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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

Contemporaneous Notes of Meeting between
Mr John Peake and Mr Denis Hughes,
Aerospace Adviser to the Minister for Defence

Air Power Australia Contrails
  28th January 2007

John R. Peake
NSW 2062 
© 2006, 2007 John R. Peake

Venue:  Electoral Office of the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson, Minister for Defence

Date:     22 September 2006


The following is a contemporaneous record of a meeting I had with Mr Denis Hughes of the Office of the Minister for Defence. Some additional comments and observations have been included due to things that have happened since I had this meeting with Mr Hughes.

Mr Hughes was affable and pleasant at all times. He said his position was Aerospace Adviser to Dr Brendan Nelson, the Minister for Defence but that he has a Navy background.

I asked if he had the ear of the Minister and if I could ask questions of him as if he was the Minister. He said this would be fine but him personally having a one on one with the Minister was rare and difficult to organise. He said that Dr Nelson was booked out till June next year 'running around'. He said that the Minister relied upon Mr Hughes for advice. He also stated that he 'was government and that they were keeping the Air Force in its place'. I interpreted this statement as meaning, "don't worry, we are from the government and you can trust us".

I then made the following statement and proceeded to ask the questions I had prepared.

John Peake -  I am not a journalist nor a politician but have followed this issues since right at the beginning when the then CDF, Peter Cosgrove, said when challenged on the JSF decision, "Look, the deal was too good to refuse". I thought at the time, "So they have bought the deal, not the product". Being a businessman and understanding the risks in such an approach, I decided I had better keep an eye on this.

Denis Hughes - Mr Hughes laughed at this.

Submissions to JSCFADT Inquiry into Air Superiority

John Peake - Has the Minister personally studied all submissions to current JSCFADT?

---if yes: does he share the view that Defence have not countered the criticism of the Defence proposal to any satisfactory depth ,detail or supportable facts and indeed have suffered the embarrassment of the public analysis of CAFs and the Defence Team evidence in particular submission 29 (and most other submissions.)

What is the Minister doing about it?

---if no: would the Minister please take 2 days off and just study all the submissions and 'test the evidence' and apply the 'common sense test' and then direct his team to satisfy the criticism with a factual analysis, or redraft the whole plan.

Denis Hughes - No, the Minister has not read the submissions or the transcripts.

John Peake - Wouldn't it be a good idea for the Minister to read the submissions; that he take two days off (which is about all the time it would take) to review all the evidence.

Denis Hughes - No, the Minister will only look at it when the Committee brings down its findings. That is the way it works.

John Peake - But the Minister is the one who will sign up for the new air combat capability -  he is the one who will be called to account. I strongly suggest the Minister should look at these submission and the transcripts from the hearings to see how embarrassing the Air Force and senior Defence officials were seen to be with their vague, inaccurate and inadequate responses to the questions put to them.

Denis Hughes - They were speaking at a level for the Committee members so that they could understand and you must remember that the Defence hierarchy are not experts.

The F-111

John Peake - Why do you people always say that the F-111 is "old" when you've just bought the, what, 1960s vintage Super Seasprite - and I am not saying this is wrong, but ....

Denis Hughes - (He started talking about stress on the airframes and ended with)......The age of the airframes is not the issue with these helicopters. This is something I know about and these airframes are zero lifed.

John Peake - Yes, its like a bomber goes to its target, drops bombs and comes back - no stress when compared to a dog fighter like the F/A-18 that twists and turns, etc. and is under much greater stress and they are, what, 1980s vintage.

Denis Hughes - Yes. Look, the big fear in Defence is for who ever signs off that the aircraft is airworthy. Do you know that we can buy some components - exactly the same as what we want, which are much cheaper from a car dealer down the road but we don't because its not stamped 'Approved' (or similar wording).

F-111 Wings

John Peake - For years, the Air Force said the F-111 wings would fall off and it hasn't happened!

Denis Hughes - Well, we did what is called a Cold Proof Load Test and they broke.

(Note: Evidently, Mr Hughes does not know the engineering and purpose behind the Cold Proof Load Test, confusing the Fatigue Life Extension Program being done at the DSTO with the Cold Proof Load Testing being done up at Amberley. The two tests are completely different and done for quite different reasons. The test wing broke during fatigue testing at DSTO, the failure was catastrophic, came as a surprise, and has since been shown to be due to faulty testing techniques due, inter alia, due to insufficient funds to monitor the testing properly.)

John Peake - I know all about that - it was a bad test!

Denis Hughes - Yes, that is true, but we are now, or have now done a new one, re-testing (the wings). The point is someone has to sign off on this and they are 'very scared'. Look, if that wheel incident had been due to fatigue, it would have been the end of the F-111.

Comment by John Peake - We then discussed the pros and cons of the F-111. I spoke of upgrading and evolving the F-111 through to 2020, as originally planned in the Defence 2000 White Paper.

Denis Hughes - <interrupting> I can tell you, it's not over yet (in respect to the F-111). There is more to come.

Comment by John Peake - I was left with the clear impression that the F-111 life would be extended. The tenor of the comments and discussion on this point with Mr Hughes was positive, whereas I had expected a very negative response. Given the Minister's recently announced intention to buy F/A-18F Super Hornets I am now not so sure. Mr Hughe's demeanour when talking about the F-111 could also have been the result of his being well aware the F-111 was intended to be replaced with Super Hornets.

John Peake - Why don't you buy all the spares in the desert (AMARC). Couldn't we get them for zilch?

Denis Hughes - Yeh, but the trouble is sorting out the good bits.

John Peake - I reckon we also ought to buy the [EF-111A] Ravens as well.

Denis Hughes - I think we should, too.

John Peake - Why does CAF keep saying "we don't know what we don't know/"? Why doesn't he find out? It's a silly thing to say!

Denis Hughes - Well, yes, but he is trying to explain problems being a sole operator. Things come up unexpectedly and there is no one else to ask; and, also he is talking to the Committee Members.

John Peake - Most of our assets are 'sole operator'. They are unique, for example, Collins, Seasprites, etc.

Denis Hughes -  People said that the F-111 was not the right decision when it was chosen.

John Peake - Yes, I was one since I thought the TSR2 was the better proposal but at the time my relation who had been WWII Lancaster RAAF Skipper said, "John, we must buy off the drawing board - we always get something that's obsolete by the time its delivered".

Denis Hughes - Yes but .. okay. Nevertheless, the F-111 won't ultimately be suitable for the new or future warfare missions.

Note by John Peake - I did not pursue this point.

Lack of Defence Responsiveness

John Peake -  Why can't Defence answer the criticisms with submissions (to the inquiry)?

Denis Hughes -  Look, we deliberately don't ... if we answer one question, they will say "But..." And ask another. It will never stop. It invites more questions.

John Peake -  Why don't you ask the Air Power Australia people to come in to explain to them?

Denis Hughes -  No, it's the same. They won't be satisfied. You know, John, some people have vested interests.

John Peake -  Yeah, mine is my Grandchildren's security.

By the way, is it true the F-18 problems are so bad that they can't even fly (or are not allowed to fly) to full envelope right now?

Denis Hughes -  Don't believe all you read!

John Peake -  Wasn't it embarrassing to Defence about the Rocket Ejection Capsule? How do you think the taxpayers feel?

(Note:  This question refers to the Rocket Motors for the F-111 and Dr Lough's evidence to the Committee that these will run out of life before 2015 - See expert comments starting at page 55 of Air Power Australia Submission No 29 to the JSCFADT inquiry - http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/jfadt/adfair/subs/sub29.pdf ).

Denis Hughes -  Taxpayers are not that interested  - only 35 odd submissions. No big deal!

John Peake -  They are interested all right, but its very hard to follow and understand the technical jargon but, I tell you what, they soon know when mistakes and errors occur, for example, the Collins ...

Denis Hughes -  <interjecting> It's the best ...

John Peake - .... and the Seasprites. And what about the other strange things like when the F/A-18s were bought and Defence said with its fighter/attack capabilities we did not need the A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft so they were sold to New Zealand for peanuts, then Defence said they could not risk the F/A-18s in the attack, low level role and, besides, we don't know tactics for anti fleet, so they leased the A-4s back to Nowra. Now, how's that for brains?

Denis Hughes -  Yes, look, it's  ... err .... inter-service rivalry comes into it.

John Peake -  Sounds to me like the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.

Denis Hughes -  Yeah, it's a bit like that!

Industry and Surface Warships

John Peake - I can't believe that decision and I wrote to Defence asking about it but never got a reply and look now what Taiwan is paying for fully upgraded air warfare destroyers; four ships to do the same job for a quarter of the cost that Australians will pay for three.

Denis Hughes  - Well, government sometimes looks to see what is in it for local industry.

John Peake  - Just refitting the vertical silos was a big job for Industry.

Denis Hughes - I agree but ...

John Peake  - I know, it's "Past History".

Denis Hughes  - If we bought F-22 there would be nothing in it for local industry.

(Note: On this latter point, if they have not asked about the F-22, then how does Denis Hughes know "there would be nothing in it for local industry?" We can identify a number of areas for Australian Industry Involvement. For example, at the end of the current F-22 production, all the contracts would be up for renegotiation for the follow on. There is the special version configuration to be developed for other foreign military sales. There is the on-going weapons clearance work, spiral development work, and other T&E work that Australia has the skills, competencies and assets which are well suited for undertaking such work. The paucity on any in-depth thinking when it has come to the F-22 is simply staggering.)

JSCFADT Inquiry and Submissions

John Peake - Have your read these in detail?

Denis Hughes - Well I have read, but no, you know, I have not studied them.

John Peake -  What about Dr Jensen's and Group Captain Green's submissions. Have you studied their submissions?

Denis Hughes - I can't see what good Dr Jensen's doing his electorate but no, I have not, as you say, studied them.

John Peake - I have copies here of Submission Nos 32 (Mr Erik Peacock), 22 (GpCapt (Rtd) Ron Green), 21 (Dr Dennis Jensen, MP), and a summary of the JSF and F-22 roles from Air Power Australia for you to read and keep.

Denis Hughes - No! No! .. I can look them up.

John Peake - Look, these people are highly qualified and have put in huge effort. They deserve a fully considered response. What about Air Commodore Ted Bushell's submissions?

Denis Hughes  - Who? ....ummm, what did he have to say?

John Peake  - In summary  F-22 excellent at Air Dominance and acceptable in Ground Attack. JSF may be excellent at Ground Attack, could be acceptable in Air Dominance but it is Air Dominance that is most important into the future.

Denis Hughes -  Don't you mean Air Superiority?

John Peake - No, I am talking about Air Dominance. There are various levels (which I covered). But Air Dominance means the enemy's air defence is cleaned up and then support aircraft can then take out infrastructure and maritime etc. The battle is virtually won. F-22 is ideal in this role, followed by F-111 support.

Denis Hughes -  Well, JSF does all of that, it has all we need.

John Peake - What, for 40 years out ... ? Look all this is cheap insurance for our most sought after resources  it's the deterrence factor.

Denis Hughes -  Most people see the threat as the bloke on the plane with a bomb in his shoe.

John Peake - F-111 must be very hard for the fleet to defend against.

Denis Hughes -  No. Sonar.

John Peake - What ..?

Denis Hughes - Yes. The sonar picks up the sonic boom hitting the water and knows direction and course, etc. and, therefore, the ship is prepared.

John Peake - Pretty short time to get the Gatling gun ready  what 20 miles before it picks up.

Denis Hughes  - You would be surprised!

John Peake - By the way, why do we pay this guy Ross Babbage and the the Kokoda Foundation one million dollars.

Denis Hughes  - Come on, he is independent.

John Peake - Rubbish  - his organisation, Kokoda, is funded  by Defence, everything he has written regurgitates the Air force line. It is a waste of tax payer's funds.

Denis Hughes  - <Denis Hughes just smiled at this>

John Peake - I am serious! ... and that other bloke, Stevens who said only Australia and Singapore are educated enough to use NCW! Would you believe it.  What arrogance and single mindedness.

Denis Hughes  - I agree.

Denis Hughes - Look, the biggest problem in Defence is manpower.

John Peake - Pay them more.

Denis Hughes -  We have tried that.

John Peake -  With pilots, they should have a career flying of so many years in fighters, so many in Orions, so many in tankers. Thus, if they want to, they can have a whole career flying.

Denis Hughes - It's still very hard to attract the right people.


Denis Hughes -  Oh, Look. Supercruising is only a fuel burn thing. It doesn't effect performance. Let's not get carried away with that!

John Peake -  Hang on. With Supercruise you can do the job twice as quickly.

Denis Hughes -  I agree.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

John Peake -  On the JSF, Lockeed Martin's own documents, as linked to Dr Brendan Nelsons Newsletter says (and I quoted and showed him the documents) that JSF is not a Tier One, Air Dominance air combat capability but a battlefield interdictor and close air support aircraft. Of the countries planning to buy the JSF, Israel is not replacing their F-15s, UK are not replacing their Eurofighters.

Denis Hughes -  (interrupting) Eurofighter is flying around at airshows but doesn't have its capabilities in service (this was spoken in a confidential tone)

John Peake -  (continuing) on the issue of stealth and comparing the JSF/F-22, the JSF stealth is principally frontal aspect only.

Denis Hughes -  (interrupting, pointing finger and leaning forward) John, you are WRONG! It is classified but I can say it it's much more stealthy than front only.

John Peake -   So it's equivalent to the F-22?

Denis Hughes -  (Carefully considered) Let's just say its stealthy.

John Peake -   (tried to discuss this further, asking a number of questions, but Denis Hughes shut down this part of the discussion by saying)

Denis Hughes -   We are very happy!

Denis Hughes - Look, stealth doesn't mean you won't be shot  down. Did you know about the F-117 shot down in Bosnia?

John Peake - Yes. It was daylight, low level and the mug pilot flew the same course every day ... deserved it!

Denis Hughes - I agree.

John Peake - What about the kill rate of the F-22 recently reported as 144 to 0.

Denis Hughes - 'Yanks' always have those sort of figures!

John Peake -  The same USAF General said the F-22 was worth 2 to 3 JSFs in the Dominance Role

John Peake -   I have a comparison of the F-22 and JSF on all missions including ground attack ...

Denis Hughes -   F-22 doesn't have the big 2,000 lb bomb Air Force has to have for hardened targets - this is very important.

John Peake -  But you wrote to me just a couple of months ago to say big bombs (2,000 lb and bigger) are out of fashion and small precision weapons are the go.

Denis Hughes -  Yes, I know but Air Force want this. Anyway, the F-22 is a 'cold war warrior' - the USA won't buy any more. It's got structural problems that are going to cost a billion dollars to fix and there is no spiral development funding.

John Peake -  F-22 will cleanse air space, air defence, etc.

Denis Hughes -  Look, I agree the F-22 can do ground attack, but we need big bombs and we don't want to buy the F-22, anyway.

John Peake -  Is it true that the JSF electro-optical system (EOTS) only works in clear sky - is no good in adverse weather, fog, etc?

Denis Hughes -  Yes, that's true and some .... Yes!

John Peake -  I heard this week that the F-35 with all its features won't be operational till 2018. Is that right?

Denis Hughes -  (after thinking about it) Yes, that's about right.

JSCFADT Inquiry into Air Superiority

John Peake -  Why hasn't Defence responded to the detailed technical analyses in the submissions?

Denis Hughes -  Yes, it looks bad. I am pushing them (Defence) to respond and a big submission is being prepared.

John Peake -  What about the briefing to back benchers and Dr Jensen's response?

Denis Hughes -  I agree, but Dr Jensen was the only one to complain and don't see how he is helping his electorate. But we have now briefed all Committee Members with Classified Information and they are all happy.

Asking for Information on the F-22

John Peake -  Have we asked the USA for the F-22 and has our Prime Minister spoken personally to George W Bush; cash in a few 'good will chips'?

Denis Hughes  - No, we know how much the F-22 costs and we don't want it. We are perfectly happy with the JSF.

John Peake -  Did you get a quote [on the price of the F-22]?

Denis Hughes -  No. Look, if we asked for a quote it would mean to the Yanks that we wanted to buy it [the F-22] and we don't ... and the Yanks won't sell!

John Peake -  You keep saying the F-22 is too expensive, but Dr Gumley said they had not asked for a quote.

Denis Hughes -  We know from Public Domain information that it's about $USD160 million to $USD350 million each for the F-22.

John Peake -  If you got a quote under FMS ....

Denis Hughes -  How much?

John Peake -  Less than JSF [APA Note: Referring to LRIP JSF vs full rate production F-22A].

Denis Hughes -  No way!

John Peake -  Under FMS we would not have to pay for the background R&D costs as these are sunk costs.

Denis Hughes -  Don't you believe it! Anyway we don't want the F-22 and we won't be getting a quote!

John Peake -  What about the real cost of the JSF?

Denis Hughes -  It is all in the plan; how it builds up from the Baseline $USD45 million average unit recurring flyaway cost ...

John Peake -  Look, it is A$16 billion ...

Denis Hughes -  Yes.

John Peake -  .... and rising!

Denis Hughes -  Yes.

John Peake -  I refer to my unanswered question on who is right on whether the F-22 is multi role. Which statements are correct  those being made by the Chief of Air Force [AM Geoff Shepherd] and the Chief of Defence [ACM Angus Houston] and those of Air Commodore John Harvey or what three USAF Generals who actually operate the F-22 have been saying on the public record and before their Congress about the F-22 and the fact that it is a multi role aircraft.

Denis Hughes - Chief of Air Force is right and all the US Generals are wrong. Look, they [the US Generals] are pushing barrows to get funding and are playing politics.

End of Meeting

Denis Hughes - Please write again but bear in mind I am the only one who answers so it might take time.

John Peake - Sure, I will, but please fully answer specific questions.

Denis Hughes - <Smiling> I have to be careful it doesn't raise more questions.

Denis Hughes -John, I have not learnt anything new from our meeting.

John Peake - I have! But, in that case, please do get a formal quote for the F-22  - we could all learn something from that; then, get everyone to do a study on Plan B.

End of Note

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