posted on Jan, 4 2008 @ 07:47 PM
OK, let's get things into a little perspective, shall we.
Firstly, the F/A-18F purchase was a stop-gap replacement for the F-111 (without entering into any discussion about whether the F-111 can be maintained
or not) in the long range strike role, while awaiting the F-35 which is intended to replace both the F-111 / F/A-18F in the strike role and the
F/A-18A in the fighter role.
The fact is that Australia needs to find one, or more aircraft types to fill BOTH roles.
While it would be good to find a single platform to perform both roles, within our particular political/geographic/economic situation, there is
probably only one choice here that 'advertises' to be able to do what we need. That's F-35. However, in this case, there is doubt concerning
exactly when the bird will be in-service and exactly what capabilities it will have at that time. Considering that a contract has only recently been
let to establish the configuration and capabilities of the 'customer version' of the F-35, I feel that there must remain some considerable doubt on
Australia's part about whether the resulting aircraft will do what we want done - and whether we can afford to buy it.
So, alternatives - The F-22 would certainly be a good replacement for the F/A-18A in the fighter role, however, the US won't currently sell this bird
and the strike version is still little more than a pipe dream. I agree, however, that if Australia were to order a combined long range strike/air
defense aircraft from a non-US source (perhaps only a Flanker derivative would fit that bill), then there would be major pressure brought to bear upon
US Administrators to change their stance on their 'no F-22 sales' policy - not least from the perceived flow on from such a decision by
In the long range strike role, the F-15E Strike Eagle is certainly an option. While I am highly critical of the over optimism which, I feel, abounds
within the US aerospace industry, I have no doubt that any new build F-15s will have the problems solved with stronger structural elements
incorporated into them. Furthermore, with the current negative publicity surrounding the F-15, it may be that there is an opportunity here for
Australia to get the F-15E at a bargain price, thus re-establishing confidence in the aircraft for the manufacturer. This however, is dependent upon
what the USAF does about its own F-15 problem. Obviously if there is a major rebuild program for USAF F-15s then that 'bargain price' may not
eventuate. If more F-22s are the USAF solution then the 'bargain price' F-15 may be a real option.
OK, so that would look after the long range strike / F-111 replacement situation. The question then is would an upgraded F-15 be a suitable F/A-18A
replacement in the air defense role for us?
Being realistic here, this is all dependent upon what is on offer, at what time scale and at what price.
Given that there could be a really good deal available, then we could possibly see Australia cancel F-35 and go for a mix of F-15E and an upgraded
F-15 ADF airframe.
Delving into the world of 'what if' for a moment, just how would an F-15 ADF derivative with TVC (and an upgraded radar, etc) stack up ? It's been
tested (as has F-15 with canards) so the data is available.
Obviously, if Australia were to abandon F-35 and buy this F-15 mix, then there would be major implications for the F-35 program. I would anticipate a
mass exodus from the F-35 into upgraded F-15s and the possibility of cancellation of the F-35 program (or perhaps the US going it alone - possibly as
a stop-gap to the next 'big thing' - after all, airframes need replacing in the US inventory). Therefore, there would be massive pressure placed
upon the Australian government, firstly on behalf of the F-15 / F-22 lobby, and also against such a decision by F-35 program lobbyists.
It is also well to remember that Australia (in spite of the small numbers of aircraft that we purchase) is considered a pretty hard-nosed customer.
We do not buy aircraft (up until that F/A-18F purchase) that we don't think will do the job for us. We are the country that refused the Phantom
(even at give away prices) because we didn't reckon it would do what we needed done, and merely used 24 of them as a stop-gap pending delivery of the
F-111. And then we sent them back to the US, in spite of the fact that we could have bought them for about $1 each!
Some say a purchase from 'the wrong side of the fence' won't happen. I would remind you that unlike most other close US allies, we bought the
Mirage III when the US and UK didn't have what we wanted! We are the only non-US customer for the F-111. We even built the Sabre with an Avon engine
because we didn't like the original! We know what will and won't do what we need, and we have a history of buying only what we need and not buying
what we don't need just because it's available.
The Winged Wombat
[edit on 4/1/08 by The Winged Wombat]