June 2, 2013. By John Newman - Defence Watch Guest Writer
Firstly I like to say that I enjoy reading your Defence Watch page very much, as an Australian it is interesting to see the Canadian perspective on defence matters, including the regular reporting of defence matters here in Australia too.
But I especially enjoy reading, what appears to be the very very heated public debate that is going on in Canada regarding the F35.
In Australia the F35 debate has really been far more isolated to mostly newspaper reports on cost, delays and performance issues, but with what has been very little reaction from the general public overall.
Yes of course when you visit the various defence forums there is certainly more heated debate with the pro and anti F35 advocates, but in general it is certainly not the ‘big’ issue here in Australia with the general public as it appears to be in Canada.
And especially so when both major political parties are not fighting each other over the F35 program as a whole.
I thought you might be interesting in reading this:
It is a transcript of a very recent report to a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Defence by two senior ADF members, Vice Admiral Peter Jones and Air Vice Marshall Kym Osley, it makes interesting reading.
Before going into the transcript, I just wanted to recap the path to date of the F35 in Australian terms (I’m sure you are probably aware of some of these things, but I thought I’d recap anyway):
· Going back to the early 2000’s, the original plan was to obtain 100 F35A’s to replace the remaining 71 Classic Hornets and 21 remaining F111C’s.
· In 2007 the Government decided to retire the F111C’s early (2010) and replace them with a ‘bridging’ capability of 24 FA18F Super Hornets for a period of approximately 10 years, till around 2020.
· Shortly after this the new Government decided to have 12 of the FA18F’s ‘prewired’, prior to delivery, for possible conversion to EA18G Growler Electronic Attack aircraft at a later date.
· By the 2009 Defence White Paper and the 2009 Defence Capability Plan (DCP), the Government confirmed that the plan was for 100 F35A’s, with an initial 72 (three operational and one training Sqns to replace the Classic Hornets) approved and at a later date, around 2020, when the FA18F’s were to retire, consider purchasing the remaining 28 F35A’s.
· The 72 approved F35A’s were to be ordered starting with 14 in 2012 and to be followed later by another 58.
· In early 2012 the Government, due to ‘concerns’ about further delays and cost issues with the F35 program ‘delayed’ the majority of the initial order, by that time it was committed to 2 F35A’s (currently under construction) and delayed the next 12 till 2014.
· At this time the Government announced that it would also investigate ‘options’ so as not to allow a ‘capability’ gap to occur between the planned retirement of the Classic Hornet fleet and the introduction of the F35A’s.
· During 2012 an Auditor General report on the Classic Hornet fleet confirmed that they should make it through to their planned airframe life which would be around the year 2020 mark.
· Also During 2012 the Government confirmed that all the 12 ‘prewired’ Super Hornets would be converted to ‘full’ EA18G Growler configuration (which would have meant that half of the fleet would have to be removed from service to then be sent off for conversion).
· In late 2012 the Government sent a Letter of Request to the US on price and availability of an additional 24 Super Hornets, pricing was obtained for 12 FA18F’s and 12 EA18G’s. (The concern in defence forum circles was that this may have meant that moving forward the RAAF would have a ‘split’ fleet of 48 Super Hornet/Growlers and an approximately same amount of F35A’s, the goal to have an ‘all’ F35A fleet would disappear for many decades to come.
· In early May this year, 2013, a new Defence White Paper was released confirming that the Government was satisfied with the progress of the F35 program and reaffirmed that the commitment’s commitment to the approved 72 F35A’s would proceed.
· Interestingly, it also announced that the plan to upgrade the ‘prewired’ FA18F’s would not proceed, instead an additional 12 ‘new’ build EA18G’s, at a cost of $2.94Billion, would be acquired instead (this meant that half of the Super Hornet fleet didn’t have to be pulled from service for conversion, and avoided the subsequent reduction in capability).
· It also announced that the 24 FA18F’s would now remain in service till around 2030 (instead of the original 2020 date) and prior to that time it would be for a future Government to decide on replacing them with the remaining 28 F35A’s originally proposed to bring the fleet up to 100 F35A’s.
What this means is that by about the mid 2020’s the RAAF fast jet fleet will consist of 72 F35A’s (three operational and one training Sqn), 24 FA18F’s (one operational and one training Sqn) and 12 EA18G’s (one operational Sqn).
Hope this doesn’t seem too long winded? I just wanted to paint a clear as possible picture of the ups and downs, and up again, of the Australian F35 programme to date.
Getting back to the transcript of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Defence report, and I won’t repeat it all here as you can read it at your leisure, but there were three interesting paragraphs on the cost of the F35:
“From a cost perspective, the approved AIR 6000 phase 2A/B stage 1—that is, the ‘first 14 aircraft’—remains within budget. The unapproved AIR 6000 2A and 2B stage 2—that is, the ‘next 58 aircraft’—remains within its Defence Capability Plan provision.
“There is now strong alignment between the aircraft acquisition cost estimates from the independent US Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office, the US F-35A Joint Program Office, and the Australian New Air Combat Capability Project Office. However, the aircraft costs are sensitive to US and partner nation purchase profiles. The actual costs for each successive low-rate initial production lot continue to be below the US congressional estimates. Our first two aircraft are expected to be around, or less than, the $130 million estimate that Defence has had since before 2011. Overall, in 2012 dollars and exchange rate at A$1.03 to US dollars, 72 F35As are expected to cost an average of A$83.0 million—unit recurring flyaway cost—if ordered in the 2018-19 to 2023-24 time frame.
“The latest official US congressional F-35A cost estimates, sourced from the publicly available Selected Acquisition Report of 2011, are consistent with the Australian estimates and indicate the cost of the F-35A—unit recurring flyaway cost—reducing from a price of about $130 million in US then dollars for aircraft delivered in 2014 reducing over time down to about $82 million in US then dollars for aircraft delivered in the 2020 time frame.”
It’s interesting to see that the RAAF’s first two F35A’s are going to cost around $130m each, but it is expected that the 72 F35A’s will average out at $83m each.
Yes it is certainly an increase from the original estimates, but interestingly, over the years the Australian Government has always stated that it has made ‘provision’ for extra costs in the budget allowances anyway.
I suppose this is something that the Australian Government learnt a long time ago, just look at the significant cost increases in F111C project, that major Defence project costs are always going to exceed initial expectations, so it’s better to ensure that more money is allocated than not.