Blowouts, security plague new fighters
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.