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Australian Air Combat Musings

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posted on Nov, 23 2006 @ 04:47 PM
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I thought I would take the opportunity to update the members here on how I see the here in Australia with regards to our air combat capability. As most members would be aware, Australia is at the crossroads of acquiring new capability, and phasing out two old friends.

F-111 and F/A-18A/B

The F-111 is scheduled to leave service in the next four to six years. The cost of running the platform, which was first acquired back in 1968 (though due to airframe problems, the aircraft didn’t officially enter Australian service until 1973) is believed to be prohibitively expensive. The F-111 has had well documented serviceability problems, although recently this seems to be less of an issue. However, the need for a dedicated bomber is considered less important than in the days when strike projection to the north of the country mattered.

The F/A-18, first acquired in 1986, has received many upgrades through the last few years as part of the Hornet Upgrade Program (HUG). The Australian Hornets are armed with a cannon, the AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-132 ASRAAM, 500lb and 2000lb LGBs or JDAM, and will soon have the JASSM stand-off weapon integrated onto the platform. While some concerns have been raised regarding the airframes structural integrity, part of the upgrade program involves a costly but necessary centre-barrel replacement.

The JSF question

There is little doubt that the JSF will form part of the Australian air combat capability some time in the next fifteen years. The question that concerns military planners is exactly when Australians will see a JSF in RAAF colours. While Boeing have assured Australia that the aircraft will be flying on schedule, with recent defence air acquisitions (such as the AEW&C, Sea Sprite and Tiger in particular) all sliding right in terms of entry into service, planners and the Government seem justifiably nervous. The Defence Minister, Brendon Nelson, recently issued a press release talking about the JSF. JSF Press Release. The aircraft has received first pass approval, which means that the wider needs have been identified, and the JSF is believed to meet these needs. Further development of the business case for the jet will result in second pass approval, which will see the aircraft formally selected as the Australian future air combat solution. More interesting than the announcement of first pass approval though is the final sentence of the release.

An interim capability?

From the above linked press release:


To cover against potential delays that can occur with projects of this scope, the Government is looking at cost effective options to ensure Australia maintains air superiority during the transition period.


Throughout the entire discussion on JSF and whether it will meet the needs of the Australian context, and whether it will arrive in time to do so, the Government has always maintained that the upgraded F/A-18 will be able to maintain parity with air combat capabilities regionally. However, with the proliferation of Flankers, including purchases by Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and China, a number of experts have questioned whether the classic Hornet is up to the task. Dr. Carlo Kopp in particular has produced many articles talking about the JSF, F/A-18 and Australian air combat shortfalls (Dr Kopp article on Hornet). Peter Criss, a retired Air Vice Marshall, has also recently questioned the Australian capability gap(AVM Criss thoughts). He suggests that the early retirement of the F-111 is a mistake, and that the Hornet cannot meet the air to air requirements that Australia has. He also suggests that the F-35 should be dropped in favour of the F-22. While this is currently problematic (the F-22 is not on the approved Foreign Military Sales list), the intent of both authors is clear: Australia is facing a substantial gap in capability, which will be exacerbated if the F-35 is delayed. Which brings me back to the quote concerning “the Government looking at cost effective options to ensure Australia maintains air superiority during the transition period.” The Hornet upgrade is already approved and underway, so I don’t believe this is the “options” that the press release is talking about. It may be talking about extending the life of the F-111, but whether this is cost effective is questionable. So my guess is that an interim fighter may be back on the agenda.

Which fighter?

I think a few assumptions need to be made. I’m pretty confident Australia would stick with a US made fighter if it does indeed decide to go with an interim fighter. Interoperability in a Coalition environment is one of the goals of the Defence White Paper 2000, and reaffirmed in two updates in 2003 and 2005. And commonality with existing stores is a must to reduce the cost of the platform (remembering this is an interim capability designed to get Australia through the gap until the JSF hits IOC with a kangaroo in the roundel). So I’d say the Typhoon, Rafale and Flankers are off the shopping list. From the US platforms, the F-16 Block 60, F-15SG and F/A-18E/F would, to my mind, be the most likely contenders.

Hopefully the above is an adequate summary of the current state of play, and where I see things potentially going. The above is purely supposition based on the changed language in recent press statements, and as most here understand these releases are vetted, re-read, gauged for misinterpretation and then re-read some more prior to release, so the language is a significant clue as to the current thinking of the Australian Government. It is an exciting time, whether the next platform be the JSF, or an interim solution.




posted on Nov, 25 2006 @ 03:16 PM
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A small clarification, Boeing lost the JSF competition to Lockheed Martin. The F-35 is the X-35 developed by Skunkworks, Palmdale, California
So they are the ones who are late...

Boeing's greatest advantage with the X-32 was its production efficiency (technology that has been transplanted to the 787), the Military chose the other way...



posted on Nov, 25 2006 @ 10:39 PM
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Does Australia have an indigenous fighter program anywhere on the horizon?

If yes, what's its all about?
If not, why the hec not?
Aren't we all trying to achieve strategic independance at some stage or the other?



posted on Nov, 26 2006 @ 03:14 AM
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Originally posted by Daedalus3
Does Australia have an indigenous fighter program anywhere on the horizon?

If yes, what's its all about?
If not, why the hec not?
Aren't we all trying to achieve strategic independance at some stage or the other?


In short - no. Why? Way to expensive for such a small production run and to develop the technology required to develop, test and build a indigenous fighter would take many years. Australia doesn't have a aircraft research and production company such as lockheed or boeing either. We may build aircraft after purchase but thats about it in terms of military aircraft.



posted on Nov, 26 2006 @ 03:19 AM
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Interesting thoughts Willard.

Personally i think the JSF does not meet Australia's future needs and we would be better off purchasing either Super Hornets or F-16 Block 60+ aircraft as a full term fighter/strike aircraft.

It'll be interesting which way things develop especially if Johnny gets kicked out next election as i think Labour may change how defence operates.



posted on Nov, 26 2006 @ 03:08 PM
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Thanks to all for your thoughts and comments - and picking up the obvious error with the maker! I was thinking about Nelson's recent discussions with Boeing over the AEW&C. Whoops!

I agree with Dagebow, Australia simply doesn't have the industrial base to support the production of our own fighter. We recently sunk a lot of money into the ALR-2002B RWR, and that backfired. The risks are simply too great for a country of our size to create a fighter from scratch. So we'll go with a (relatively) tried and trusted design.

I was going through some stuff on the net last night (Australian Idol final really didn't appeal to me...) and found a quote from our deputy Chief of the Air Force back in October where he categorically ruled out the purchase of an interim fighter. So my thoughts may actually have been a waste of time. But there is still something about the language of the press release that strikes me as fundamentally different from everything said before. Guess time will tell. Thanks again for your interest!



posted on Nov, 28 2006 @ 06:58 AM
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Australia should tag onto the USAF order for 1 billion dollars to buy 23 more F-22s.
It would be nice to have 30 to 40 RAPTORS and 60 to 70 F 35s

over a multi year period of deployment



posted on Nov, 28 2006 @ 12:38 PM
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Originally posted by Willard856
Which fighter?

I think a few assumptions need to be made. I’m pretty confident Australia would stick with a US made fighter if it does indeed decide to go with an interim fighter. Interoperability in a Coalition environment is one of the goals of the Defence White Paper 2000, and reaffirmed in two updates in 2003 and 2005. And commonality with existing stores is a must to reduce the cost of the platform (remembering this is an interim capability designed to get Australia through the gap until the JSF hits IOC with a kangaroo in the roundel). So I’d say the Typhoon, Rafale and Flankers are off the shopping list. From the US platforms, the F-16 Block 60, F-15SG and F/A-18E/F would, to my mind, be the most likely contenders.

Hopefully the above is an adequate summary of the current state of play, and where I see things potentially going. The above is purely supposition based on the changed language in recent press statements, and as most here understand these releases are vetted, re-read, gauged for misinterpretation and then re-read some more prior to release, so the language is a significant clue as to the current thinking of the Australian Government. It is an exciting time, whether the next platform be the JSF, or an interim solution.


The only reason the Typhoon/Rafale [and Gripen too] are not considered would be tradition?

They are built to work in a 'coalition' environment and the Gripen is compatible with all F/A-18 A/B weaponary that I'm aware of...


Perhaps Australia will only use them as a stick to force down American prices, but I wouldn't totally discount an intrim purchase of Gripens or Rafales [particularly since the F/A-18 replaced Mirages] for instance.

[edit on 28-11-2006 by kilcoo316]



posted on Nov, 28 2006 @ 03:36 PM
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That's a great point Kilcoo, we did operate the Mirage, so there certainly isn't necessarily a set US only purchase mindset. Are there any integration issues for Australian systems onto the Typhoon? I'd imagine there would be for things like AMRAAM and JDAM onto the Rafale, but probably less so for the Typhoon. What other issues would there be? My first thoughts were that a US interim fighter would take less effort and cost integration wise than other external fighters, and a key driver would be overall cost (you want to keep it as low as possible, but make up the supposed gap). But I certainly could be wrong.

Sorry Jezza, as I pointed out in the OP, the F-22 isn't on the FMS list, so it is highly unlikely you will ever see an F-22 in Aussie colours. Unfortunately!



posted on Nov, 29 2006 @ 03:19 AM
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Originally posted by Willard856
Are there any integration issues for Australian systems onto the Typhoon? I'd imagine there would be for things like AMRAAM and JDAM onto the Rafale, but probably less so for the Typhoon.


AMRAAM seems able to go onto the Rafale.



AMRAAM is a joint U.S. Air Force and Navy program that achieved initial operational capability in 1991; 28 other countries have also procured the missile, which can be fitted to F-15s, F-16s, F/A-18s, F-22s, F-35s, EADS Eurofighters, and Saab's JAS-39 Gripen. Germany's aging F-4 Phantom IIs, the British/German/Italian Panavia consortium's Tornado aircraft, and Britain's Harriers can also carry them. Dassault's Mirage 2000-V5 and later have been advertised at times as having this capability, but confirmation is weak and this may have represented offers to add this capacity. Their 4th generation Rafale aircraft is also listed in some venues as having AMRAAM capability, though all French aircraft currently use MBDA's MICA missiles instead.

Defense Industry Daily


But not the JDAM.

However, it would be reasonable to expect these aircraft to focus on replacing the F/A-18s, so strike capabilities may be seen as a secondary consideration. The JSF would be expected to comprise the striking options of the RAAF, and the other aircraft focus more on the A2A aspect.


To be honest, I'd see the Gripen as a decent choice - low maintainability, relatively cheap price and great interoperability with pretty much all NATO airforces.



posted on Nov, 29 2006 @ 09:10 PM
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Hmm, or maybe I wasn't wasting my time. Just found this in the news:

Air combat void to cost millions

Looks like the Aussie Government is indeed considering options, including an interim capability.



posted on Nov, 29 2006 @ 10:33 PM
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Personally for a stop gap solution to fill 5 years or so I don't see the point in purchasing an interim aircraft, it would be cost prohibitive. My two choices would be to lease either F-16's Block 50/52 or Super Hornets until the JSF comes online. There are plenty of both types and they offer decent capability A2A and A2G capability.



posted on Nov, 29 2006 @ 10:54 PM
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Leasing is being considered as per the news article. So purchasing is unlikely.

Interestingly, they are also talking about the G model Super Hornet.



posted on Nov, 29 2006 @ 11:07 PM
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Yeah I noticed that too, I think they should buys some and strengthen their jamming capabilities. The EA-18G is a new system and one that would increase the capabilities of the RAAF in conducting strikes against a sophisticated enemy.



posted on Nov, 30 2006 @ 12:18 AM
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Australia hasn't had a force level jammer for a while (relying on self-protection jamming only), so it sounds like someone is talking about a need for such a capability. It is a pretty big change, and suggests that the gap may be wider than many anticipated. If an EA capability is needed to bridge this gap, then it is little wonder that the Government is worried about JSF not arriving on time.



posted on Nov, 30 2006 @ 12:33 AM
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I wouldn't necessarily look at it that way, the US operates stand-off jamming platforms, doesn't mean we're lacking something. IMO if Australia wants to decisively defeat next generation pacific threats then a combination of a stealth platform and a stand off jammer will give them more options and capability. Even enabling less advanced systems to still be effective in a fight with a sophisticated enemy.



posted on Nov, 30 2006 @ 12:39 AM
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Ive been sayign this for years, forget planes, boats and tanks just build a super missile silo in alice springs with full nuke capability. Then our little freinds in Indonesia wont be so ballsy recalling diplomats over a bad curry served up once in a while.

Then put out a non agressive policy to the international leaders saying we wont attack any nation but if you choose to invade us we will nuke you inside our international waters and maybe send a couple of retalitory messages your way



posted on Nov, 30 2006 @ 12:45 AM
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Australia falls under the US nuclear umbrella and that statement has been clear to the international community for decades. Australia cannot be attacked and invaded without the US getting involved.



posted on Nov, 30 2006 @ 02:13 AM
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Westpoint23

I hope you are right mate with that statement but I look at whats happening in the US with the Corporations Running The Govt. through lobbying ( reverse form of Fascism ) and ive seen how were dealt with over the Free Trade with the US last year getting screwed over. I see the Farmers over there with their heavy subsidies complaining of the Australian wheat being too competitive and the list goes on.

Not to mention that we ( Aussies ) are the only country to have followed the US blindly into all their wars like Korea, Vietnam, Gulf 1&2 and Afghanistan and to get screwed over with the new JSF project makes me just think when the going gets hard here in Aussieland we are on our own and our only Ally to come help us out would be the Brits and Kiwi's.



posted on Nov, 30 2006 @ 03:00 AM
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Strategic independance..
You need it..



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