Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Super Hornet purchase to go ahead

I posted previously on the decision of the Howard Government to purchase the Super Hornet jet fighters. A Four Corners show (and some excellent posts by Robert Merkel at LP) convinced me that there were serious questions about these purchases as interim replacements for the F111's. They seemed an expensive short-term option at $6.6 billion. The Labor Party also strongly criticised the Government for its decision to proceed with the purchases while it was in opposition. Well guess what? Joel Fitzgibbon the new Labor Defence Minister has decided to go ahead and purchase the planes after slamming the purchase only a few weeks ago. There would be financial penalties and political costs in cancelling the order but Fitzgibbon certainly sounds to me like he has changed his tune. To quote him now:
"I hold no doubt that the Super Hornet is more than capable of doing the job," Mr Fitzgibbon said. We embrace the Super Hornet as a very special aircraft which is more than up to the job."

The Opposition's defence spokesman, Nick Minchin, correctly identifies this as a humiliating back down for Mr Fitzgibbon.

"Conducting his much-vaunted review and what do we find, they're going ahead with the order anyway," he said.

"This ought to teach Mr Fitzgibbon to stop playing politics with the nation's defence and with these acquisition projects and just get on with his job of ensuring this nation's defence.

"This is a day of shame for Mr Fitzgibbon."

I agree although I seem to have a limited amount of egg on my own face - I certainly did not make the extravagent claims of the Labor Party. I'll be interested to see what Robert Merkel makes of this (Update: he responds here). I'll update as I learn more - The Age has already done its patriotic duty by putting the best possible gloss on Fitzgibbon's backflip. .

Hat tip to the Currency Lad.


Anonymous said...

Mr Clarke first of all given your obvious bias it is a bit absurd for you to criticise other people's or organisation's bias real or imagined.

I have seen nor read anything that leads me to think this aircraft is inferior to the Russian fighter our neighbours will have.

This I come to a conclusion that large costs in ditching the project plus a wink on gaining access to a decent fighter jet from the Yanks is possibly the real reason for this.

derrida derider said...

While I certainly wish Fitzgibbon would stop trying to make a virtue out of an ugly necessity, the fact is that it's just too late to cancel this.

Which doesn't change the fact that it was a poor decision made after an ugly process, for which Brendan Nelson should hang his head.

robert merkel said...

As others have noted, the key point is that we don't have time to turn around and order something else before the F-111 is retired.

The choice was either keep the contract, or go without for some considerable time.

Furthermore, it's not just about whether the Super Hornets are a good aircraft. It's about the planning of the Hornet/F-111 replacement over the best part of the last decade. While the merits or otherwise of the Joint Strike Fighter are hard to assess without access to secret data, it was guaranteed to be years late and over budget. Military aircraft always are. The increasing age of the F-111 and Hornet fleets was also obvious. So if something like the Super Hornets were going to be necessary, the RAAF should have known years ago, they should have said so in public, and contingency plans for a bridging capability could have been made properly. For one thing, we could have planned to make sure the Super Hornets (or whatever we eventually bought) and the Hornets can carry the same missiles, something they can't currently do.

ELP said...

It is unfortunate that senior Defence leadership has been de-skilled so much that they can't do any analysis past what a Boeing sales rep shows them.

Fancy avionics alone does not a combat jet make. Here is some interesting reading on Australia's prize acquisition:

-Bill Sweetman, Just How Super is the F/A-18E/F?, Interavia Business & Technology, April 1, 2000-

-The Navy and Boeing have intensified a propaganda campaign. Unfortunately, the campaign is likely to damage their credibility in the long term, because it focuses on a few basic statements which don't mean anything like as much as the casual reader is meant to think.

For example: "The airplane meets all its key performance parameters." This is true. In 1998 -- as it became clear that the Super Hornet was slower, and less agile at transonic speeds than the C/D -- the Navy issued an "administrative clarification" which declared that speed, acceleration and sustained turn rate were not, and had never been, Key Performance Parameters (KPP) for the Super Hornet. Apparently, some misguided people thought that those were important attributes for a fighter.-

-Bill Sweetman, Watch Your Six Maverick, Interavia Business & Technology, February 1, 2000-

-The Navy's operational evaluation (Opeval) of the Super Hornet ended in November, and the report is expected late in February. It will probably find the Super Hornet to be operationally effective and suitable, because the impact of any other recommendation would be devastating, but the Navy will have to do some deft manoeuvring to avoid charges that the report is a whitewash.-

-Bill Sweetman, Super Hornet gathers speed, but critics keep pressure on, Interavia Business & Technology, March 1, 1999-

-The Pentagon has conceded that the MiG-29 and Su-27 can out-accelerate and out-turn all variants of the F/A-18 in most operating regimes, and that the E/F in turn cannot stay up with the older C/D through much of the envelope.

Navy data from early 1996 (published in a General Accounting Office report) showed that the new aircraft was expected to have a lower thrust-to-weight ratio than the late-production (Lot XIX) F/A-18C/D with the General Electric F404-GE-402 engine. Its maximum speed in a typical air-to-air configuration would be Mach 1.6, versus Mach 1.8 for the smaller aircraft. In the heart of the air-combat envelope, between 15,000 and 20,000 feet and at transonic speed, the Lot XIX aircraft would hold a specific excess power (Ps) of 300 ft/sec out to Mach 1.2, while its larger descendant could not hold the same Ps above Mach 1.0.-