Briefing by Director General New Air Combat Capability
Air Vice-Marshal John Harvey
The Joint Strike Fighter Project continues to make very good progress and we've got a short video here we can show you of the first aircraft flying. We'll bring that up now.
Thank you. As I said, The Joint Strike Fighter Project continues to make very good progress. That's the first test aircraft and they've recently completely its seventh test flight and at the moment it's down for a scheduled upgrade for some hardware and some software features of the aircraft.
In parallel with the joint strike fighter aircraft itself, the 737 based cooperative avionics test aircraft has now conducted nine, sorry, 14 test flights for 42 hours of flight and it's testing the JSF Avionics system, another major risk reduction feature of the program.
As well as the aircraft itself and the development of the systems, now eight of the nine original partner countries have joined the next phase of the project, as Australia did in December. The ninth country, Denmark, will join the next phase before the end of this month. So, aircraft wise and programmatics, it's progressing very well.
I just returned from the US where I took part in what's called a Coalition Warfare Event where we had all nine partner countries in the JSF program, flying together in high fidelity simulators conducting advanced missions against a whole range of future threats which, again, gives very good confidence in the progress of the aircraft and the capability of the aircraft.
In the context of the recent US Defense Budget or the President's Budget that went to Congress, it's true there was a proposed reduction in the ramp-up rate, or the acquisition of JSF in the early years of the program, but there is no plan for the US Services to reduce the total number of aircraft. So any cost implications associated with the reduced ramp-up rate, they're already taken into account in our submission to Government at first pass last year.
Now, a lot of the speculation in the media is about the JSF versus the F-22 and I think the focus has been down to those two aircraft because there are only two fifth generation aircraft. Two aircraft, obviously both highly capable. The F-22 is specialised more in the air-to-air role and it can't do the full range of air-to-air and air-to-ground tasks that we want of the Joint Strike Fighter.
The Joint Strike Fighter has a wider range of sensors. It can carry larger weapons, a wider range of weapons and a total carriage of more weapons than the F-22.
I guess those who ask the question… there's been discussion in the press again about why shouldn't we just have an all F-22 fleet. I think it's pretty obvious if the F-22 could do everything, the USAF wouldn't need the JSF as well. So they recognise the F-22 can't do everything.
And for those who argue that the F-22 would actually be a cheaper solution, again, you can ask the question did the USAF plan to buy ten times as many JSF as they do F-22s.
Our assessment is the F-22 costs around twice as much as the Joint Strike Fighter and that assessment was supported by a recent ASPI report.
While we tend to focus to a certain extent on the platform itself, the total air combat capability is more than just a platform. It's a total system that the JSF will be integrated into. For Australia, integrating with the AEW&C aircraft, the new tanker aircraft, the ground support systems and the total networked ADF will be what provides us with a capability edge well into the future.
There's also been a fair bit of press discussion recently about the consideration of the potential acquisition of a squadron of Super Hornet aircraft. Defence has always made the point and is still consistent that our long-term aim is an all JSF fleet to be the core of our air combat capability. But we've also acknowledged that the transition to that is quite complex task with a lot of moving pieces there.
There's the ongoing sustainment of the F-111, working out when that should retire. The upgrade projects to the F-18, of which there are quite a few; the AEW&C, Vigilair programs. So quite a few pieces there, and we've maintained options in the background all along in case we needed to do something if they looked like there'd be too much risk of a transition gap there at all.
And when the JSF was considered in the context of First Pass, Government looked at the options and they asked us to flesh out one of those a bit more; which was the Super Hornet option. So, we're providing more detail on that and Government will make the decision on whether or not they think that's required in the near future.
Again, there have been critics of the F-18 out there as a future aircraft. I'll just make the point that the F-18 is a highly advanced fourth generation aircraft. It will be in-service with the US Navy until around 2030, and it will gradually start being replaced by the JSF, or complemented by the JSF, from about 2015 onwards.
So, the Super Hornet is really the US Navy's frontline aircraft and it will be for quite some time yet. So, it's a highly capable aircraft and certainly capable of dealing with the likely threats that we see out there in the medium term.