Letter to the Editor – The Canberra Times
22 June 2011
I refer to a letter appearing in The Canberra Times on 22 June from Mr A Wilkinson regarding Australia’s purchase of the new fifth generation Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
In his letter Mr Wilkinson compares the Joint Strike Fighter with the now-retired F-111 in terms of operational capability.
Having flown some 2,000 hours on F-111s, and having served as the Commanding Officer of an F-111 squadron and Officer Commanding 82 Wing, I agree that the F-111 was a formidable long-range strike platform in its time. It served Australia well for over 30 years in meeting Australia’s regional strategic needs, but it was an ageing aircraft – in the vintage category for a front-line combat aircraft. The F-111 would have been vulnerable in a future air combat environment dominated by fourth and fifth generation aircraft and modern air defence systems.
In this modern era of advanced air combat technology and multi-networked platforms, Australia’s requirement is for a cutting edge fifth generation aircraft that provides both fighter and strike roles. The F-111’s ability to penetrate modern air defence systems without an escort would be constrained, effectively limiting its range to that of its escort. While the F-35 will not have the range of the F-111, nor do other contemporary aircraft. The F-35’s range will be extended by using stand-off weapons and in-flight refuelling.
In terms of the ability to conduct strike missions, the F-111 relied on flying fast and low to survive and reach the target. New generation threats have required a new approach – utilising stealth and advanced long range sensors and weapons. The stealthy, fifth generation F-35 has been designed to deal with the future threat environment – threats from both the ground and from the air. The acquisition of 24 Super Hornets enabled the F-111’s retirement in 2010 and provided an appropriate and low risk bridging capability until the more capable F-35 arrives.
As Mr Wilkinson rightly points out, specific F-35 performance details are highly classified and tightly controlled to protect U.S. technology and avoid compromising a key defence capability. This unfortunately often leads to flawed analysis of F-35 capabilities due to incorrect assumptions, simplistic modelling, lack of operational analysis – basically, a lack of access to sensitive performance information. As a partner on the F-35 Program since 2002, the Government’s commitment to acquiring the F-35 is based on very detailed and ongoing analysis. The F-35 is the only multi-role fifth generation aircraft that meets our needs.
Air Vice-Marshal K. Osley
Program Manager New Air Combat Capability