18 Maret 2012
RAAF remained on track to receive its first two aircraft in 2014. (photo : JSF)
Australia's first Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, the forerunner of as many as 100 advanced combat aircraft, is set to start down the production line in the next few weeks.
Air Vice Marshal Kym Osley, head of defence's new air combat capability program, rejected criticism of the JSF by organisations such as Air Power Australia (APA) on grounds they had not seen all the classified US data on the aircraft's performance.
He said the RAAF remained on track to receive its first two aircraft in 2014.
"Our first aircraft will start to be put together in the next few weeks," he told a parliamentary committee.
Australia is presently committed to buying 14 of the advanced Lockheed Martin F-35 JSF with two arriving in 2014 and the other 12 scheduled for delivery between 2015 and 2017.
A decision on the next tranche of 58 aircraft will likely be made next year. The RAAF is looking to achieve an initial operating capability (IOC) in 2018.
The JSF has faced steady criticism that it would be late, expensive and wouldn't deliver the promised level of capability.
In a committee hearing last month APA said JSF was totally outclassed by new Russian and Chinese aircraft and radar systems and was also more expensive than the much more capable F-22 Raptor.
Air Vice Marshal Osley said the APA analysis was flawed through incorrect assumptions and a lack of knowledge of the classified F-35 air combat performance information.
He said new aircraft such as the Russian PAK-FA or the Chinese J-20 showed that threats were becoming increasingly sophisticated.
"There is nothing new regarding development of these aircraft to change defence's assessment," he said.
"We have had Australian pilots flying high fidelity simulators and they have been very impressed with the combat capabilities of the aircraft."
Defence is set to present a report on JSF to the government by the end of the year. That will allow it to assess whether JSF delays will result in an air combat capability gap which could require an interim combat aircraft such as additional Boeing Super Hornets.
Air Vice Marshal Osley said he would be looking out for significant delays in software development milestones.
"Any indications that they are failing to achieve those will be a warning to us," he said.
As well, he said, they would be looking for any loss of capability in successive software builds.
"We have a very defined requirement for what is the minimum threshold capability we need for IOC and I will be watching to make sure that software does achieve that," he said.