Chapter 6 Joint Strike Fighter
Australia signed on to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project in 2002 to
replace the ageing fleet of F-111 fighter jets and the F/A-18s.
The Defence White Paper 2009 discussed the rationale behind the
purchase of the JSFs:
The [Air Combat Capability] Review
concluded that a fleet of around 100 fifth generation multirole combat aircraft
would provide Australia with an effective and flexible air combat capability to
2030. A further judgement of the review was that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
(JSF) is the preferred solution for that requirement. Other fourth and fifth
generation combat aircraft considered by the Review were judged to be less capable
of fulfilling Australia’s multirole air combat capability requirements.
The Department of Defence Annual Report 2010-11 states:
[Phases 2A and 2B of the Joint
Strike Fighter project] will deliver a new air combat capability comprising
around 100 Conventional Take Off & Landing (CTOL) F-35 JSF and all
necessary support, infrastructure and integration to form four operational
squadrons and a training squadron.
The Government has adopted a
phased approval approach to the acquisition of the JSF. Australia joined the
System Development and Demonstration [SDD] phase in October 2002 and through
project AIR 6000 Phase 1B (approved), undertook a program of detailed
definition and analysis activities leading up to Government second pass
(Acquisition) approval for Phase 2A/2B Stage 1 in November 2009.
In its report Review of the Defence Annual Report 2009-2010 tabled
on 27 February 2012, the Committee reviewed the JSF and identified three main
areas of concern:
n schedule; and
Therefore, in this report, the Committee undertook to look more closely
at these three areas.
In addition the Committee sought evidence from those outside Defence
with an interest in, and contribution to make to, the debate surrounding
Australia’s purchase of the JSF. Air Power Australia (APA), RepSim Pty Ltd, and
several individuals provided evidence to the Committee.
The Committee held three public hearings where the JSF was discussed at
length. At these hearings, the Committee received evidence from APA, RepSim,
Defence, and Lockheed Martin.
Committee members also visited the Lockheed Martin Production Facility
at Fort Worth, Texas in April 2012.
The Committee also received a classified briefing on the JSF by Defence
in June 2012.
During the course of this review, the Committee was presented with a
number of different perspectives and numbers relating to the cost of the JSF.
In 2011, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) noted that
‘the data from the last few years shows that the F-35 program costs have
escalated dramatically.’ ASPI noted that at the
end of the tenth year of the program:
. . . the projected average unit
program cost has grown by 78% above the original estimate. Some care is needed
here: the rapid increase in JSF cost at the nine and ten year marks is partly
due to new US legislation (the Weapon System Acquisition Reform Act of 2009)
that required an independent (and more conservative) cost estimate to be used
rather than the previous project office estimates.
According to ASPI, the ‘more relevant’ measure of cost for Australia is
the procurement cost. They note that the latest cost data shows:
. . . a 58% increase in unit
procurement cost. . . Manufacturer
Lockheed Martin has signed a fixed price contract for the fourth LRIP [Low
rate initial production] batch at around $130 million per aircraft. While a long way from the
initial promised sticker price of $55 million—those days are a distant memory
now—it’s well under the recent headline figures.
APA told the Committee that affordability was a central concern from the
beginning of the project, and that this would have an effect on the capability
offered by the JSF.
A third early intention in the
Joint Strike Fighter was that affordability was to be the cornerstone of the
JSF program. The aircraft was to be both cheaper to procure and cheaper to
operate than any of its contemporaries, including the aircraft it was intended
to replace. To accommodate this intention, the whole specification and design
process was defined and constrained by an unrealistic and quite flawed idea
known as CAIV [Cost as an independent variable].
APA noted a similar increase in cost as that outlined by ASPI, stating
that Defence has always offered advice on cost that was ‘much less’ than US Air
Force price estimates.
APA also stated that, between 2001 and 2003, Lockheed Martin estimated
the unit price for JSFs to be US$37 million. APA noted that the US Government’s
unit price estimate in December 2010 was US$140 million, saying that this
figure accords with their own 2006-2007 estimate, but that advice to that
effect was ignored by Defence.
The Committee also received data from APA relating to the overall costs
of the JSF project. This data shows that the budget was originally US$199.7
billion in 2001-2, but had since increased to US$379.2 billion by June 2010. Again,
this accords with APA’s estimates, despite the overall planned number of JSFs
to be purchased by the US having been reduced.
Similarly, APA notes that there has been an increase in the cost of
maintaining the JSF relative to legacy aircraft. According to the data
presented by APA, the original 2002 estimate was that the cost of maintaining
the JSF will be 50 percent less than legacy airplanes. However, by 2010, this
estimate had changed to 150 percent of the costs of legacy aircraft such as the
APA told the Committee that there ‘is no historical precedent for such a
growth on this scale’.
Defence responded to these comments on cost, acknowledging that the
restructure that has occurred in the program over 2010-2011, known as the
Technical Baseline Review, has resulted in some delay of milestones and in
increased cost estimates. However, it noted:
. . . in particular, the system
development and demonstration phase of the program remains fully funded. It was
funded to $43 billion and the US has since added a further $7.4 billion from
their own funds, so it is fully funded.
Lockheed Martin also advised the Committee that Australia’s development
costs had not changed:
For Australia, the government
partnership and development of this next generation weapons system has required
a fixed contribution of US$150 million spread over the 14 years of our
development program. That contribution has not changed despite two major
restructurings of the program and significant additional development funds from
the United States.
Furthermore, Defence maintained that at this stage ‘the project is
working within the cost... parameters that were set’.
In relation to the unit price for JSFs as they enter production,
Lockheed Martin stated that JSFs would be delivered at a fixed price:
For all of our contracts from here
forward—and the first Australian aeroplanes are part of the sixth production
line—all of those production lines will be a fixed price. We are in a
fixed-price contract today on the fourth production line. The international buy
will be added to the US buy and will come to us in terms of a contract, and
everybody in that annual buy pays exactly the same thing. So there is not a
penny more or a penny less between Australia and the US government—the US Air
Force—for that configuration of the aeroplane.
At the public hearings, Lockheed Martin and Defence discussed how they
were monitoring cost closely to ensure prices remained as low as possible. Lockheed
Martin argued that keeping production numbers up was an important part of
delivering cost reductions. Defence noted that
Australia and the other international partners in the JSF project were
regularly raising cost issues with Lockheed Martin, and that many discussions
were about cost and about what Australia and the other partners ‘expect from
Lockheed Martin and industry partners in driving out cost’.
In one of its submissions, APA contended that the JSF project is
currently a decade behind schedule.
At a public hearing, Defence agreed that there had been ‘some delay of
milestones’ in the ‘past 18 months in particular’.
However, Defence told the Committee that there had been ‘good progress’
in testing to date and that this had implications for the delivery schedule:
There was pleasing progress on the
mission system testing, arguably the most challenging part of the F-35 program,
and they currently expect to have Block 3 software through development testing
by mid-2017. That potentially would support an Australian IOC [initial
operating capability] by as early as late 2018, should the government agree to
Defence elaborated on the expected timeframe for delivery of Australian
At the end of 2009, the government
said that the indicative initial operating capability would be the end of 2018.
We are not funded to go to initial operating capability. . . When we go back to
government—I do not think that will be before the end of the year; perhaps at a
time when the government would like to see that proposal—we will put forward
options for initial operating capability. It could still be as early as the end
of 2018 or it could be a little bit beyond that, depending on the amount of
risk we see in the program.
When asked about the potential for further delays in schedule, Defence advised
the Committee that this was unlikely, saying that the project has:
. . . a realistic schedule at this
point in time and they have full and, I would say, very adequate funding for
the development and any issues that might pop up. They have factored in
contingency in the schedule for software development for any problems that come
up in flight test. For example, on flight test, there is about 30 per cent
extra contingency for any issues that arise that cause them to be delayed.
Defence further advised that the first production JSFs had been
delivered to Eglin Air Base in the US, however:
. . . there was a slight delay in
getting them a military flight release. That was more due to debate within the
US Department of Defense between the Director of operational test and
evaluation and the United States Air Force. They came to an agreement and they
have issued a military flight release, and they are flying at this time down at
Eglin Air Force Base.
Lockheed Martin also elaborated on the testing schedule:
. . . the United States Air Force
variant, which is Australia’s configuration, is more than halfway through its
first lifetime of durability structural testing. [...] More than 80 percent of
all our airborne software is flying today and all of our sensors are
demonstrating the required performance.
Additionally, Lockheed Martin told the Committee that production of the
international jets had commenced:
The factory is manufacturing F-35s
at a rate of four per month and this year will deliver our first three
international jets to the UK and the Netherlands.
In 2010, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported to
Congress on the F-35 project’s program cost, schedule and performance,
manufacturing results, test plans and progress. The report concluded that:
. . . JSF cost increases, schedule
delays, and continuing technical problems . . . increase the risk that the
program will not be able to deliver the aircraft quantities and capabilities in
the time required by the warfighter.
The GAO recommended:
new, comprehensive, and independent assessment of the costs and schedule to
complete the program, including military construction, JSF-related expenses in
other budgets, and life-cycle costs;
requirements be reassessed and, if necessary, some capabilities be deferred to
future increments; and
consider requiring the US Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a management
tool to help Congress better measure the program’s progress in maturing the
weapon system in a variety of areas to include cost estimating, testing, and
The US Department of Defense’s (DOD) response to this report concurred
with the majority of the recommendations, while noting that the DOD had already
undertaken a range of corrective actions on this project.
In May 2012, the Defence Minister Hon Stephen Smith announced that the
first two JSFs will be delivered for training purposes some time in 2014-2015. The
Minister also announced that the government had decided to ‘delay the delivery
of our first 12 Joint Strike Fighters two years after the previous estimates at
a net benefit to the budget of $1.6 billion, putting us on the same timetable,
effectively, as the United States.’
The website of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) states that the JSF
will give Australia access to ‘capability and technology a generation ahead of
other contemporary aircraft’.
When this Committee reviewed the Defence Annual Report 2002-2003,
Defence elaborated on these capabilities, stating that the JSF will be
‘superior to its competitors’ due to:
. . . its stealth technology; its
sensor suite; its capacity to carry a wide range of ordnance; its ability to
network with other aircraft, particularly our AWACS [Airborne Early Warning and
Control] Wedgetail aircraft; its ability to virtually be a broadcaster of
sensor information to many other platforms; and its aerodynamic
Lockheed Martin characterised the capability offered by the JSF as
‘transformational and essential to the future combat capability of the allied Air
Lockheed Martin noted that the JSF has been adopted by ‘all three US
services’ as well as 12 other nations’ services due the ‘inherent technology
and capability of the F-35 air system’, noting that:
. . . the F-35 weapons system is
intended to provide unprecedented situational awareness to the fighter pilot
and the flight and command and control infrastructure, while denying the same
to the adversary.
APA and RepSim both made submissions to this inquiry which questioned
this view of the capability offered by the JSF.
APA provided their analysis of the air combat capabilities offered by
current and emerging Russian and Chinese fighter jet technology.
They contended that, in light of this analysis:
. . . the F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter will be ineffective against the current generation of advanced Russian
and Chinese systems. . . . In any combat engagements between the F-35 and such
threat systems, most or all F-35 aircraft will be rapidly lost to enemy fire.
APA elaborated further on their concerns at a public hearing, advising:
. . . Russia and China are now
well advanced in their production of advanced stealth fighters specifically
intended to be competitive with the superior United States F-22A Raptor. The
inferior Joint Strike Fighter, defined in aerodynamic performance and stealth
only to attack lightly defended battlefield ground targets, has no prospect of
ever successfully competing against these larger, more agile, higher flying and
much faster foreign stealth fighters, which also happen to be better armed. Of
no less if not greater concern is the proliferation of advanced long range
surface-to-air missiles and modern counter-stealth sensors and detection
Mr Danny Nowlan, submitting in a private capacity, agreed with APA and
RepSim’s analysis of the capabilities offered by the JSF, noting that it will
be ‘incapable’ of providing Australia with regional air superiority, due to the
. . . its current performance
renders it fundamentally uncompetitive with aircraft such as the Russian Su-35S,
the T-50 PAK-FA, Chinese J-20 and modern Surface to Air Missile threats, all of
which will proliferate globally.
APA and RepSim were of the opinion that these perceived deficiencies in
performance could not be fixed:
The limitations in the F-35 design
cannot be fixed by upgrades or modifications as they are inherent in the basic
F-35 design. Even if the F-35 were to meet its mediocre performance
specifications or as-marketed expectations, it would not be viable in
combat against modern Russian and Chinese built threat systems.
Defence countered this view at a public hearing, disputing APA’s
criticisms of the JSF’s aerodynamic performance and stealth capabilities
relative to its future potential adversaries, stating:
. . . these are inconsistent with
years of detailed analysis that has been undertaken by Defence, the JSF program
office, Lockheed Martin, the US services and the eight other partner nations.
While aircraft developments such as the Russian PAK-FA or the Chinese J-20, as
argued by Airpower Australia, show that threats we could potentially face are
becoming increasingly sophisticated, there is nothing new regarding development
of these aircraft to change Defence’s assessment.
Specifically, Defence told the Committee that the JSF is performing well
in a number of important areas:
The range of the F-35A is about 30
percent greater than the F-18 legacy aircraft. The stealth is meeting planned
requirements. The F-35 coating technology is being retrofitted to the F-22
because the coating is more effective and easier to maintain. The F-35 has
reached its maximum design speed of Mach 1.6 during testing in 2011 and it has
been tested to 9G. . . On radars and sensors, the APG81 radar exceeded
expectations in real-world exercises in Northern Edge in 2009 and 2011 where it
was presented with a modern, hostile electronic environment. The F-35 has very
good electronic attack and electronic defence capabilities. Weight is not an
issue in the program since 2005; for the F-35A it is well within specification.
Eighty percent of full software capability is flying today.
Defence also disputed the contention that issues with the JSF design and
capability cannot be fixed. At the public hearing, Defence informed the Committee
of an internal US Department of Defense report from November 2011 that made an
overall assessment of the suitability of the F - 35 to continue in
low-rate initial production.
According to Defence, this report:
. . . identified 13 key risk
areas, but it concluded that there was no fundamental design risk sufficient to
preclude further production. The report listed the risks, but it did not
outline the steps that the JSF program office is going through to mitigate
those risks. All of those risks are known by the program and are being worked
As evidence for their contentions regarding capability, RepSim provided
the Committee with an overview of a simulation that was conducted in 2008 for
the RAND Corporation. This simulation was conducted using open sources and did
not incorporate classified material. The results of this
simulation indicated that, when conducting mass attacks against a large number
of Chinese fighter jets, only a small number of JSFs would survive.
Mr Jack Warner, submitting in a private capacity, drew the Committee’s
attention to a statement made by RAND Corporation in response to the public
reaction to the simulation:
RAND did not present any analysis
at the war game relating to the performance of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter,
nor did the game attempt detailed adjudication of air-to-air combat. Neither
the game nor the assessments by RAND in support of the game undertook any
comparison of the fighting qualities of particular fighter aircraft.
Defence advised the Committee of its view that APA and RepSim’s analysis
and simulations are ‘basically flawed’ due to the use of incorrect assumptions
and a lack of knowledge of the classified F-35 performance information.
Lockheed Martin agreed with this view, indicating that simulations of what
a JSF or other fourth or fifth generation fighter are capable of can only be
conducted if the simulator has access to all of the classified information
about the aircraft. They stated:
. . . trying to simulate something
that you do not fully understand is based on false assumptions and false ground
rules. If you go in with false assumptions and false ground rules, you will get
The Committee notes that RESPIM Pty Ltd has vehemently disputed this
Defence noted that in its own simulations, which incorporate the
classified material, the JSF was performing to an acceptable standard:
When the classified capabilities
are taken into account, we have had Australian pilots flying high-fidelity
simulators and they have been very impressed with the combat capabilities of
the aircraft. These pilots include fighter combat instructors from RAAF Base
Williamtown and ex-commanding officers of fighter squadrons within Australia.
Lockheed Martin provided details of the simulations that have been
. . . pilots from the Royal
Australian Air Force, all of the participating nations’ Air Forces and all
three US Services have come into the manned tactical simulator, the
pilot-in-the-loop high-fidelity simulation of an advanced high-threat
environment. They have actually flown the airplane in that environment, and the
results of those simulations show that the airplane is effectively meeting its
Overall, Defence considered that when it comes to the outcomes of
. . . if the F-35s are allowed to
play to their strengths and use their better situational awareness and sensors .
. . they can prevail in that situation and they do defeat that higher-end
threat in those simulations.
Lockheed Martin further noted that it was not attempting to excuse
itself from detailed discussions by using security classifications, noting that
these detailed discussions were happening, and were also the reason the JSF had
been chosen by so many countries:
All the Defence officials who are
appropriately cleared in all of the nations that are participating in this know
exactly what we have briefed, what those briefings entail and what the analysis
entails, and they have chosen the [JSF]. . . Believe the nine best Air Forces
in the world as far as their operators and analysts are concerned and . . . you
will come to realise that it is not us telling the story; it is them telling
the story to their governments and their governments making a decision to go
forward with this aeroplane.
RepSim disputed the views put forward by Defence and Lockheed Martin on
the need to include classified material in simulations. They contended that it
is a logical fallacy that if a simulation does not include classified material,
it is ipso facto wrong.
Furthermore, they stated:
RepSim’s unclassified simulations
do include capabilities of the JSF that may be classified – Directed Energy
Weapons for example.
At this juncture, the Committee notes the following view on the
difficulties of comparing the capabilities of modern fighter aircraft:
because of the lack of reliable information about the fighters themselves, and
the lack of actual combat between them, it is extremely hard to judge how they
will perform in combat. The bodies in the best position to know — aircraft
manufacturers and air forces — keep secret much of the real capabilities of
their aircraft, but simultaneously often try to present them in the best
possible light by claiming superiority over other comparable vehicles.
Alternatives to the JSF
Mr Erik Peacock, submitting in a private
capacity, was supportive of RepSim and APA’s position on the capabilities
offered by the JSF, noting that, in his opinion, there were two other viable
options to maintain Australia’s regional air superiority.
Mr Peacock considered the retention of the F-111
to be a better option than purchasing the JSFs, observing:
. . . independent testimony stated
that with a virtually infinite supply of spare parts in the USA, the F-111
could be maintained almost indefinitely and evolved into a modern interceptor.
This would leverage the significant investment already made in the aircraft and
pay significant dividends to Australian industry. The F-111 represented a third
of the strike capability provided by the RAAF. There is no other aircraft that
currently has the same capabilities apart from the Russian SU-34.
However, the F-111 was retired from the ADF
inventory on 3 December 2010.
Additionally, Mr Peacock considered the F-22 to
be a better and cheaper option than the JSF. Mr Peacock claimed that, in 2001,
Australia was offered the ‘export variant’ of the F-22 – the F-22A - but that
the US delegation making this offer was ‘turned
back at the airport on arrival in Australia because Defence had already decided
on the JSF.’
Furthermore, despite the fact that
production of the F-22 has ceased, Mr Peacock argued that it would cost US$300
million to restart production. As such, Mr Peacock considered it ‘a matter of
urgency’ that Australia request US Congressional approval to export F-22s to
APA also stated their opinion that
they considered the F-22 to be a better option than the JSF.
However, the Committee understands
that export of the F-22 is banned under US law, noting that the
Committee has not been able to confirm whether such an offer was ever made by
the US or a similar request was ever made by Australia. Further, production of
the F-22 has ceased at this time.
The Committee notes the following in respect of the cost of the JSF:
are a number of different cost definitions associated with the JSF.
longstanding concerns that the cost of the aircraft would be higher than
originally estimated have been accurate.
advises that the latest data shows a 58 per cent increase in unit price cost
from original projections.
agrees that cost estimates have increased since 2010-2011 from original
projections, but notes the SDD Phase is fully funded, and costs for the
production phase are continuing to be monitored closely to ensure prices remain
as low as possible.
Martin observes that aircraft will be a fixed price in each aircraft ‘buy’ for
all countries, and that keeping production numbers up is an important part of
achieving cost reductions.
The Committee notes the following in respect of the schedule of the JSF:
submitters agree that the schedule for the JSF has slipped from original dates.
and Lockheed Martin remain positive about future achievement of milestones.
Australian Government has now delayed the delivery of the first 12 JSFs for two
The Committee notes the following in respect of the capability of the
are significant differences of opinion among submitters to this Review about
the capability of the JSF, with REPSIM advising their simulations indicated
deficiencies in performance against other similar aircraft, APA advising their
concerns, and Defence and Lockheed Martin advising they are very positive about
the aircraft, particularly after current testing.
are significant difficulties with making judgements about the capabilities of
modern fighter aircraft, particularly given some of these aircraft are still
Alternatives to the JSF
The Committee notes the following in relation to alternatives to the
some submitters contend the F-111 or the F-22 would be suitable alternatives to
the JSF, the F-111 has been retired from service, and the F-22 appears
currently unavailable both in terms of production and in terms of Australia’s
ability to purchase the aircraft.
The Committee makes the following comments about the review of the JSF
as part of its Inquiry into the Defence Annual Report 2010-2011:
US GAO has found that cost increases, schedule delays and continuing technical
problems increase the risk the program will not be able to deliver the aircraft
quantities and capabilities in the time required by the warfighter.
the GAO conclusion and the evidence provided during the Review, the Committee
is concerned at the increased cost and the schedule delays associated with the
Committee is not in a position to make judgements on the technical aspects of
the performance of the JSF relative to other aircraft. Rather, the Committee’s objective
is to ensure that Defence is taking all possible steps to ensure Australia’s
regional air superiority, and that this is secured at a reasonable price and
within agreed timeframes.
evidence received on the capabilities of the JSF has been conflicting in
nature. Airpower Australia and RepSim’s contentions are fundamentally opposed
to those of Defence and Lockheed Martin, and the Committee has no way to
effectively test these contentions on the public record.
Airpower Australia and RepSim have advised that their comments are based on an
in-depth understanding of the capabilities offered by both the JSF and the
emerging stealth fighter technology of Russia and China. Given that these
emerging stealth fighters are still under development, and are not expected to
achieve initial operating capability for some time, the Committee is uncertain
as to whether judgements can be made with certainty that the JSF will be the
inferior fighter, noting the difficulties of comparing modern fighter aircraft.
light of the conflicting perspectives presented and the uncertainties they
raise, the Committee resolves to maintain a focus on the JSF project in order
to ensure that it does, indeed, provide Australia with ongoing regional air
superiority. In this regard, the Committee notes the recent decisions by the
Australian Government to postpone acquisition of the first 12 JSFs by two years
and to bring forward the next Defence White Paper to 2013. These two decisions
will provide considerable scope for ongoing scrutiny and review both within and
outside the context of this Committee.