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Initial Problems in Defence
Give Lasting Problems for Australia
Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

   10th July, 2007

Air Cdre E. J. Bushell AM, RAAF (Retd)

Contacts: Peter Goon
Carlo Kopp

Mob: 0419-806-476 Mob: 0437-478-224

Over recent weeks there have been a series of statements from the Minister for Defence, his bureaucracy, and senior RAAF figures lauding the selection of the Super Hornet and confirming the decision to commit to the Joint Strike Fighter, while repeating the denigration of the F-22 Raptor. Each statement continues a line of questionable statements that has come from the Department since the early 2000s. Perhaps it is time to remind ourselves of how this mess happened.

Serious problems with Defence procurement started in 2001/02 when the methodology for determining Australia's new air combat capability was changed from using evaluation and selection teams, which included Integrated Project Management methodologies that followed rigorous analytical processes, to the bureaucracy-centred, non-technical, non-rigorous, 'hierarchy of righteousness' approach that dominates today. The first of the bureaucratic decisions taken under this new methodology was to opt for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) on the basis of joining the first phase of the program supposedly to become a 'smart customer', and then to dismiss summarily our most potent strike capability by deciding to retire the F-111 fleet early.

This change in methodology meant that technical, capability development, cost, and schedule information inputs to the Defence source selection and procurement process did not come from organic technical skills and experience working under competent project managers, but came primarily from the aircraft manufacturer. As a result, Defence has become steeped in the jargon and perceptions of the aircraft manufacturer and has repeatedly joined the manufacturer in rejecting defensively any criticism of the aircraft selected.

The net result is that Defence is not able to exercise the degree of due diligence and good governance that was inherent in the earlier source selection and procurement methodology – a process that was detailed clearly as recently as 2001 in such documents as the Defence Capability Life Cycle management Guide to which its successor after three re-writes, the Defence Capability Management Manual, bears little resemblance.

Under the environment existing since 2001/02, three major decisions have been taken by Defence which will drive Australia's air combat capability for the next 30 years or more. Firstly, we have Defence's unquestioning dedication to the JSF, an aircraft of extremely high risk in capability, cost, and schedule which will not provide the regional air superiority that Australia requires for the future.

Secondly, we have the Minister's amazing, unilateral decision to purchase the Super Hornet to fill a perceived gap in capability, but again selecting an aircraft unable to satisfy the operational capabilities Australia will need.

Thirdly, we have a real gap in capability that will result from the early retirement of the F-111, a decision based only on the Minister's vague and unsubstantiated unease about the aircraft's fatigue life.

Each of these decisions has been greeted with sustained criticism from the wider defence community, based on authoritative documents, most on the public record, such as the US Government Accounting Office and Congressional Research Services Reports on the JSF, which describe in great detail those project risks that Defence does not wish to admit or discuss. There have also been a whole series of US Department of Defense documents on the F-22 project covering the aircraft's transition into operational service and its performance on exercises, as well as its development into a strike aircraft planned for some eight years to replace the Nighthawk F-117A bomber fleet. We also have the operational evaluation of the Super Hornet which identifies those basic design limitations dictating against it being suitable for our needs. Documents such as these have been studiously ignored by Defence since they conflict with the 'party line'.

The existence of a 'party line' across Defence is itself another cause for concern, as this blatantly manipulates what should be open, vigorous, and professional debate of important defence matters, a debate that should not be about who is right, but rather what is right. The existence of the Defence Corporate and Public Affairs organisation may well be proving to be counter productive if its aims are, as implied, to ensure the professionalism and credibility of pronouncements coming out of the Department.

If we are to restore integrity, credibility and accountability to Defence source selection and procurement, the New Air Combat Capability process must return to rigorous, technologically-based analysis and start again, cancelling the Super Hornet under the mandatory Commonwealth Procurement Contract clause covering 'Termination for the Convenience of the Commonwealth'. Hopefully, that clause has not been amended or deleted, as that would prompt even more blunt questions about Defence's procurement processes.

Ted Bushell, AM is a retired Air Commodore with 35 years experience in RAAF engineering, maintenance and technical planning.

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