Monday, March 1, 2010

Australia's choice of fighter planes

I started my professional life in France, in 1965, as a technical writer concerned with the Cyrano radar system of Thomson-CSF for fighter aircraft. Later on, I worked in audiovisual production with my friend François de Rivals, former Dassault test pilot.

Last Thursday, February 25, 2010, a surprising article appeared in The Australian, signed by Cameron Stewart: Scientists warned defence department against Joint Strike Fighter [display]. The gist of this fascinating scoop is that a study carried out ten years ago by the internal group known as the DSTO [Defence Science and Technology Organisation] warned the federal government of the risks that would be incurred through a choice of the US aircraft known as the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter]. In spite of these warnings, the government of John Howard signed an order in 2002 to purchase a hundred JSFs for $16 billion: the biggest Australian defense purchase in history.

Today, I would not be particularly dismayed, retrospectively, by this secretive Aussie style of doing defense business were it not for the fact that the DSTO study contains scathing criticism of the other available options if Australia were to reject the JSF choice. These options included, in particular, the US F-15E and the French Rafale. According to the article in The Australian, the study concluded that the French aircraft had weaknesses described as follows:

"France's Rafale had an unreliable and weak engine."

"Rafale has short-term shortfalls in engine and radar performance."

Insofar as the virtual JSF product, at that time, existed only on paper, it can be said retrospectively that Australia plunged blindly into the US program, inspired primarily by Howard's attachments to his time-honored protector. Today, it's too late to change things, but the publication of last week's revelations in Australia demands an informal French reaction concerning the unjust criticism of the illustrious Rafale fighter, which is a proven masterpiece produced by Dassault Aviation.

Last December, during a giant international encounter organized by the United Arab Emirates, the Dassault Rafale, in spite of its "unreliable and weak engine" and its "shortfalls in engine and radar performance", proved itself a superior killer. Today, the only aircraft that is in fact technologically superior to the Dassault Rafale is the American F-22. But it costs three times the price of a Rafale, and it's not a polyvalent aircraft capable of air/ground and air/sea actions.

Meanwhile, the American JSF project seems to be moving head-first into a brick wall of technical and financial problems... whose consequences will be felt inevitably, sooner or later, by Australia.

Believe me (or rather, believe Dassault and the facts):
There's nothing wrong with the Rafale!


  1. cle:

  2. Thanks for that link, Paul, to a most complete and informative analysis. It should be clear to everybody by now, I think, that the Dassault Rafale is a powerful beast with optimal performance characteristics. So, it's a terrible pity that my native land should be stuck with its dull and costly JSF contract.

  3. My British friend Paul is a top-level specialist, residing in France, in the domain of Fulvia automobiles. Click here to visit his blog entitled Fulvias in France. Click here to display the analysis, mentioned by Paul, of the Dassault Rafale fighter.

  4. Thanks William for the kind words! Somehow my comment seems largely to have vanished. I just wrote that I agreed with you about the Dassault Rafale. Sadly for Dassault, they seem to be having a bit of an uphill job selling the aircraft internationally.

    I imagine that the increasingly costly F-35 will probably be a very good aircraft, but maybe a ceiling is being reached. And I found it fascinating that the USA refused to sell the wonderful and super-expensive F-22 at all!

  5. You might find some interest at this site, Bill:
    The first and second videos at the right of the page are of Sunday's F/A-18 display and of other happenings on the day. I thought the Hornet display was scary enough, but not nearly as much as the little bloke who intrudes on the soundtrack. He wasn't at all keen to hang around. Seeing the Mustang and Grumman Avenger in flight, noisy slow-coaches, took me back to watching newsreels in 1950 of 77 Squadron in action in Korea. The Catalina took me back to the 1950s too, when PG Taylor landed on the Clarence before his proving flight to South America. I still have my Box Brownie pictures taken at the end of Prince Street. Sunday was also the first time I'd seen the Super Constellation up close since joining Qantas in 1964, when the last Qantas one was still parked against the fence at Mascot.
    With the Super Hornet just about to enter RAAF service to fill the gap between F-111 retirement and F-35 arrival, this link might interest too:

  6. Everybody surely realizes, I think, that the RAAF Hornets seen at the recent Wings over Illawarra air show are charming museum specimens that wouldn't survive for long in modern real-world aerial combats. Australia must face the facts. Our air force, today, is antiquated. And Howard's decision to order American JSF aircraft was certainly disastrous. That's what I was trying to say in my article aimed at rebutting unfounded criticism of the splendid French Rafale... which Australia would have done well to choose.