Senate committee recommends ‘hedging strategy’ for F-35A acquisition

written by australianaviation.com.au | October 14, 2016

150514-F-HT977-189.JPGThe F-35A Lightning II is the only aircraft able to meet Australia’s strategic needs, an inquiry by a Senate committee examining the acquisition has concluded.

However, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee stated in its inquiry report that it “retains a healthy scepticism” about assurances from Defence regarding cost, schedule and capability, and expressed concern that program delays might create a capability gap.

“Considering the history of significant changes to the acquisition schedule over the life of the F-35 program, including the recent re-baselining, together with the limited scope and considerable cost to further extend the life of the classic Hornet fleet, the committee considers it prudent for Defence to develop a hedging strategy to mitigate the risk of a capability gap resulting from further delays,” the report says.

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The committee notes that ASPI advised that the most sensible such strategy would be to order another tranche of F/A-18F Super Hornets, with any such decision to be made by 2019 at the latest.

“ASPI explained that this would be the best option as no other fifth-generation aircraft is available on the world market; most if not all of the fixed costs of acquiring the Super Hornet have already been borne; and any other type of aircraft would bring with it new supply chains, and flight and ground crew training requirements, putting strain on the RAAF’s capacity to absorb the several other new types of aircraft in the pipeline,” the report notes.

The committee also expressed concern about the potential for other countries to be prioritised over Australia in the provision of repair parts and the development of software, recommending that Defence develop a sovereign industrial capability strategy to ensure that aircraft can be supported without excessive reliance on others.

And the committee recommended that the government should strive to see Australia established as the Asia-Pacific maintenance and sustainment hub for the F-35.

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Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne recently met Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter during a visit to the US, highlighting Australia’s potential as a regional hub for the maintenance of F-35 components.

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18 Comments

  • Bill

    says:

    Well that’s interesting! Could be quite a tough sell for the public. Additionally, if more Super Hornets are to be ordered, DoD better get in soon as Boeing likely aren’t going to keep the line open for too much longer, orders drying up etc.

  • BJ

    says:

    We have already received a price for the supply of 16 F/A-18E’s, to replace the legacy hornets at 75 squadron in Tindal, and another 4-6 F/A-18Fs for Amberley to better serve as a Super Hornet OCU. The legacy hornets will be then all be concentrated at Williamtown.

    I would expect this purchase to go ahead next year, along with another ex-QANTAS A330 to be converted to KC-30A. (of similar age as the other A330’s recently bought), so that the VIP jet being used wont affect tanker availability.

  • Tim

    says:

    “The F-35A Lightning II is the only aircraft able to meet Australia’s strategic needs”

    Anybody who says that is either deluded or outright lying.

  • Harry

    says:

    Ive been saying for a long time that the RAAF needs more than just one front line fighter. Its all about risk. I would have preferred to see the RAAF with a long range superiority fighter that could also do strike… but the advantages of the F-18E/Fs in not costing too much is hard to argue against. The only real capability advantage they give is the Growlers EW capability. This will work well with the F-35s. The RAAF should think about using non-Growler F-18s as arsenal planes just as the US is planning for its F-15s, to work in conjunction with the F-35s. F-15s would’ve been a better capability match with the F-35s, especially when the US also puts the next-gem jammer on the F-15, like the F-18Gs are planned for.

  • Tim2

    says:

    Re Tim, what would you suggest we buy?

    your choice
    * eurofighter
    * raffel
    * super hornet

    Given that a fighter jet purchase may have to last 25-30 years which is going to be the best option for the future?

    The problem is in the world of next generation aircraft I.e stealth capabilities what options are there?

    P.S F22s are not for sale and any other stealth fighters in development are a long way off being a viable option.

  • Mick181

    says:

    This is a recommendation from a senate enguiry based on suggestions from APA a group which has zero credibility with the Govt or RAAF. There is no sign that the F-35 will come into RAAF service any later than current planning.
    Some people commenting on here need to download the Defence White Paper released early this year, it will tell you what the ADF is getting over the next 10+ yrs. There is no intention to buy further F-18 series aircraft past the Growlers.
    Senate enquiries are politicians with personnel agendas and the Govt of the day has no obligation to act on any such report.

  • Samual

    says:

    Sorry Tim2 … but the F-35 is the only option.

    The Super Hornet will not be competitive against other fighters that will be entering service over the next 10 or 20 years and other options such as the Eutofighter and Raffale aren’t much better.

    The F-35 is bleeding edge technology and while its development has been troubled it is still the only 5th generation option that is available.

  • Fabian

    says:

    If only the goddam f-22 was opened to us and us only besides the U.S

  • John N

    says:

    Mick181,

    Completely agree, you beat me to saying exactly the same (which I said yesterday in another forum).

    Senate Committees, and their reports, have no power over the Government of the day to accept any or all recommendations from those reports. Senate Committees are usually made up of politicians from totally different ends of politics and most of them are pushing their particular political agenda, full of hot air, means nothing!

    I’d be surprised that the Government and RAAF didn’t already have a ‘Plan B’ in place in the very very unlikely event that the F-35 program went pear shaped, but that’s just not going to happen now, I can’t see any reason that the Government will need to adjust the timetable for the F-35A’s introduction into service, or activate a ‘Plan B’.

    BJ,

    You said: “We have already received a price for the supply of 16 F/A-18E’s, to replace the legacy hornets at 75 squadron in Tindal, and another 4-6 F/A-18Fs for Amberley to better serve as a Super Hornet OCU.”

    Where does this information come from? Can you show me? I think you may be getting confused with what the Gillard Government was considering back in 2012-13 when it was hedging its bets.

    In December 2012, then Def Min Smith, sent a Letter Of Request to the US for pricing for 24 F/A-18F’s, then in February 2013, there was a notification on the US DSCA website stating that the Government request was now for 12 F/A-18E/F’s and 12 EA-18G’s.

    By May 2013, the Government confirmed that the ‘current’ fleet of 24 F/A-18F’s would retained ‘as is’ and that 12 new build EA-18G’s would be ordered.

    Just because we request pricing and availability and that request then ends up on the DSCA websites notification list doesn’t necessarily mean that we will order ‘all’ that we made a request for.

    If you have some other info on these ‘extra’ 16E’s and 4-6F’s you mentioned, I’d certainly like to see it.

    Cheers,

    John N

  • Harry

    says:

    Bill,

    The US will keep the F-18 line open for many more years now that Kuwait has been given the green light to purchase some F-18s and likely the US congress will add a few more F-18s to the USNs budget, like they have been doing for a while now, so maybe another 5 before we would have to decide.

    Mick & John,

    I think your being a little harsh on the senate committee since it expressly concluded that the F-35, being the only 5th-gen, “is the only aircraft able to meet Australia’s strategic needs” (as a combat fighter toe-to-toe with any adversary I think they mean).

    The committee only advises that DOD create a hedging strategy, it doesn’t actually recommend buying them ASAP. (And John, while Defence would probably have thought about it, I doubt they have a plan B.) But there have been, are and likely to be further problems with the F-35 program in meeting schedules and budgets. In fact it is probably expected with such a radical new concept of a plane. There was one just the other month with faulty fuel lines. The software is a little behind for 3F, the helmets aren’t complete and the ejection seat issue isn’t entirely fixed yet either. It is not unreasonable at all to look at a hedging strategy.

    Its called risk management. And frankly I would prefer my one and only airforce to have more than just one frontline fighter. We don’t have a navy made up of just AWDs! Its a tool for the job. One tool we no longer have is a long-range strike/air-superiority fighter. One that could fly non-stop to Christmas Island on short notice in case someone decided to sail their naval fleet there (like happened a while back)! You all know I would prefer it to be F-15s (which are now: slated to stay in USAF until 2045 (thats another 30 years!); upgraded w/ 16 air-air missiles, so as to become an arsenal plane); and, will most likely also get the next-gen jammer too). Nevertheless, the F-18: would play a pivotal role as an EW fighter in conjunction with the F-35, enhancing EW; and, the super hornets could become an arsenal plane like what the F-15 is being planned to become. It would also be a better CAS option for us as well than using a F-35s.

    The Government has left open the door for 24 or so more F-35s. If there are schedule issues or cost issues, it is entirely sensible to look for a hedging strategy of getting more super hornets and/or growlers. As each squadron gets drawn down and replaced gradually with F-35s, the RAAF would have a relatively substantial force in case of any exigent circumstances in the near future. Thats what a capability gap means. And if and when the government buys more F-35s after the first 72 have been delivered then the it will be right about the time the first of the super hornets could retire! I think its entirely sound conclusion by the committee.

  • Mick181

    says:

    Harry we have 2 fighter force now and thats unlikely to change much before 2030 if at all. The DWP has left the Super Hornet replacement open at this stage.
    John your other Forum is where i got the info from (don’t have the knowledge base to post on there) and respect your views both here and there.

  • John N

    says:

    Harry,

    Always interested in reading your comments and points, lets go through some of them.

    Harsh on the Senate Committee? I don’t think Government, Defence or the RAAF needs a Senate Committee report to make it ‘think’ about a Plan B, again I’m sure they can do that all on their own, if ever the need arose.

    You said you “doubt they have a plan B”, what information or facts do you have to suggest that Defence doesn’t already have a Plan B? Do you think Defence and the RAAF is just sitting there with it’s fingers crossed and blindly accepting that all will be perfect with the world? I’m sure they are not, but still there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that the sky is about to fall in on the F-35 program, (despite what some people want to believe).

    Let’s not forget that Government, Defence and the RAAF have full access to all the classified info that we here can only speculate about.

    And from what I’ve read of the report, and the various quoted submissions, Defence and the RAAF appear to be satisfied with the progress of the F-35 program and don’t appear to be ‘stressed out’ like some of the people who made ridiculous submissions (and we know who I’m talking about too).

    Let’s not also forget that the USMC has reached IOC in 2015, the USAF in 2016 and the USN will in 2018, we won’t be reaching IOC with 3 Sqn until 2020, lot of water under the bridge between now and then (and again, regardless of any minor delays in Block 3F software, again, we are not reaching IOC until 2020!).

    We are not going to stop using the Classic Hornets on ‘one’ particular day, this is a methodical drawn out process to transition from one airframe to the other.

    The Classic fleet will be progressively drawn down starting in 2018 through to 2022, one Squadron at a time (and lets not forget that the RAAF will have the 24 Super Hornets and 12 Growlers available during this time too).

    Lets not forget that the ‘transition’ from one airframe to the other, usually sees a ‘brief’ drop in capability and airframes for a short period of time, just look at the transition from F-111C’s to F/A-18F’s, 1 Sqn parked it’s airframes (leaving 6 Sqn as the sole F-111C Sqn), as it transitioned over the follow 12 months, the same will occur with the transition from Classic Hornets to the F-35A.

    I could go on and detail how each of the four Classic Squadrons will cease to ‘exist’ operationally for approx. 12 months as they transition, one by one, but I’m sure you get the point.

    Risk management? Or should we say ‘managing the risk?’, Again I’m sure that Defence and the RAAF is fully aware and capable of managing the risk and that is also part of the systematic and progressive drawdown of the Classic Fleet as the transition to the F-35A fleet occurs during the 2o18-2023 period (and not to forget the combined 36 Supers and Growlers that will be still fully available for service during the transition too).

    As for F-15’s becoming ‘arsenal planes’, or not, and if they will receive the NGJ pod (do you have a sources to suggest that will happen?), it has no bearing on the Australian Government’s plans for the RAAF, we will be an air force with one ‘multi role’ airframe that will be capable of air defence, land and maritime strike, especially with the appropriate long range land and maritime strike weapons available, or soon to be available).

    Cheers,

    John N

  • paul

    says:

    I agree Harry,Firstly versatility is vital for combat operations.Secondly,if F-35 or Rhinos suffer from tech issues,u always have versatility up your sleeve.To all these people saying OH Chinese and Russian 5th gen fighters r a match?Sorry they are not even in production yet.

  • BJ

    says:

    Hi John N,

    My Comments are based on my knowledge and involvement in the process. I apologise but I am unable to provide more details.

    However, I will say that this is not the first time, nor it be the last time we have been involved in such costing requests and evaluations, this one in particular with the US Navy’s FMS office.

    Factors involved included –

    The spiralling cost of maintaining the legacy hornets, the reduced ability to rely on AMARG in the US for spares/support due to the US’s recent regeneration of 30+ legacy hornets(Also a reason the Blue Angels are turning in their legacy hornets).

    The cost benefits of concentrating the legacy fleet at Williamtown, and retiring the worst 12 airframes, and cannibalising them for usable spares, and leveraging off the existing Super Hornet supply and training pipelines to deliver significant cost savings with this process to the Air Combat Group.

    The potential resale value of the F/A-18E’s to the US Navy after their required service life was fulfilled coming of the overall life cost of the acquisition, and the benefit of having 6 more F/A-18F’s to augment the fleet with the potential future conversion of the 12 pre-wired Growlers when F-35 achieves FOC, leaving a fleet of 24 F/A-18G’s and 18 F/A-18F’s. (3 x 12 jet combat squadrons with 6 jets as a mini OCU flight).

    Overall cost to the taxpayers was in the vicinity of $3-4 Billion, based on how long we operated the jets, what we did with them (resale vs retained ownership), and taking part in a multi year buy with another Super Hornet customer etc. Also considered in the process was the extreme vulnerability of the Pacific region to conflict at the moment, the need to keep a core fleet of 100 operational fighters while the F-35 acquisition and legacy hornet retirements proceed, and the increasing toll Operation Okra is having on the flight life of our legacy hornets.

    This process also included a price on 12 MH-60S to replace the Navy’s MRH-90’s, due to the Navy’s continued unhappiness with MRH-90 performance, and 7 MRH-90’s being insufficient to fulfil Navy’s increased demand for airframes in light of the two new replenishment ships needing 2 helos each, and an Adelaide class and HMAS Choules needing another two helos each as well minimum. The MRH-90’s would be handed to the Army.

    Mick181, no offence but a lot has happened in the region/world, even since the White Paper. We are pricing contingency options. For instance another armoured squadron worth of M1A1 Abrams to equip a 4th plan Beersheba spec regular army brigade was the subject of another recent query. You could look at several White Papers, and not see 8 C-17s on them. but we bought them, for numerous reasons. Our strategic needs are constantly looked at, and we are NOT going to avoid purchasing equipment just because a piece of paper last year says we don’t need it

  • Harry

    says:

    Mick, I wouldn’t say we have a two fighter force now, unless your distinguishing between legacy, super and growlers (apart from the growlers EW capability, these all do essentially the same mission, but the F-35 will do it much better in most aspects).

    John, I am aware of the points you have raised – re capability, DOD views from the enquiry, F-35 IOC, the RAAF drawdown/transitioning etc – and as usual agree with most of what you said (I find your comments interesting too. But not how you laboured the obvious point I alluded to of the drawdown/transition). I am not suggesting we abandon the F-35 at all. But I still stand by my argument.

    We could always do with some more planes and for those reasons Ive stated. We will have 106 (+ 2 in the US); down from more than 130+. I think the arsenal plane is an important concept that could boost capability; they would be a multiplier just as the AWACS are a multiplier in a different way. And the Growlers will provide different methods of EW to the F-35 that will compliment the F-35s EW capabilities. But I would like to see more strength in quantity, especially with the Growlers. And when the F-35 have important jobs to do the others can take up the slack of other tasks, like CAS or advanced training etc.

    Its a bit harsh on the enquiry because some of those senators are in government. And DOD didn’t see the risk of the F-35s in the beginning until later. It was the Minister for Defence that made the decision to get some Super Hornets back when the JSF program was in really big trouble. And from what I read it was a serious risk for him personally because many others still then thought it unnecessary, and in the end we’ve ending up with some Growlers (but not enough in my opinion). And there are others who have argued this point who know what they’re talking about and see it as sensible in managing the risk of further delays and not fully capable to our expectations at onset (i.e. further delays and money).

    Re: the F-15 its just a preference I have (if you couldn’t read the subtext I agreed that it was unrealistic even though it would’ve been better… but that was a decision that was made in the late 70s/early 80s with the legacy F-18s. But you can find those references to the arsenal plane and the NGJ online, I have been reading them more and more over the past year).

    Ive read a lot of the submissions too (Im not sure who your talking about though… there were a lot of submissions with an agenda for the Saab Gripen c/d/e/f though. Is that what you mean? Or are you referring to, it just came to me, the one and only Carlo Kopp?).

  • Harry

    says:

    Sorry just another point John. I said DOD probably has thought about a plan B. Then what I said was that they probably don’t have a plan B (I wish this had italics). Because as you say, DOD is satisfied with the F-35. So why would they have (italics) a plan B. And the senate recommends them to have (italics) this. I use my words carefully, but your reading into it too much. I never said that DOD was just going through life in a care-free manner or that the sky was falling lol.

  • Dare say its just Planning,….the F-35A is the star child, and will go in service with three Fighter /one OCU. Current Political issues in South China Sea, would be the bench mark. Backed up with a Generation 4.5 Gen Hedge bet ( No 1Sqn) and a specific Growler Sqn that can, at a pinch throw missiles.

    You talk about a Arsenal Aircraft, so bear in mind that the P-8A can carry, Per prior,….We had at the peak of 1969,..only Four Fighter Sqns,..no AEW, no Tankers and Satellites. Today we have Four Multi Role Sqns, AEW, etc etc

    We’re in the best shape since 1945. Why we don’t gut the sixteen old S-70Bs for Trooping and Verep,..since they’re cost neutral and owned.

    Anyway,…a simple look by me

  • John N

    says:

    Hi BJ,

    Thanks for your reply, you said:

    “My Comments are based on my knowledge and involvement in the process. I apologise but I am unable to provide more details.”

    Yes fully accept and understand that if you are ‘involved’ in the process you are unable to provide more details, but that in itself does raise a question (no offence, ok?).

    The people that I know who are ‘inside’ or ‘involved’ in such things would never (and have never) gone into the type of detail you have done in your post (for obvious reasons as you would understand being involved as you say) in a public forum, maybe vague hints in private forums, but certainly not in public forums, unless it was public knowledge and has been reported widely too.

    Again, not doubting what you say, but I just find it a bit odd that you go into specifics regarding numbers of types of airframes (both E and F’s) and also mention the possibility of an acquisition of 12 MH-60S too.

    Anyway mate, all I can do is take your word for it, but the people that I know haven’t been able to confirm such acquisitions are a possibility or a probability.

    Cheers,

    John N

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