Australian F-35 program review underway

written by australianaviation.com.au | October 31, 2011
F-35A AF-13, which was delivered to the USAF last week.(JPO)

Australia’s risk assessment review of its acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) for the RAAF is underway, Defence has confirmed, after Lockheed Martin revealed last week a team from the Department of Defence was visiting its Fort Worth plant.

“A Scheduled Compliance Risk Assessment Method (SCRAM) team is here in response to the Defence Minister’s undertaking last July to conduct a review of the Australian F-35 program,” Keith Knotts, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 business development manager for Australia and Canada, told Australian media in Fort Worth last week. “They will be here this week to assess the program’s health.”

In July Defence Minister Stephen Smith revealed plans to review the F-35 program schedule ahead of Australia formally committing to buy its first batch of 14 of a required 100 F-35s for the RAAF to ensure there was no capability gap arising from F-35 delivery delays and the retirement of the RAAF’s ageing F/A-18A/B ‘classic’ Hornet fleet.

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“In parallel with the US government’s current review of the JSF program’s progress, Defence’s New Air Combat Capability (NACC) project continues to independently monitor the program using a schedule management process known as the Schedule Compliance Risk Assessment Method (SCRAM),” a Defence spokesperson confirmed to Australian Aviation.

“SCRAM is a technique that the Defence Materiel Organisation has used to assess risk in some projects. The NACC project’s risk assessment, and any recommendations, will be part of the overall submission to government in early 2012, and will inform further decisions on JSF in late 2012.”

Minister Smith has said that should there be any risk of a capability gap between the F-35’s introduction into service and the retirement of the classic Hornets that acquiring more Super Hornets for the RAAF is “the obvious option”

“I’ll make a judgment and recommend to government as to whether we need to exercise any other options to ensure there’s no gap in our air combat capability, moving as we have historically from F-111s to classic Hornets, to Super Hornets and to Joint Strike Fighters,” Smith told The Australia Network in August.

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Current planning sees the first 14 RAAF F-35s come from Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) batches 6 (two jets), LRIP 8 (four) and LRIP 9 (eight). The first two aircraft would be handed over to the RAAF in 2014, with the 14 jets delivered to Australia in 2017 (after a period of training in the US).

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20 Comments

  • Aedan

    says:

    We shouldn’t acquire the F-35 JSF due to its proven lack of combat effectiveness. In a simulated military exercise which had Russian fighters put against Western fighters, including the JSF, the Russians referred to the battles as “like clubbing baby seals”. Put against modern European and Russian fighters, the F-35’s systems, maneuverability, engine performance and weapons payload are seriously outmatched. A far more capable yet more affordable substitute for the JSF is the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA..

  • Geoff Koh

    says:

    One has to be impressed that the assessment will actually come before the official purchase of any initial training aircraft. It would not make sense to be buying such an order of jets @ $190m ea and then decide after that an alternative model would be selected.. under such an incompetent scenario it would translate into RAAF owning/operating hornets, super hornets, F-35 and the F-35 alternative – 4 types of tactical jets with unique logistics !

    Too bad though LM is not producing a modern operational version of the F-16XL today. Assuming a single engine would satisfy requirements. But with an upgraded engine, AESA, MAWS, dedicated LW IRST, latest computer and digital EW suite.. all for under $100m per PUC cost. I’m convinced that jet would be one of the biggest selling aircraft today with orders lined up through the early 20s. Just sink some of the savings into next-gen stand-off weapon development/procurement and specialized equipment. Put the rest of the savings into future UCAVs.

  • Peter

    says:

    There is life in Australia and it has just wakened.

  • R Inglis

    says:

    I ponder the fading potential for an updated F16XL too, enhanced further by also having internal / conformal missile bays and more fuel (always more fuel). However LM will probably do nothing that detracts from the F35 until the F35 falls over or becomes established in the market place which either way, will be 2020+ the way the F35 is progressing, and an alternate non-1st grade stealth jet is needed. But by then, those nations needing such a plane will have bought or be in the process of buying something else (most probably a euro-canard or Russian fed machine) and starting to upgrade the F16XL then will probably be too late. LM could well be forgoing a volume selling super-crusi’n and super-manouveri’n relatively low cost ‘lightweight’.

  • Allan

    says:

    Here`s hoping the review recommends canning the F-35 altogether. However i won`t be holding my breath for that to happen.

  • john auger

    says:

    As the Sukhoi Su-30/35/37 is all ready in service in India and China with an unmatched, sustained and instantaneous manoeuverability, higher altitude ceiling, faster cruise and top speed and a 1000 mile unrefuelled combat radius which the F35 cannot match coupled with an acceptable radar and missile fit should we not purchase it? at least our pilots will be useing an aircraft designed as an air superiority fighter and they would now the enemies capabilities. the F35 with 4 air to air missiles for defence will not last long unless air superiority has been achieved by USAF F 22 raptors,

  • Peter (another one)

    says:

    Hello John Auger

    Unfortunately the Su-37MR Flanker-F is no longer in the programme. Since 19th December 2002, “711 White” crashed near Zhukovskiy during a routine test flight. The port stabilator snapped away during a high-G manoeuvre and the resulting hydraulics leaked which put all hydraulic systems out of action, rendering the aircraft uncontrollable. Test pilot Yuriy Vashchuk safely ejected below 3,280 ft (1,000 m). The cause of the crash was traced to fatigue failure caused by due to the design loads being exceeded many times during the aircraft’s 6 year test career. This crash put an end to the Su-37 programme and the Su-35 was revived instead.

    You’re absolutely correct that the Su-27 Flanker family has an unmatched, sustained and instantaneous manoeuvrability, higher altitude ceiling, faster cruise and top speed at Mach 2.35 and a 1,000 mile unrefuelled combat radius which the F-35 JSF cannot match with an acceptable long range radar and missile fit and indeed the F-35 with four air-to-air missiles for air superiority role will not last long and that means more numbers to do the job which is ludicrous. Same goes for the F/A-18 Super Hornet which cannot match with an acceptable long range radar from the Flanker.

    The detailed modelling, analysis and participation in a highly fidelity simulator exercise which have shown and demonstrated by my colleagues (in the defence aviation) that the F-35 has been defeated all realistic current and future threats that Australia is very likely to face by the Sukhoi family and J-20 Mighty Dragon. Part of the presentation showed a computer simulation which calculated that the F-35 would be consistently defeated by the Su-35BM aircraft. The defeat calculated by the scenario also showed the loss of the F-35’s supporting AEW&C and KC-30 air tanker aircraft.

    The Su-35S/BM Super Flanker-E is equipped with a NIIP N035 Irbis (Snow Leopard) hybrid X-band fire control radar. This radar can track up to 30 aerial targets while guiding missiles to 8 targets simultanously with the detection range in air-to-air mode was up to 217-248 miles (350-400 km). Plus and available as an upgrade for the regional Su-30MKI and Su-30MKM Flanker-H.

    Cheers

  • Roger

    says:

    Peter, So while the Su -27 cruises at mach 2+ the F35 easily picks up the heat signature from many tens of miles away and without using its LPOI radar Manoeuvres into killing position.

    Oh and by the way the “This radar can track up to 30 aerial targets while guiding missiles to 8 targets simultanously with the detection range in air-to-air mode was up to 217-248 miles (350-400 km). ”

    But only picks up the F35 at at most 30-40 miles by which time the F35 has seen it already out at 100+ miles. That the way stealth works. Official Simulations show the F35 4-6 times more lethal than current 4 gen aircraft. (APA is not official). It is not JUST about speed. Rarely is combat done in supersonic regime.

    And the threat of the J-20. That plane is general accepted to be more a strike aircraft.
    For those wanting more credible info look at F-16.net. F35 is in trouble yes but not erminal YET. Although the C version is probabaly closeest since it cannot arrest on a carrier YET.

  • Peter

    says:

    Hi Roger

    Speed, agility and long range still counts to defeat missiles tracking systems and defeating opponents agility, and supercruise is a must have for any combat aircraft, which enhances both engagements from and escape from, known threats.

    With your comment “Official simulations shown the F-35 4-6 times more lethal than current 4th Generation aircraft”.

    Unfortunately thats not true, is because our official simulations have shown that the JSF’s are not 4-6 times more lethal than the 4++ Generation Su-35S/BM Super Flanker-E or 5th Generation T-50 PAK-FA and J-20 Mighty Dragon in air-to-air combat.

    The N035 Irbis-E (Snow Leopard) X-band fire control radar does not track the JSF at 30-40 miles, my colleagues and myself don’t believe that the JSF has seen the Flanker already out at 100+ miles. We have researched the Su-35’s radar. It was shown it can track stealthy targets (such as the JSF) with an RCS of 0.11 sq.ft (0.01 sq.m) at 56 miles (90 km).

    The F-35A’s APG-81 AESA radar has a detection range of around 140-150 miles, although it may be long range, but the Su-35BM has the ability to have its first shot, first kill capability than the JSF has the ability to track and fire its AAMs at the Flanker. The JSF will definately show a significantly greater vulnerability because of the single huge “hot spot” heat signature attracting heat-seeking missiles from any side its detected.

    “The J-20 Mighty Dragon is generally accepted to be a more a strike aircraft”. Only if the aircraft is fitted with Al-41F or WS-10 turbofan engines that make the aircraft very effective as a strike or air defence interceptor.

    For those wanting more credible info look at Air Power Australia. They are an official aeronautical team and they are a sources of truth etc like it or not pro-JSF advocates. The F-35 is still a turkey.

  • Roger

    says:

    Wow? First you say that the flamnker can see the F35 at maybe 56 miles? then F35 radar can see the Flanker at something 140-150 miles. I am sorry but that suggests in your calculations that the F35 has the first shot , by a long way??. So the Su25Bm has first shot ” but at only 56 miles? at best? when the F35 has 3 x that distance to do something? Mmmm something in your thinking does not compute. To track the F35 the Su35 has to be transmitiing increasing its susceptability. So when it is Manoeuvring to avoid missles it also is vulnerable to follow up.

    Again “our official”. Are you part of the Team on the project with ALL the info on the F35? Please explain. Again APA is not officially on the F35 project.

  • Roger

    says:

    Oh and Japan just chose the F35. Must be really Bad!

    It is the best choice for the role intended.

  • Peter

    says:

    Roger – The JSF is certainly not the best choice for the role intended. I’m sorry in your calculations that the F-35 has not had its first shot, even though it did fired its first shot, the Su-35BMs defensive jamming pods jammed the missiles tracking and the Flankers out-manoeuvred the missiles.

    The F-35 with 4 AAMs its ludicrous. You see what the Flanker performs a Cobra manoeuvre which snaps the missile or lets the adversary fly infront of him in close combat. LOL The Su-30/35BM, PAK-FA and hopefully the J-20 will outpeform the JSF in all cardinal performance parameters and they will. Remember not all BVR combat will be engaged in long ranges, they’ll also engage in closer ranges.

    Lets give other anti-JSF advocates a go with their opinion thanks. I’ve said what I’ve got to say and I’m not going to waste time with you. Sorry Roger you lost me.

  • Roger

    says:

    Peter , lost you? With your ilogical reasoning, I am sorry it was the other way. Cobra? Way to bleed energy in combat where you even said speed counts? See your logic is not that clear. Sorry If you want to debate further just go to the F-16.net forums for the F35 and you can try there. Good luck.

    Oh by the way “The Su-30/35BM, PAK-FA and hopefully the J-20 will outpeform the JSF in all cardinal performance parameters and they will”

    Hopefully?. But I thought it was a given? (Own goal.)
    And, cheering for the J20 to out perform the F35. And here i was hoping to discuss calmly the merits of the arguments. Oh well all the best and seasons greetings.

  • Peter

    says:

    If it was up to me Roger, the F-15SE variant is the preferred choice for the RAAF’s future requirements if I was announcing the defence acquisition for Australia’s needs.

  • Mark

    says:

    Some interesting thoughts here. The biggest assumption is that unclass published brochure info being used for ‘official simulations’. Laughable.

    Next the idea of Mr Flanker Jamming a missile he probably doesn’t know is coming for him. How does he know he’s been launched on with an inertially guided with midcourse update missile until the missile goes active? By that time Mr Flanker is in a world of hurt. Outmanouver a missile in its terminal phase? Really? How are you going to do that? Break to the beam and try to give the missile a lead solution problem? What about Mr Flanker’s own radar situational awareness and midcourse updates to his mythical active long range missile (because he’s just put the guy he couldn’t even see outside radar gimbals!). Do a cobra? Now Mr Flanker’s definitely gimballed the guy and has also lost all his energy. No chance of running away now.

    Interesting that the F-35 is in LRIP and the SU-35BM isn’t.

    The best comment above is about the US’s “rights” and telling them what they can and can’t do with their own tech!

  • Roger

    says:

    Mark, very good points, expalined it much better than I could. Yes the simulations are funny. What needs to be continually reminded to some is , the F35 is in dvelopment. Things will be found that need to be fixed. That is the nature of development. The main problem is the intense openness that this program is inviting.

  • jack

    says:

    “Current planning sees the first 14 RAAF F-35s
    (LRIP) batches 6 (two jets), LRIP 8 (four) and LRIP 9 (eight). the 14 jets delivered to Australia in 2017 ”

    although there are long lead time componets ordered for 2014 and we may be too commited to that date, my guess is that we will try to start from 2016 with 2 and 2018 and 19 for the 12, for an end 2019 delivery

    ADF said they can retire the hornets in 2021, which will still give a 2 year slippage margin

    as to su’s ruling the sky, whats wrong with pak’s and j-20’s ? same arguments just change the name…

  • gary

    says:

    @roger If the F-35 is that great then how come the latest news that it has maor flaws in it and fatigue cracking as well.

  • Tom

    says:

    Interesting discussion. I am glad to see JSF program growing because the way it is sold should serve as an example to all other programs. JSF brought to Australia an advanced manufacturing industry that no other acquisition program offers. The aircraft can’t be that bad choice given the quantity of orders U.S. and others have. From Australia’s point of view, having technology aligned to U.S. can only be a good thing as they are typically alongside us in most engagements for support / spares etc. Just my 2 cents – not an expert 🙂

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