Blowouts, se­cu­rity plague new fight­ers

The Australian - - THE NATION - RORY CALLINAN DE­FENCE WRITER

Aus­tralia’s new F-35 Light­ning fight­ers are al­ready fac­ing spareparts short­ages, while the planes’ to­tal cost will not be known for years, a fed­eral Au­di­tor­Gen­eral’s re­port re­veals.

The re­port ex­am­ined a range of is­sues with the air­craft, in­clud­ing con­cerns about the se­cu­rity of Aus­tralia’s sov­er­eign data stored in the plane’s com­puter sys­tem and up­grades to air­fields.

De­fence has ac­knowl­edged prob­lems but says Aus­tralia will have 30 to 33 air­craft de­liv­ered by 2020 and be able to field an op­er­a­tional squadron of 12 planes pro­fi­cient in air com­bat, strike and of­fen­sive sup­port.

The re­port, re­leased just be­fore the first two jets are due to ar­rive in Aus­tralia this week­end, also re­vealed de­lays in air­field up­grades and is­sues with gover­nance where De­fence ex­pects to spend $244 mil­lion on the air­craft pro­gram with­out ad­vis­ing min­is­ters as re­quired.

Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral was the po­ten­tial for cost blowouts, with De­fence un­able to say what would be the fi­nal pur­chase price of Aus­tralian joint strike fight­ers or their whole-of-life op­er­at­ing and sup­port costs.

The gov­ern­ment has ap­proved spend­ing $15.5 bil­lion to buy 72 of the planes and $4.6bn for op­er­at­ing and sup­port costs un­til 2024-25. “De­fence does not ex­pect to have a re­li­able es­ti­mate for whole-of-life sus­tain­ment costs for its JSF air­craft un­til af­ter 2020,’’ the re­port said.

The re­port raised con­cerns about De­fence be­ing de­pen­dent on an un­de­vel­oped sup­ply-parts sys­tem and “cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing short­ages due to com­pe­ti­tion for parts as the global JSF fleet in­creases”. “De­fence has recog­nised that sup­ply short­ages are a risk to the JSF air­craft’s in­tro­duc­tion into Aus­tralian ser­vice, and is largely de­pen­dent on the so­lu­tions the (pro­gram) is putting in place to in­crease the avail­abil­ity of spare parts for the global JSF air­craft fleet.”

Spend­ing on the project was flagged as prob­lem­atic, with the Au­di­tor-Gen­eral re­veal­ing that mil­lions had been set aside to be spent with­out prop­erly in­form­ing the gov­ern­ment. The gov­ern­ment had di­rected De­fence to in­form the prime min­is­ter and fi­nance min­is­ter be­fore com­mit­ting to pro­cure­ments of air­craft.

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