Double snifters all round at the Air Force Club this morning, as the gubbermint announced it would lay out large wads of the folding stuff on buying another 58 Joint Strike Fighters to add to the fourteen it's already parked in the garage. (And the 24 Super Hornets it picked up when the F-35 was looking a bit wobbly).
At $12b and change (probably blowing out to double that when cost overruns have their way) it's an expensive program, but it'll be cheap compared to replacing the Collins Class subs in a couple of years. That's still looking like a thirty to forty billion dollar payday for someone. (Perhaps the Japanese, in a nice historical irony).
The ABC, which kept calling them 'Joint Strike Force' fighters in a little cringe-making boo-boo this morning, had an interesting interview with analyst Michael O'Hanlon from The Brookings Institution who was straight up and down in his take:
"If you think more about your military needs being the Afghanistan-style operations, the troubled waters of the South China Sea, counter-piracy, peace operations, keeping some degree of regional calm with some turbulence in the ASEAN region but not necessarily China, then frankly it's a debatable proposition whether the F-35 is the best bang for your buck," he said.
"If you want to be in the high-end combat aircraft business, the F-35 is frankly about as good of a deal as you're ever going to find. But if you think that that kind of high-end threat is not realistically where you're headed with your military requirements, then it's more of a debateable proposition."
Of course, even 74 of the planes, assuming they turn out to be any good, would simply disappear into the maw any air war over the South China Sea. They'll be very useful for monstering middle powers in the region - the unspoken threat of the RAAF cratering every runway and port in Indonesia back in 1999 severly constrained Jakarta's response to the Timor Crisis - but in a confrontation with China they do nothing but add three squadrons to the US side of the ledger. And as O'Hanlon points out, they are massively expsenive and over-engineered for dealing with regional security threats short of war; the more common and likely secnarios.
Given the budget cuts being faced by every other department this purchase tells us a lot about Canberra's view of the next three decades. (Not just Abbott's. The ALP has pushed this program forward too, and under Rudd was even considering a much larger submarine force).
They are hedging against Beijing.