When people decide to buy the newest iPhone, they realize that next month, a new edition will be released that is even better and so a lot of consumers decide to wait for the best model to be released. Apparently certain members of the Australian government have never bought an iPhone as they display the worst sort of consumerism in the decision to buy Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II – also called the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). While the prime minister and his defence minister are calling the decision a win, others are warning that the purchase is unwise, including members of their own party. Even the Pentagon’s JSF Boss said there were risky issues with the plane. So why has the Aussie government gone ahead with a very expensive purchase of a faulty product? Apparently, Australia has learned nothing from the iPhone and since development of defence technology is a lot like phone technology, this deal to buy new fighter jets is starting to look like buying an iPhone.
There are a lot of things the JSF is able to do. The fighters’ manufacturer, Lockheed Martin says that the plane is more effective in air-to-air combat, air-to-ground combat, and reconnaissance than any other fighter and by a wide margin at that. There is no doubt that the JSF is the most advanced fighter available on the market right now. Targetting, for instance, has improved to the extent that the pilot does not have to be facing the target to hit it. The electronics in the plane provide the necessary information to the pilot through the helmet and gives the homing equipment on the missiles the information they need to make a direct hit. With innovations like this, the fighter is basically a flying, fighting computer that is worth the estimated 95 million dollars each individual plane will cost the Australian government. But is it worth the price tag?
The Aussie prime minister seems to think so, but other members of his party have not been so supportive of the decision. One dissenting voice is Liberal Member of Parliament and former Defence Department analyst Dennis Jensen. He has called the purchase a “dud,” citing the numerous problems that accompany the JSF along with the perks. Some of these issues include parts of the plane breaking and requiring too much maintenance, as well as unreliability and a problem with the eight million lines of code required for the software. These problems have been acknowledged by Lieutenant-General Chris Bogdan, the boss of the JSF program at the Pentagon in the United States. When Bogdan visited the country recently, he said that the issues were being “ironed out” and called the code problem a “risky, risky business.” With problems like that, it is hard to see why the government is putting an estimated total cost of 12 billion dollars into buying what could possibly be a dangerous product.
The situation over Australia’s new fighter jets is a little like asking Steve Jobs whether or not to buy the latest iPhone and having him tell you to wait a month because Apple is coming out with a better one. In fact, Lockheed Martin already has a better jet, the F-22 Raptor, in production. This aircraft costs about 150 million dollars to produce and is supposed to be even better than the JSF. But the United States government is not allowing Lockheed Martin (an American company with numerous lucrative defence contracts with the US) to sell this fighter to any other country right now. At some point, the F-22 Raptor will no doubt go on the market, but it has not yet and until then the JSF is the best available to non-American countries, including the Land Down Under.
Part of the decision to acquire the JSF was Tony Abbott’s commitment to getting serious on Australia’s defence. Part of his goals after the election was to improve the country’s defence and make it safer and more secure. However, this decision looks like Abbott is jumping the gun on a product that is not as good as it could be. Moreover, the Abbott government is gearing up for its big budget fix, which clashes to a certain extent with the focus on defence. Yesterday, Treasurer Joe Hockey gave a speech in which he said that “nothing is free” and that the government would have to cut spending. A Commission of Audit looked at the budget inherited from the previous government and highlighted ballooning spending, including in the area of defence. Now, the government is going to spend 12 billion dollars on jets of questionable reliability. These two issues seem to be at odds.
Nevertheless, the government has stressed that the funds set aside for the JSF are not new spending, but have been allocated by previous governments as well as the current one. Meanwhile, the budget cuts will include healthcare and raising the pension age to save more money on old age pensions. These are government benefits that Aussies have enjoyed for years and Hockey emphasized that some of the benefits that citizens have enjoyed can no longer be taken advantage. He also said that the budget adjustments are about the future of Australia’s “quality of life,” though he did not specify exactly how these proposed cuts would do that.
All in all, the purchase of the JSF by the Abbott government looks less and less like a good defence move and more like when kids want to buy the latest Apple device. Wise parents with an eye on a dwindling budget might well be inclined to wait for something more reliable, something with the kinks worked out, something that the manufacturer does not call “risky, risky.” But the Australian government just could not wait and so there will soon be more than a dozen JSF aircraft flying over the antipodean skies. The JSF might be fine once it gets made and improvements will no doubt occur as time goes on. But defence spending for a prosperous nation should not be comparable to buying an iPhone, which is what Australia has done with these new fighter jets. It really seems like none of the politicians involved have ever tried to buy something from Apple or any other tech company, for that matter.
Opinion By Lydia Webb