Saturday, September 3, 2011

24 additional Super Hornets for Australia almost certain

Defence is studying their plan-B in response to failure with the F-35 program. If used, this plan-B will be started sometime next year.

The details are sketchy (and not confirmed by additional sources) but the plan-B could be 24 single-seat Block II Super Hornets.

The response by Lockheed Martin is a pack of lies.

The company's F-35 program integration general manager, Tom Burbage, said last month that the Super Hornet price was right up there with the projected $65 million cost per plane of the first 14 F-35s.

The difference was the F-35 was a fifth-generation stealth fighter while the F/A 18 was an old school, fourth-generation design.

The F-35 is not “fifth-generation”; except in the eyes of the marketing pukes. USAF—the supposed biggest buyer of the F-35-- is yet to see anywhere close to “$65 million” for the each aircraft, so that is a lie too. The last LM lie is that the Super Hornet is “old school”. Even though it is the wrong choice for Australia, (neither aircraft can stand up to high-end threats) the Super is a working weapon system. The troubled F-35 is not. The Super is more survivable and more useful than the F-35 which has no credible defensive jamming when stealth goes naked. And, do you want to be in an “old school” Super Hornet or an F-35 when you are over water and one engine quits?

So if the plan-B is taken, Australia will have 24 two-seat and 24 single-seat Super Hornets by around 2016-17. Above the acquisition cost, total support and training expense for each aircraft will be around $12 million per year.

Even if it is not what Australia needs for a valid defence of the nation, the Super Hornet is an easy (read lazy) set of tasks for the entrenched Defence bureaucracy to perform.

Success will be proclaimed by Defence even if the New Air Combat Capability (NACC) office is an example of groupthink and failure.

Success will be proclaimed by Boeing: who devised this plan over 10 years ago.

I suspect that by 2015—if not sooner—we will see another 24 Super Hornets put on order. After all, we don't want the entrenched Defence bureaucracy to hurt themselves thinking too much.


Bushranger 71 said...

The US Government unwisely allowed a major arms corporation to entice 8 nations to contribute to development of an aircraft concept that would presumably be superior in all respects to other well proven types in service. The presumption was that stealth attributes would be essential moreso than desirable for all future military involvements.

Reality is enhanced proven legacy platforms will be quite adequate for majority of conflicts and especially more affordable for most nations. So; if the F-35 founders, as seems increasingly likely, what platform choices will be available from US manufacturers? F-15 and F-18 versions from Boeing and F-16 from Lockheed Martin.

Most of the R&D has already been done to further enhance the F-16 platform, which I would argue has more growth potential than the F-18 (see F-16 versions at LM will have to be kept ticking over and the cost-effective option would be to refocus on F-16 platform optimisation, embracing of course appropriate and affordable technological developments from the F-22 and F-35 programs.

John Boyd espoused need for a light-weight (lowish cost) specialised air combat aircraft and a dedicated close air support platform; the F-16 and A-10 respectively. While the F-16 has since morphed more toward a multi-role combat aircraft, a version like he envisaged would be more affordable for most nations. Sorry Eric, but as a former fighter jock, I do not agree with the necessity for 2 engines in an air combat machine. The Super Hornet for example is really just a big heavy bomb truck, whether single or dual seat versions.

Australia had a specialised strike aircraft in the F-111 with the F/A-18 being more of a multi-role combat aircraft. The Super Hornet is now the (lessened) strike capability and air combat capacity would arguably be diminished by acquiring more of them in lieu of the F-35 to replace the F/A-18. So why not bring an enhanced F-16 back into focus as an option? Defence would of course argue the sunk costs setting up for the Super Hornet make that choice more cost-effective, but it is really not an adequate air combat aircraft.

NGF said...

Given the growing doubts about the F-35 program in terms of capability, cost and delivery, it is common sense that Australia should start to look seriously at alternatives.

Bushranger71 has pointed out the the US-made options. However, like other countries in the region, including Japan, Korea and India, Australia should not rule out other options such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen NG.

Of course every aircraft has its down-side. Europe's economic woes have, for example, cast doubts over the Typhoon. On the other hand, the Typhoon is now in the final two, along with the Rafale, in the race for India's MMRCA contract for some 180 aircraft. The Typhoon on offer to India, and other regional countries, would be upgraded with AESA radar, the Meteor AAM, and improved strike capability. (Thrust vectoring is also a possible growth option.)

In short, with a range of options available, Australia should hold-off locking itself into purchasing the the unproven F-35, and start a genuinely competitive process (including the F-35) to determine which aircraft would be the best replacement for the Classic Hornets within the time-frame required.

Nor should Australia lock itself into a single aircraft solution. While a single type has logistic advantages, Australia has never relied on a single type to solve its complex strategic requirements - air defence, SEAD, maritime strike, ISR, close air support etc. In this respect, the mix of capabilities provided by Classic Hornets and F-111's served the RAAF well for about 20 years.

At the end of the day, a good outcome for the RAAF could well be a combination of a two types - one mainly A2A with a secondary strike role, and one mainly a strike/maritime strike aircraft with a secondary A2A role.

Whatever the outcome, it should be based on proven capabilities derived from genuine competitive process.

Snorbak said...

The RAAF, DoD & the Gov't in general are slowly but nevertheless surely being painted into a corner with regards to our future fighter requirement.
Our geographic location on one hand provides our nation with a natural defensive barrier however, it also means that in order to provide a significant forward defensive capability the combat radius of any fighter force needs to be large enough to minimise the dependence on tanking.

Although the F18E/F is a capable multi role fighter based on (current) potential threats, its design & combat radius is based on operating from a carrier, not land & as such, as a strike platform (in Aust service), its achillies heel will always be its (lack of) range.

Although its been touted before & I was opposed to the idea, the F15SE with its conformal weapons bay/ fuel tanks, updated avionics, datalinks & a modern AESA radar, although more expensive, would be, I believe, a better fit.

Given that the combat radius of the F15SE is double that of the supers & its survivability into the future will be higher against emerging threats it should at least be given some consideration.

Now that our strike capability has evaporated with the (premature)retirement of the F111 & our doggered persistance on operating a single, yet to be proven type, it is very possible that our poor decision making could come back & bite us on our a#@e!

Anonymous said...

Bushranger 71,was not bushranger the call sign of the UH gunships? 9 Squadron?

Bushranger 71 said...

Hello Anonymous; Aye re 'Bushranger'. I was the project officer for design, development and operational introduction of the unique RAAF gunship version of the UH-1H Iroquois during Vietnam War operations.

The capability was decommissioned by Australian Army Aviation in May 2003 (foolishly supported by Angus), so there has hitherto been an 8 plus year capability gap. Had the aircraft been upgraded to Huey II and podded 20mm low recoil cannon substituted for rockets, it would have beaten the pants off anything else around these days for hot and high performance and firepower. (SIGH!!!)

Anonymous said...

Totally agree.
Perfect for shootong up the scrub, cheap to run,reilable, serviced in the field.
As there are few Russian Tank formations on the horizon, probably all you need for most situations.
And unlike the Tiger the Huey2 can probaly take off in th heat with a usable load.

Snorbak said...

The Huey gunship, a fine example of Australian military ingenuity, a quality that is sadly dissapearing.

Bushranger 71, your comment re Huey II is the type of capability that I believe, should be integrated into our existing/ planned utility fleet. The ARH is ideal as a recce/ anti armour platform, but its overkill for basic direct fire support needs when inserting & extracting troops.

Albatross said...

NGF, given the succession of blown out financial and operational disasters we have (all too often not - or very, very late!) taken delivery of from Europe over the last few decades, I cannot believe that anyone would suggest another European buy of any description for Australia.

Albatross said...

.... I missed out "underperforming"

Anonymous said...

A little cheaper that $80 million each for the Tiger for some basic firepower.
I would hate to be the first to prang a Tiger, and in any case you can just ring Europcopter and it will be replaced this week?
By the way does anyone know how many retired UH1H would the USA have?

So? said...

$80 mil for a Tiger? Really? Really??

Anonymous said...

Really, really? ,Yes yes, actually actually, $2.1 billion for 22.
Not bad for something 5 years late and still no IOC, and can not take off with usable load in the heat. (Darwin)

NGF said...

Hi Albatross, My view is that recent European purchases likes the MRTT, MRH90 and Tiger ARH have had problems because Australia bought immature systems off the drawing board (just like the American JSF), rather than proven systems off the shelf. The problem was NOT their European origin. The problem was that Australia ordered them too early in their life cycles.

And yes the Typhoon went through a period of very bad project management, but I think it is an option worth considering IF India or other regional countries purchase it.

As Australia is not under imminent threat I reckon we can afford to hang back and wait for technologies to be proven BEFORE we buy them. Cheers.

NGF said...

I forgot to mention the Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft. Yet another example of Australia buying an immature, unproven system - only in this case it was an an American production.

Snorbak said...

NGF, Lets look at the list of stuffed up aquisions;
Wedgetail, MRRT, JSF, Collins, Tiger ARH, Seasprite, with the MRH90 almost on it & the AWD with a lot of potential:-)

Regarding the Typhoon, as a dogfighting machine WVR, from what I understand, is more than capable of mixing it with the F22 however, I still believe that the upgraded F15SE with its proven capability, would be more survivable in the longer term & while I would concede its not ideal, I still believe that its best of what is currently available.

NGF said...

Snorbak, I would definitely include the F-15SE and other versions of the Strike Eagle in the competition. Although I thought the Silent Eagle is yet to find a customer (happy to be corrected).

In fact, I think Singapore made a better choice than Australia when it chose the F-15SG with AESA radar over the F/A-18F. F-15SG has greater speed and range than the Super Hornet. Speed and range are vital characteristics in Australia's vast airspace.

My general point is that Australia should select its next strike fighter based on a genuine competitive process, and let the best aircraft win!

Anonymous said...

"As Australia is not under imminent threat I reckon we can afford to hang back and wait for technologies to be proven BEFORE we buy them. Cheers."
Why do not people read their history. You should apply for a job with DOD/DMO

Danzig Solutions said...

The purchase of additional F-18s should be undertaken no matter what happens with the F-35. having two 12 aircraft "squadrons" is ludicrous. The traditional size of a RAAF fighter squadron has been 16 and the ADF needs to operate to the rule of 3's with all capabilities, 1 on deployment, 1 refitting/working up, 1 training. The additional purchase will enable a practical fleet size and capability. The future F-35 purchase should mirror that of the complete F-18 (48), 2 operational squadrons and an OCU. Neither the F-18 or the F-35 can provide Australia's needs, only the F-22 could have achieved that (note, 48 F-22s would provide 10 times more deterrence to potential enemies than 100 F-35s ever could), but this purchase should leave us scope to get in on the USN FA-XX or the USAF F-22 replacement programs as they both promise to be more suited to Australia's needs (an aircraft that can fight outnumbered and win).