We reproduce here statements made by Brendan Nelson, the Australian Minister for Defence, during his visit to the United States, where he met US Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, top officials of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. He also visited the JSF assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas.
1. June 27 Doorstep Interview
JSF Production Facility, Fort Worth, Texas
What did Australia first find attractive about this to commit so much time and money?
The RAAF recommended to the Australian Government that the Joint Strike Fighter is the ideal aircraft for Australia’s future. At the moment we’ve got F-111 bombers that have served us so well for 30 years, we’ve got our F/A-18 fighters that we’re going to upgrade, but the Joint Strike Fighter combines both strike capability, long range bombing capability, if you like, and also fighter capability.
We want to make darn sure we get the most up to date technology and one that can be changed and evolved throughout the life of the aircraft.
The JSF or the F-35 combines combat capability with strike bombing capability.
We believe this aircraft will serve Australia’s long term interests well into the future.
These projects are always controversial, people worry about cost blowouts. What are they telling you here about what Australia will have to pay and can we afford it?
There isn’t a significant acquisition Australia has had in the past – whether it’s our F-111s or anything else – that hasn’t been associated with some kind of controversy. It is very important that Australia not be risk adverse. We need to be prepared to take calculated risks in making sure that we’ve got the best aircraft technology that we can get to serve Australia’s long term future.
At the moment Lockheed Martin’s presentation to me certainly suggests that the aircraft is on schedule for delivery to Australia in 2012, and, as far as pricing is concerned, there has been very little upward movement on price.
This is the right aircraft for us. It will serve Australia’s needs for more than 30 years. It is also good value for money.
I’ve actually seen the first aircraft that’s been built. It is intended to be flying by October this year.
There has been the report over the weekend that the software was a problem; that the cockpit was a problem. Do they think it’s a problem here?
Let’s remember this is a developmental aircraft and the information that appeared in the media at the weekend was more that 18 months old. Our own scientists have been working with those at Lockheed Martin to address those issues and they have been resolved. Those issues now, in fact, are ancient history.
As we go forward there may well be other issues that will arise but the Government will be making the final decision on acquiring about 100 Joint Strike Fighters in 2008.
We will reach a key phase toward the end of this year when we will sign a Memorandum of Understanding to progress further into the program.
Before we do that we will be absolutely certain that we will be able to get access to the technology and data that we need to sustain the aircraft through its life.
We want to make darn sure that we’ve got it signed, sealed and delivered in terms of access to technology and data to maintain the aircraft, and also that Australian industry gets a fair share of the action.
Can I turn to the Wedgetail project? There’s been a delay. Is that a problem?
It was brought to my attention just under a month ago that the Wedgetail project is facing about an 18 month delay. You can imagine I was not particularly happy with this.
I met with the vice president Jim Albaugh from Boeing when I was in Singapore three weeks ago. I have asked Boeing to give us a remediation or reschedule program for our AWAC aircraft. I’ll be meeting him again in Washington and I’ve made it very clear to Boeing that we want to be absolutely clear about the way ahead. I understand that a number of changes have been made by Boeing. In particular they’ve got a new program manager to support us with it, but in terms of the introduction of the Joint Strike Fighter and the other things that are important to Australia, whilst the delay is disappointing and is something that has concerned me, it will not in any significant way undermine our defence capability.
Let’s just remember that what Australia is doing with the AWACs, as they’re known, is we are acquiring an aircraft that is state of the art. We are amongst the first to acquire and build this aircraft and when you think about that and the MRH-90s and the armed reconnaissance helicopters that we’re also building in Brisbane, this means that we’re going to have a very solid future for defence industries in our own country and in Queensland especially. (ends)
2. 28 Jun Doorstep Interview
Minister, the technology issues with the JSF have been dragging on for ages. What are the specific sticking points; can you outline those and are you confident of some kind of agreement tomorrow, for instance with the Secretary of Defense, on these issues?
Well, I’m certainly confident that we will be able to resolve the technology and data access issues in relation to the Joint Strike Fighter. Australia is a key ally of the United States. The Joint Strike Fighter is the aircraft for us, it provides both combat and strike capability with the multipliers that will go around it. We’ve made a lot of progress in negotiating a memorandum of understanding and I expect that we will have little difficulty getting the guarantees that we need.
It’s very important to the United States, of course, that Australia have very effective and state-of-the-art air combat capability in our part of the world. It’s a part of the equation in terms of stability in our region and for that reason I would expect us, Britain and the other partners in the JSF project will get the guarantees that we need. We certainly won’t be signing the memorandum of understanding on procurement, follow through and sustainment at the end of the year unless we have these guarantees. I’m very confident that they will be given and I will be discussing that and a number of other issues with Secretary Rumsfeld.
One quick follow-up on that; the US Congress this week or last week, the House passed an amendment that said the US may start selling F-22’s, exporting them to other countries. Is Australia thinking about buying any fighter jets from the US besides Joint Strike Fighter, such as the F-22?
Well, it remains to be seen whether the F-22 Raptor would, in fact, be released by the United States, but the fact is that whilst it is a superb aircraft and arguably the finest fighter aircraft in the world, Australia is retiring its F-111 bombers and upgrading its F/A-18 fighters through the transition period. Australia needs both fighter and strike capability. The Joint Strike Fighter combines both. For a large defence force such as the United States obviously, you can have a fleet of aircraft which includes F22 Raptors and a range of aircraft with strike capability.
We’re prepared to make the largest investment we’ve ever made in air combat capability in terms of some $16 billion of investment, but Australia is not in a position to be able to buy F-22A Raptors, even if they were to be sold by the United States, and then also buy strike capability as well. We believe that, in fact, all of the information that is available to me and certainly all of the technical data, leads me to the conclusion that the Joint Strike Fighter is the correct aircraft for us. It relies on and will be supported by Wedgetail airborne early warning command and control systems, multi-role fuel tankers, tactical radar air defence systems, and a variety of weaponry, which will see it cover all of our needs for at least 30 years.
3. June 29 Joint Press Conference with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
The Pentagon, Washington
Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering whether or not you've given any guarantees today on the transfer of technology for the Joint Strike Fighter Program to the Minister.
And just a follow-up, if I might, too, on North Korea. I'm just wondering how, for both of you, how concerned you are on China at the moment on whether or not China is not doing any heavy lifting on the North Korean issue.
With respect to the technology transfer, my understanding is that most of the issues either have been worked out or are being worked out quite successfully. And we discussed the subject. We recognize the interests of Australia in particularly the Joint Strike Fighter. I took the minister by to meet Gordon England, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, who works these issues, which I do not to any great extent.
And I know of no issue that's a problem there.
Mr. Minister, your talks with Boeing. Are they still telling you that the Wedgetail project is running behind schedule? Is that still a problem for Australia?
Look, I've had a meeting with the CEO, Vice President of Boeing, Jim Albaugh, and its new project director for the AWAC, the Wedgetail, and we are very disappointed with Boeing's performance on this project.
We have discussed rescheduling and a re-timetabling of the project. I've asked my most senior people to now spend what will probably be a number of weeks renegotiating the schedule with Boeing. But I'm confident we'll get the capability and the outcome that Australia needs and has signed up for.
When they won that contract about six years ago, they said they were going to have it… you know, that you would have that plane by, you know, two years earlier. They're fairly far behind now. Can you flush out a little bit of why you're disappointed? And this is your version of the AWACS, so it's pretty important to my understanding.
Well, it's extremely important to us, and recently, we were informed that there were what I would consider to be significant delays in the project. I've discussed this, and I've said now in two meetings with the CEO vice president, I don't think it's appropriate me to say much more about it at this stage. But there'll be some… I'll be providing some further information in relation to the AWACS in the not-too-distant future.
QUESTION: (Inaudible)…when you over-promised Australia what they couldn't deliver on - in the schedule that you were asking for?
Well, I wouldn't describe it in those terms. I think Boeing has let the Australian Government down, and I think they've let themselves down. And as I say, I don't think it's appropriate at this stage – I don't intend to say much more. Now, what I intend to do is to make damn sure that Boeing delivers on the project.