Strike Back

/ February 23, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Ever since the Australian government signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States in 2006 to become a partner nation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, an “independent” think tank calling itself Air Power Australia has been all over the fifth-generation jet's capabilities. Suffice to say whoever's behind the JSF campaign isn't a fan.

But JSF Program Executive Officer Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Davis told Inside the Air Force last week that he has not paid much attention to this “small faction” in the land down under. In fact, the general said, “We've wasted more time on this group than we needed to.”

His reason?

It's a fairly small faction in Australia that has a fairly clear agenda of trying to extend the life of the F-111 and try to force the Australian government to demand the release of the F-22 to Australia. That's their overriding objective. If you read their all their articles, you will see articles that spend an incredible amount of time and detail trying to discredit everything on the F-35 while never comparing or questioning or, if you will, describe anything about the F-22, so it's pretty clear their whole idea is to do everything they can to change the Australian government's ((mind)) to buy the F-22. Their whole . . . premise is that, one day, all by itself, an F-35 will meet a Sikhoi MKI somewhere, all by itself, over the Pacific Ocean, and who will come out ahead? They have no concept of the modern warfare and systems of operations and airborne battle systems and coalition ops -- they just have no concept of that; it's all one-v-one airplane and who can turn the fastest quickest. That's a very 1950s-type of mindset. Keep in mind that one of the individuals that does this a member of the Parliament with a degree in physics, but he's enlisted some of the folks who have further degrees to do a rudimentary analysis of the structure of the F-35, and the most telling that they seem to focus on is because the F-22's bottom fuselage is smooth and the F-35's bottom fuselage has some curvatures, we hence have no (low-observable) capability when you look at us from the side. Their rudimentary understanding of stealth completely discounts the fact that there are a variety of different technologies including materials and different aspects that go well beyond the shape of the airplane to be able to . . . enhance radar cross-section. They're doing it from strictly a wire-frame analysis of the shape of the fuselage compared to something else.

Davis added that the JSF program office, rather than spurring an open debate with this group, “kind of just let them go and have their own little party down there.”

However, these articles have been “concerning for other partner nations" because “they read all this and it comes across quite authoritative and detailed, and so they are concerned about that,” Davis said. “Because of that, and because this comes across as appearing to be a very deep analysis when there is a very clear agenda behind it, is a difficult thing to dispute with partners.”

The “good news,” according to the two-star, is that the 13 services from the nine countries participating in the JSF effort have participated in live simulator events using data at the top secret and "special access required" level, which has the “most true representation of the airplane as we know it.” With simulations of airborne scenarios against Defense Intelligence Agency-certified models of surface-to-air missile threats, air-to-air threats and others, the partners are convinced that “this airplane can do basically what we're saying it can do, which basically discounts the articles we're dealing with in Australia,” according to Davis, who added Air Power Australia has not been briefed on the aircraft at this level of fidelity.

More from Davis:

When (the Norwegians) finally made their down-select, and all the dust and fur had settled from the battle with Gripen, and the cost of maintaining it and the cost of the industrial participation aspects, the Norwegians were very clear: they may someday, because of their geographic location, face a very highly advanced threat to their east, and it may run over them from the North Sea, or something else might happen, and some of those folks that (will) not necessarily always be friendly to their aspirations -- they may have to engage with an F-35. They basically said, 'We picked the F-35 because of that potential scenario, and we want the best airplane with the most stealth, the most sensors, the most networking capability, and the most coalition, if you will, capabilities to meet that threat if it should ever come.' They understand, in a very uncertain world, when you're going to have some friends and some enemies, you're going to want to fully operate with your friends and you want to overwhelm the enemy. It's not a one-v-one over the North Sea that they will necessarily see.

Make sure to read this week's issue of ITAF to hear more from Davis on JSF international partner news.

-- Jason Simpson

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