The Australian public is agog at the news today that the Abbott Government has placed an A$12.5 billion order for the F-35 strike fighter. That’s a lot of money for a nation with 22 million people. The Labor Opposition (who started this macho nonsense) needless to say agrees with the decision.
Which is interesting, because the troubled F-35 programme has its limitations.
It’s been plagued with developmental problems, not least of which the plane is extremely noisy and annoys local residents wherever it is based, so the good burghers of Newcastle in New South Wales may find themselves less than enthusiastic about their soon-to-be top gun neighbours than they might have thought.
But perhaps most relevant for the Australian public is that without in-air refuelling (and Australia has just five in-air refuelling units, by the way, to service what will eventually be a collection of 72 sooper-dooper shiny fighters, so presumably now we’re going to have to invest in a lot more of the refuelling planes, too) the new fighter jet has a maximum range of 2,200 kms, out and back.
Which logically means that the residents of Queensland should probably leave off looking for mud crabs and start building air-raid shelters, as they won’t reach anywhere else. Big place, Australia.
Meanwhile, the Abbott Government is saying it is so worried about Australia’s budget position that they are flagging we will have to pay an extra $6 to visit the GP, on top of the money we already contribute to Medicare via our taxes, and we will eventually be allowed to retire and claim our pension (which we have paid into all our lives) when we are about 82 or some such nonsense.
Forgive me for being naive, but I am reasonably sure that I remember that what we spend our public money on used to be a choice? In which case, I vote for fewer toys for the boys, a health system free at the point of use, and to be allowed to retire when I was originally promised I could.
To be more serious for a moment. The only time these planes would ever be used in anger would be if America or perhaps the EU asked us to join them in some military adventure in some far-flung region, and offered us base space over there so we could help out. Just as we did in Afghanistan, flying from a base in Kyrgyzstan.
But does the Australian public have much of an appetite for such efforts, still? After the pain endured in Afghanistan and the wanton idiocies of Iraq, (and we are still waiting to see Messrs Howard, Bush and Blair arraigned as war criminals), we doubt it. And that’s really what should be being debated over this purchase. Just where, exactly, Dear Prime Minister, do you intend to be using these aircraft, and why?
Lockheed Martin and the American government will no doubt consider this a wonderful decision, but we consider this an egregious and excessive use of our tax dollars that concretes us in even more tightly in lockstep with America at exactly the time that our growing engagement with Asia, and especially China, suggests that a slightly more neutral posture would be a wise and measured stance.
Do you agree?