Government backbencher Dennis Jensen has condemned the Prime Minister’s $12.4 billion plan to buy 58 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets as a “great national scandal” and “worse than a disgrace”.
In an extraordinary broadside in Parliament on Monday night, Dr Jensen warned that Australia’s national security was being corrupted by an “industrial-military complex” interested in promoting the global arms trade.
Fairfax revealed on Monday that Australia was now the seventh-largest importer of large-scale military materiel in the world, and also the biggest customer of the world’s largest weapons producer, the United States. Australia buys 10 per cent of all American weapons exports.
Australian purchases of major arms – such as warships, fighter planes, and tanks – increased by 83 per cent from 2004-08 to 2009-13.
In April, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the government would buy an additional 58 F-35 Join Strike Fighter jets at a cost of $12.4 billion. It will cost another $12 billion to keep the fighters operational over their active lifetime. The 58 aircraft are an addition to the 14 F-35s Australia already had on order.
Mr Abbott described the F-35 as the most advanced fighter in production anywhere in the world. “The F-35 will provide a major boost to the Australian Defence Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” he said.
The F-35 will replace the Hornet F/A-18, set to be retired from 2022, and will fly alongside 24 Super Hornets and 12 Growler radar-jamming aircraft.
But Dr Jensen argued the F-35 was an inferior aircraft to those being developed by “potential threat nations”.
He said the F-35’s US manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, had misled countries seeking to buy the jets over their cost, capability and readiness. He cited a RAND Corporation assessment of the F-35 as a fighter that “can’t turn, can’t run, can’t climb”.
“The simple fact is, Lockheed Martin and the military-industrial complex may be selling the US, Australia, and allies a pup, but nations that may not be friendly to us are not buying the pitch.”
“It is time to end the madness,” Dr Jensen told Parliament. “It is time to scrap the JSF.”
Quoting former US President Dwight Eisenhower, Dr Jensen warned that the influence of arms manufacturers on governments would lead to the “disastrous rise of misplaced power”.
“Unfortunately, we see this unwarranted and dangerous influence of the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about, in evidence today.
“There are forces at work that let convenience, pride, and unwise loyalty override the safety of our nation and its allies.”
Australia’s increased spending on major weapons comes as countries throughout Asia boost military spending, and tensions over territorial and maritime disputes flare across the region.
India, Pakistan and China are the three largest buyers of military hardware in the world. They are also the only three countries actively increasing their nuclear arsenals.
Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore have all significantly increased military spending in recent years, particularly in response to disagreements with China over territory and sea rights in the South China Sea.
Defence Minister David Johnston declined to comment on Australia’s increased spending on military hardware.