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Strike Fighter scientists among casualties of deep Defence cuts

Cuts to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation: An F-35 fighter jet.

Cuts to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation: An F-35 fighter jet.

Nearly 40 of Australia's top military scientists and engineers are to be thrown on the scrapheap as the Defence Science and Technology Organisation cuts costs.

The jobs cull is expected to  cut from six scientists to just two the DSTO's technical team for the $24 billion Joint Strike Fighter, the nation's largest ever defence purchase.

<i> Illustration:Cathy Wilcox.</i>

Illustration:Cathy Wilcox.

The Australian Maritime Warfare Centre, based at Sydney's Garden Island, is slashing a third of its staff of civilian engineers and technicians, from 48 public servants to 31.

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The 38 technical specialists based in Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide have been told their status is “unassigned”, a step on the way to being declared “excess” and many of them have already been asked to apply for voluntary redundancies.

The engineers' and technicians union Professionals Australia is warning that hundreds of years of experience in defence science will be lost as a result of the cuts and called on DSTO bosses to reconsider. 

"Many of these guys have been blindsided as they have been strong performers and are involved in relevant, ongoing research and capability support,'' spokesman David Smith said.

"They are senior research leaders with hundreds of years of science expertise and international reputations.

"In most cases, there would be a handful of scientists across the country that would have the appropriate skills to do their work at a high level so the cost of contracting in additional skills at some stage will be very high.''

The cuts are part of a wave of redundancies set to hit the Defence establishment in Tuesday's budget.  The department's procurement arm, Defence Materiel Australia, is set to be slashed and then merged into the broader department.

The Defence headquarters at Canberra's Russell offices was buzzing with talk on Monday that up to 5000 civilian jobs would be lost.

The Joint Strike Fighter, or Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, is a ''fifth generation'' stealth warplane being developed for the US and nine allied countries including Australia.

The Abbott government committed in April to buying 58 of the aircraft with a price tag of $24 billion over the operational life of the fighters, despite persistent technical flaws on the project.

While nearly all of the technical work on the fighter jet project is being done by its manufacturer Lockheed Martin, Mr Smith argued that it was vital that the Australian Defence establishment maintain its expertise on the project.

“Cutting from six to two (technicians) just leaves DSTO so exposed,” Mr Smith said.

“If this goes ahead then the only people who’ll be the experts on the plane will be ones they’d have to contract in.”

Mr Smith was also scathing of the sackings of the Maritime Warfare Centre at Garden Island, saying the move  goes against advice the government had received.

"All defence reviews have recommended they need more public service Navy engineers, not less," he said.

40 comments

  • Where do you even begin.

    Just two technical specialists for a $24 billion purchase. You have to be mad to think of that. Or, more like a confirmed fool.

    Commenter
    Observer
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    May 13, 2014, 1:53AM
    • Axing scientists??? Why am I not surprised? Scientists KNOW things. If it's scientific or artistic, it has no place in 2014 Australia. All we need are planes that don't work properly and lots and lots of cannon fodder for the next war on something that this government involves itself in.

      Commenter
      Marilyn
      Date and time
      May 13, 2014, 7:51AM
      • Their whole concept of air defence is totally wrong - this government has no idea other than to waste $24 billion on outdated machines.

        We must be developing drone technology. In less than a decade, drones will shooting piloted fighters out of the sky with air-to-air missiles, with much less cost, risk, and higher reliability than any piloted air-superiority fighter.

        Air-superiority jet fighters are still last century's technology, and yet these ridiculously expensive F-35s will not even be operational until 2020 at the earliest!

        Now is the time for us to develop drone technology, not after parting with billions of dollars to buy outdated technology.

        Commenter
        FordPrefect
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        May 13, 2014, 7:53AM
        • The government wants to bring the rest of the country down to its own level of competence.

          Commenter
          royfh
          Location
          Woonona
          Date and time
          May 13, 2014, 8:10AM
          • I sure hope someone else in defense knows where the JSF reboot buttons are.

            Commenter
            John
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            May 13, 2014, 8:12AM
            • Why don't we just save the money and build these planes in Australia? Keep these people employed.

              Commenter
              Matt
              Location
              Longueville
              Date and time
              May 13, 2014, 8:16AM
              • "Thrown on the scrapheap"? Golly. Will they be stripped for parts first?

                How unworldly does a person have to be, to see anything unusual about the process of no longer having one job, and having to go get another one? I thought we left 'jobs for life" behind in the 70s.

                Commenter
                Rob
                Date and time
                May 13, 2014, 8:22AM
                • Wow... well at least we now know that no department is safe from the dumbing-down that this government is forcing upon our country.
                  Can’t wait for the inevitable flood of over-priced contractors needed once they realise they’ll need to outsource all of this sort of stuff. Oh, wait… that won’t happen until the next guys are in power so they won’t have to wear the pain.
                  Just like Howard…

                  Commenter
                  Rex
                  Location
                  Turramurra
                  Date and time
                  May 13, 2014, 8:23AM
                  • Unbelievable. This - the technical skills acquired and eventually used throughout what remains of our industry - is the only useful thing we would gain from the purchase of these pointless aircraft. The excess cost of buying these over perfectly adequate alternatives might be about half I.e. about $20 billion. $1000 for each person, or several thousand dollars for each family in Australia. All of it just a gift to the USA attempting, unnecessarily, to buy continued obsequious defence support.

                    In terms of defence, the government does not have permission to spend my portion on unnecessarily expensive aircraft. I want this amount to be spent against a far more likely threat - climate change. History will show this government's choices for what they are and Australia will rue this government for a very long time.

                    The article confuses technicians with engineers - there's an important difference.

                    Commenter
                    JR
                    Date and time
                    May 13, 2014, 8:32AM
                    • With the decision made to buy these expensive and very risky planes already made by the Governments and not the military. Why would you want knowledgeable people around that might find serious problems with this wasteful exercise.
                      A couple of corrections, Australia has purchased 2 of these planes so far, 12 more are on hold and Abbott has added 58, for a total of 72. Canada was looking at doing the same, but buying only 65 aircraft. KMPG found the cost to be $45.8 BILLION in 2012. So expect the cost to double just after the election.
                      Australia needs a Defence Force, but we need things that work and that we can afford, this plane satisfies neither of those criteria.

                      Commenter
                      Tiger
                      Location
                      Sydney
                      Date and time
                      May 13, 2014, 8:33AM

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