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$1.4b Spartan buy gets nod from air chief

Date

David Ellery

The RAAF could have an operational squadron of Joint Strike Fighters by 2019, despite a government decision to delay the purchase of the next 12 planes by two years, according to Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown.

This is only one year later than the schedule for JSF initial operating capacity - or combat readiness - Defence has been working towards for at least a decade.

Air Marshal Brown said last night he would be cracking a bottle of champagne to celebrate yesterday's decision to spend $1.4 billion on 10 new C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifters to replace the Caribous retired three years ago.

He also praised the government's continuing progress towards converting 12 of the RAAF's Super Hornets to ''Growler'' electronic warfare aircraft.

Air Marshal Brown told yesterday's Air Power conference in Canberra the RAAF needed at least 100 JSFs and it would be a mistake to order more Super Hornets - that could eat into final JSF numbers - as a stopgap.

''I'm still very much in the JSF camp; the progress I'm seeing is still positive. I haven't seen anything that is a show stopper yet,'' he said.

Air Marshal Brown would prefer Defence to extend the life of the classic Hornets, which date back to the 1980s and have already undergone significant life extension upgrades, and wait for the JSF.

He said the decision to run with the C-27J was a good one. While overseas reports have raised questions about the plane's vulnerability in a ''contested environment'' RAAF personnel at the conference said it was more capable in this regard than its competition; Airbus Military's C-295.

The C-27J has similar flight control systems to the RAAF's C-130 Hercules fleet and pilots who can fly one can be trained to operate the other quickly.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the Spartan could fly further, faster and higher than the C-295 while carrying more cargo and operating from shorter runways.

Air Marshal Brown is a supporter of fifth generation fighters in general and the JSF in particular.

This came about after he had his ''ass kicked'' while flying in a United States Air Force F-15D against F-22 Raptors at a Red Flag exercise in the US a few years ago.

''Each time we crossed into the box to start hunting we would get a radio call we had been killed,'' he said.

Situational awareness, not just stealth, was the determining factor. ''In the debrief when we reviewed the tapes the only thing we could see on our tapes was the aircraft in our package. On the F-22 tapes it was like looking at a God's eye view. Every aircraft was there, clear as day.''

Air Marshal Brown says Australia needs at least 100 Joint Strike Fighters if the ADF is to stay a balanced force.

''Air forces are like poker hands; second best gets you nothing and actually gets you killed,'' he said.

His comments come at a time when the government is increasingly ambivalent about how many Joint Strike Fighters to buy.

Air Marshal Brown said turning 12 Super Hornets into Growlers made a lot of sense.

''We saw the debut of the Growler in the air operations over Libya last year,'' he said.

''Growlers would provide Australia's joint force with a combat advantage that would be decisive in many situations.''

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