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Archive for October 2006

F-22A Raptor: the f*** off factor

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Every now and again an issue bubbles along just under the radar of public debate. Sometimes it pops its head up for air, generating the occasional MSM opinion piece, but most of the time argument is confined to aficionados battling it out in the trade press.

Such an issue is the debate over the future shape, acquisitions and direction of Australia’s Air Force. Most Catallaxy readers would know that in 2002 Defence committed the RAAF to the F-35, better known as the Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF, recently named the Lightning II. Most readers would probably also know that the JSF is still in development, and that the closest any Australian has come to flying it is taking the JSF simulator for a spin in March last year. Defence Force Chief, Air Marshall Angus Houston, has penned paeans to the JSF, to the point where he’s staked his reputation on it. The JSF will be stealthy, the JSF will have capabilities far beyond any comparable aircraft. Most of all, the JSF will be a suitable replacement for the F-111, affectionately known in Air Force circles as ‘the Pig’.

What many readers won’t know is that a fierce argument over the JSF’s suitability for Australia’s long-term air power needs has been boiling away in the pages of the Australian Financial Review, Defence Today, and previously Australian Aviation and Heads Up Magazines. Defence has its keen supporters, but a growing chorus of critics – many of them distinguished strategists, test pilots and retired Air Force personnel – argue that Defence has made a dud choice, and that the time to back out is now, before Australia’s commitment to the JSF becomes irrevocable.

Strategist Dr Carlo Kopp, former flight test engineer Peter Goon, retired Air Cdre E J Bushell AM, retired test pilots Group Captains R G Green and M J Cottee, and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute are among Defence’s critics. They point out that the JSF is a short range aircraft, and in certain respects is actually more limited than the ‘Pig’, one of the two aircraft it is purporting to replace. Dr Dennis Jensen, a physicist and former analyist with DSTO who is now a coalition MP isn’t buying Defence’s line either.

[It’s] a good aircraft but not the right one for our region. Our geography means we need long-range capability and [the F-35] doesn’t give it to us.

Jensen and Kopp also point out that since 1991, China has engaged in the largest sustained arms buying spree since the Soviet surge of the late 1970s and 1980s, buying out what amounts to the crown jewels of the Russian technology base. At the top of China’s focus has been the aim to build up a fleet of long range air superiority fighters second only to the US Air Force fleet of F-15C/E. India has gone down a similar path, and in the 2001 Cope India exercise flown between the latest US Air Force F-15C variant and Indian Su-30s, the Indians, as predicted, matched or outperformed the American F-15Cs. The F-15 is larger, more powerful and more agile than the F/A-18 or the JSF.

For many years, the F-111 provided what Kopp and Goon refer to rather inelegantly as the ‘f*** off factor’. It could fly further, faster and with a bigger payload. It was almost infinitely upgradeable. Kopp and Goon also argue that the F-111 need not be written off so hastily, and have come up with a range of detailed, cost effective ways to keep it in the air.

Their core recommendation, however, is for Australia to purchase the F-111’s successor, the F-22A Raptor. As much as he doesn’t like to give ground, even then Air Marshal Houston conceded that the F-22

Will be the most outstanding fighter aircraft ever built … Every fighter pilot in the Air Force would dearly love to fly it.


The F-22A in action

This amazing plane has supersonic cruise, allowing it to fly at up to 50,000 feet at prolonged and extraordinary speed, placing it out of reach of surface-to-air missiles, untouchable in air-to-air combat and able to release satellite-guided “smart” bombs and missiles at undetectable range. Its stealth – ability to evade radar detection – is unparalleled and will not be matched by the JSF. To top it off, the F-22 is already in service. As more are built its unit cost is coming down, while the JSF is facing a budget blowout and Congressional criticism for its radical design, deemed ‘dangerously unproven’.

The debate has inspired a parliamentary inquiry – the Inquiry into Australian Defence Force Regional Air Superiority, in which defence critics were prominent. Kopp and Goon have founded the Air Power Australia think tank, a central locus for detailed air warfare research material. MP Dennis Jensen has been working to catch Dr Nelson’s ear since his tenure as Defence Minister commenced. Kopp – an engineer, computer scientist and Monash Asia Institute Fellow as well as a former stunt pilot – seems to write much of the Australian Financial Review’s Defence Specials these days.

The issue is a large one. John Howard has positioned Australia regionally as a somewhat bellicose player, but our capability in the crucial area of air power is slipping. Even libertarians concede that defence is one thing the state has to get right.

What gives?

UPDATE: Air Vice Marshal Peter Criss, ret has added his thoughts on this topic in the latest Defence Industry Daily.

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October 31, 2006 at 7:02 pm

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Alice Garner on the student life

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Alice Garner, The Student Chronicles, The Miegunyah Press, MUP, 2006.

The popular perception of the universities is likely to range from an unrealistic vision of ivy clad colleges and oak-lined studies to an extension of school with more spare time to spend in the playground, or a grinding apprenticeship for a well paid professional career. Preparation for a lifelong learning and serious scholarship would not rank high but it is a credit to Alice Garner that this aspect of the experience does feature in her account.

One of the least discussed topics, even among highly educated people and intellectuals (by no means the same people) is the ecology of higher learning and scholarship. The design and maintenance of ‘the house of intellect’ in the language of Jacques Barzun. Throughout the explosive growth of the university system and the traumatic reform process that followed, major decisions were made without any clear understanding on the part of the decision-makers of the life of the mind that the universities are supposed to sustain. Among the reasons for this are the neglect of Barzun’s report on the outcome of the American experiment with mass higher learning (The American University, 1968) which anticipated the Australian experience by a couple of decades, and the dearth of reflective writing on student life.

Alice Garner has made a small contribution to the genre, small enough to be capsulated in an essay so the resources devoted to this book could have resulted in a collection to provide a wider cross-section of university experiences. She has done her best to justify the effort.

I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to read the story of a conscientious Arts student from the infamously ‘apathetic’ 1980s and 90s [but, once started] I began to think that there might be something to tell after all – if only to give the perspective of a ‘serious’ student from those unrebellious years, a story not often heard.

The best part of the book is Garner’s account of her studies, the philosophy essays that never seemed to get past definitions, the overwhelming majority of students struck dumb in tutorials, the discovery of hidden treasures in the library stacks, the deliberate progress through the whole of Plato’s Republic, the thrill of handling original research materials in a foreign land. Some of the tutorials worked, like one in Fine Arts with the right mix of people who were prepared to argue and laugh at the same time, and to continue the discussion at the pub. This is a helpful addition to the limited literature on university life that tends to focus on extra-curricular activities. Being a serious student made her quite atypical, as she was in some other ways – she was two years older than her colleagues, had a steady boyfriend throughout the whole time, both parents and a grandparent were graduates, and parental support was provided to eliminate the need to work during term time.

There is a small chapter on the ‘tight little worlds’ of the residential colleges and this prompts some reflections on the general failure of the colleges to deliver their potential contribution to the life of the campus, given their proximity to the scene while the vast majority of students are nine to five students at best. A Current Affairs Bulletin (March 1967) carried a perceptive survey of student life including the comment that the colleges recruited conservative young people and then diverted their energies into the life of the college (though not intellectual life) instead of contributing to the student community at large. Hytten Hall, the short-lived secular college in Hobart, was apparently unusual in this respect. By a mixture of good luck and good leadership (and an excellent library) during the undergraduate years that I spent in residence, it provided something very close to the experience of a community of scholars, while some of our number made significant contributions to the sporting and cultural life of the university. That situation provided a window of opportunity which did not seem to be available to very many of Garner’s contemporaries.

For her the crucial window was the chance to pursue archival research in a French village. This was probably the break that converted a keen student into a dedicated, focused and confident researcher, still haunting the university many years late ‘as a perpetual student’. But there is no need to be apologetic about that, so what is the primary function of the campus?

Unfortunately too much of this slim and handsomely produced volume is devoted to matters that have limited general interest or special relevance to the student life. Most of it could have been written by a schoolteacher or a bank clerk. A good essay has been turned into a small and expensive hard covered book.

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October 31, 2006 at 9:45 am

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The Stern Report and its policy implications

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No time to make detailed comments on this today but former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern has just released his report on climate change for the UK government. His 700 page economic analysis warns that:

  • As early as 2035 global temperatures could rise by two degrees as the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reaches double pre-industrial levels.
  • Unabated climate change would cost the world between 5 per cent and 20 per cent of global gross domestic product each year.
  • He also rejects the claim that doing something to cut greenhouse gas emissions would be costly. The report argues that the cost of curbing emissions could be kept down to around 1 per cent of global GDP every year while it would open up new business opportunities, by increasing demand for new products and financial services worth hundreds of billions a year.

    In conclusion the report supports implementation of the the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, carbon emissions trading, greater co-operation between countries on low carbon technologies, and immediate action to reduce deforestation.

    John Quiggin’s short overview is here. The full report is available here.

    For further discussion – reader JC points me to a piece from a few days ago at Reason magazine by Ron Bailey. Bailey argues that Kyoto is doomed anyway and that if we must do something about reducing emissions a carbon tax is preferable because:

    First, the tax offers stability; governments, industries and consumers all see what the price of carbon based fuels will be. Second, it can be far more transparently administered across the globe. If a country fails to charge the agreed upon tax, other countries can boost their tariffs on exports from that country as a way to encourage it to join the global climate tax regime. Third, the tax can be adjusted over time to meet agreed upon global goals such as ultimate level to which to greenhouse gases should be allowed to accumulate in the atmosphere. And fourth, poor countries could be made exempt from the tax until the average incomes of their citizens reach some agreed upon level.

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    October 31, 2006 at 8:04 am

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    Admin note

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    There have so far been two cases of readers who have registered to comment and didn’t receive an email with their password (therefore preventing them from commenting) though most seem to have made the transition to this new site without any hassles.

    If you run into any such technical problems email me at catallaxy AT yahoo dot com. If you’re already in the system I can just assign you a new password and email that to you.

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    October 30, 2006 at 10:26 pm

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    Kevin Rudd to enter the lion's den

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    Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Kevin Rudd will be speaking at the sixth Policymakers Forum organised by that lion’s den of ‘market fundamentalism’, the Centre for Independent Studies on Thursday 16 November. His topic will be ‘Australian Foreign Policy Challenges in the 21st Century’ and among other things he will discuss the differences between realists and neo-conservatives in foreign policy.

    The event will be chaired by CIS Senior Fellow Owen Harries. It’s at 5.30 for a 6pm start at Deutsche Bank Place, Level 16, Corner Phillip and Hunter Streets Sydney. Registration is $15 general/$10 CIS members. Register by phone at 9438 4377 or register online via the CIS website.

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    October 30, 2006 at 8:55 pm

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    Bazza Mackenzie meets the old philosopher

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    Checking the Rathouse statistics shows that there is a strange spike of readership for an old piece from the Uni of Sydney newspaper Honi Soit.

    It is an account of the little-known meeting of Bazza Mackenzie and Karl Popper circa 1971. It is very “student newspaper” and very “1970s” so the notion of shooting through to Earle’s Court to pick up a decent Aussi sheila might be out of date. Still, for the young of heart, it might hold nostalgic memories of days gone by, hopefully misspent.

    Reporter: Here we are Sir Karl. Mr McKenzie had a rather rough trip and he might not be on his best form today.

    Bazza: Had a technicolour yawn on the way over but now I’ve got a thirst you could flamin’ photograph.

    Reporter: Mr McKenzie, a word in your ear. What if you just drink and don’t bother about talking at lunch?

    Bazza: Chug-a-lug, I’ll be in that mate. Don’t know why you guys bother with all that stuff anyway.

    Reporter: As Lord Halifax used to say, the struggle for knowledge has a pleasure in it like that of wrestling with a fine woman.

    Bazza: Give me a jam tart any day. Can’t wait to get down to Earl’s Court to see if there’s any decent sheilas around.

    The Bazza Mackenzie piece appears with some more serious material on Barry Humphries, including some extracts from Peter Coleman’s biography and a review of his autobiography by George Melly, jazz singer, Humanist and cultural commentator. Also a piece sending up the politically correct cultural establishment and film-makers.

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    October 30, 2006 at 3:17 pm

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    Uniting the non-left

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    Rudd’s critique of Hayek has touched on some areas where the non-left has been somewhat fragmented since the official end of the Cold War eliminated the major enemy that they all united to oppose. Greg Sheridan wrote a piece back in July 1986, actually before the Fall of the Wall, signalling the need to unite the disparate force of the non-left into a more coherent bundle. This prompted a response which was rejected by The Australian (where Greg’s piece appeared) and by Robert Manne, then editor of Quadrant. It was printed in 1990 in a student Liberal magazine.

    The main themes of the rejoinder were as follows:

    If these tensions reflect fundamental differences, then the groupings of the ‘non-left’ may fragment into warring factions. No doubt some differences arise from misunderstandings which can be resolved, and some simply reflect the different priorities and interests of individuals. Significant differences are likely to arise in two areas: a) the use of state power to enforce moral principles and b) the domain of economic policy. In each case the nub of the issue is the extent of state intervention that is appropriate.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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    October 30, 2006 at 2:09 pm

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