2014-03-22 Excerpted from news.com.au
March 22, 2014
BACK in the late 1960s the aircraft chosen as the nation’s key strike weapon into the new millennium — the F-111 swing-wing fighter/bomber — was derided as the “flying Opera House’’ or the “widow maker” due to cost blowouts, delivery delays and serious technical problems that caused several fatal crashes.
When it finally retired from service with the Royal Australian Air Force in December 2010 the much-loved American-built “pig”, as it was affectionately known due to its long snout and ability to operate down low in the weeds, had become a national icon with a reputation as a peacemaker par excellence.
The aircraft did not fire a single shot in anger during four decades, but its mere presence kept the neighbours on their best behaviour. For example when tensions started to rise during the 1999 East Timor crisis, the mere mention of the word “F-111’’ was enough to guarantee that cool heads prevailed in Jakarta.
Fast forward to 2013 and the RAAF’s next generation strike jet, the F-35 Lightning 2 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) was suffering from an almost identical image problem due to cost blowouts, delivery delays and serious technical problems.
According to the man charged with overseeing the massive $500 billion project for the Pentagon, United States air force (USAF) Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the F-35 will now be delivered to the RAAF on-time in 2018 for the “bargain” price of about $90 million per jet.
The Abbott Government is expected to approve the purchase of up to 86 of the so-called fifth generation “stealth” aircraft for up to $16 billion (lifetime cost) before June this year.
To put Australia’s order into perspective the US military will buy 2443 including 1763 conventional ‘A’ models for the air force, 360 ‘B’ or vertical landing versions for the US Marine Corps and 360 ‘C’ or carrier models for the US Navy. The total production run with foreign sales will exceed 3100 planes.
The fact the US Congress did not take one cent from the program during the budget sequestration crisis indicates that the Americans are fully committed to the JSF as the mainstay of its national defence for the next 30 years or more.
Put simply there is only one other aircraft on the planet with the capabilities of the JSF — its big brother the F-22 Raptor…..
US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Chip Berke is the only pilot to fly both the F-22 and F-35 stealth jets.
Speaking at a Williams Foundation seminar in Canberra this month he said the F-35 had no peer when it came to the new generation buzz words used by the modern-day fighter pilot — “information dominance”.
He said the old Top Gun fighter pilot mantra that “speed is life, more is better” had been replaced by “information is life, more is better”.
“Information is far more valuable than speed,” he said.
“The F-35 has no peer in terms of information dominance and the sharing of that information.”
RAAF Squadron Leader Matt Harper described himself as the luckiest fighter pilot in Australia after he was selected to spend four years on exchange with the USAF flying the F-22 Raptor out of Alaska.
He said the ground-up stealth capability of the F-22 and the JSF made the aircraft and their pilots virtually “unstoppable”.
“It reduces the adversaries situational awareness to almost zero and provides an exponential increase in survivability,” he said.
RAAF Fighter Pilot Harper, who is one of two pilots chosen to become the RAAF’s first JSF instructors, said he had flown countless Raptor missions against conventional aircraft and ground threats where the adversary had no idea he was even in their airspace let alone about to destroy them…..
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