components from each of the three services contribute to those roles, but none is, or will be for many years, more important than the F-35.
When the F-35 becomes operational with the RAAF around 2018 it will be the best ISR and air-to-ground strike/fighter in the world, bar none; and it will be considerably superior in air-to-air combat to every other fighter in the world except the F-22, which on current indications will be operated only by our American allies.
By ordering 14 aircraft the government has set its course – there will be no turning back. The RAAF can now proceed confidently with training crews, building infrastructure, and developing concepts of operations.
The F-35 will be the centrepiece of a networked ADF, and as its exceptional capabilities become better understood, it is likely to be valued as much by the Navy and Army as by the Air Force.
In the opinion of the Williams Foundation, the Rudd Government’s decision to order the F-35 represents a win for strategic thinking and, therefore, for national security.
The Williams Foundation is an independent research organisation whose purpose is to promote the development and effective implementation of national security and defence policies specific to Australia’s unique geopolitical environment and values.