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The Joint Strike Fighter Inquiry Report

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 14 Oct 2016

Senator Peter Whish-Wilson: The Greens initiated this inquiry into the joint strike fighters. It was a most enlightening Senate inquiry into a $60 billion procurement program by the Department of Defence into the joint strike fighter. Four words that would best encapsulate this acquisition of the joint strike fighters would be 'too big to fail'.

The words of President Dwight D Eisenhower were very clear to me during the inquiry. In fact, I have a copy of the quote which I read to one of the witnesses from Lockheed Martin in the US who had flown in. It said:

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
That is only part of the quote from President Eisenhower, but he went on to warn about the risks of the military industrial complex if it is not properly scrutinised and policed.

I think if there was ever a case study of what not to do with a military procurement and how not to go about spending taxpayer moneys on our defence it would be this joint strike fighter program. Another quote says that the F35 program:

… is actually not on a path towards success, but instead on a path towards failing to deliver the full Block 3F capabilities, for which the department is paying almost USD400 billion …
That is $400 billion of US taxpayers' money. It has been spent essentially on one major company, Lockheed Martin, and a number of smaller suppliers. That quote is from Michael Gilmore, the US defense department's director of operational testing, only a few months ago. In fact, it is from August 2016. So it was after our inquiry wrapped up going into the double dissolution.

Defence procurement is often characterised by large numbers and opaque decision making. The reason it is important to scrutinise this joint strike fighter acquisition is that we have the biggest defence procurement program of submarines about to hit our shores—pardon the pun! They are coming very shortly. We need to be very, very careful about how that money is spent, and we need to learn from this joint strike fighter acquisition.

Even by our standards, Australia's planned acquisition of 72 F35A joint strike fighters stands out for its cost and time overruns and lack of a backup plan. When even US testing authorities are uncertain whether the aircraft will be fit for service, the basis for the enthusiasm shown by Australian defence officials—all documented in this report—deserves greater scrutiny.

The Greens cannot support the majority recommendations in this report. It seems entirely likely that Australia will eventually be forced to follow Canada's lead and leave the joint strike fighter program and reassess its options rather than simply insisting that there is no plan B to these joint strike fighters.

The report makes for compelling reading. In particular, chapter 3 sets out the setbacks and the challenges that have beset this program since its inception. There are meant to be systems in place to prevent such debacles from occurring; however, they have occurred. This program has been beset by a litany of problems and serious issues. These were covered at length during the inquiry. They have been acknowledged in the report. The chair's report rightly concludes that it cannot draw definitive conclusions on the performance capability of the aircraft.

It is therefore baffling that the chair's report goes on to state that it is satisfied that the joint strike fighter will suit Australia's needs. Given the operational capability of the aircraft remains unproven, it is simply impossible to reach this conclusion. This underscores the fundamental problem with Australia's participation in this acquisition. The Greens will continue to scrutinise this acquisition. Our recommendation is that the Australian government cancel its contract to acquire the joint strike fighter and restart an open tender process to acquire new aircraft.

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