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Sunday, 05 November

09:53

Australias ambition to become global arms dealer "IndyWatch Feed Sydney"

My major investigation in the Melbourne Age/Sydney Morning Herald on Australias surging defence industry:

This years Avalon Air Show in Geelong was the first chance for the public to see the long-delayed Joint Strike Fighter in action. At a cost of at least $100 million per aircraft, Canberra is slated to spend $17 billion on 72 F-35s in the coming years.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the worlds biggest defence contractor, has faced countless problems with the plane including cost blowouts (spending more than $US1 trillion and counting), a Pentagon report in January finding 276 deficiencies (with 20 new issues discovered per month) and consistent troubles with overheating and cybersecurity. An Australian contractor on the aircraft was recently hacked, with sensitive material stolen.

None of this dampened the mood at Avalon. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, along with Defence Minister Marise Payne, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne and Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson, praised the plane and Australias growing defence sector.

It is an example of how our defence industry plan is not simply securing our Air Force and our Army and our Navy with the capabilities they need to keep us safe in the 21st century, Turnbull said. It is driving the advanced manufacturing, the jobs, the advanced technology that Australians need to make sure our children and grandchildren have the opportunities in the years ahead.

Billed as Australias premiere showcase of defence, civilian and aerospace equipment, sponsored by the worlds major defence companies such as BAE Systems, Raytheon, Thales, L3, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, along with Australias Department of Defence and the Victorian Labor government, this year was the largest in Avalons history, with over 210,000 people in attendance.

But away from Avalons glitzy surface, and its promotion of a family-friendly event to watch the worlds most sophisticated aircraft, is a darker reality. Australias defence sector has hugely expanded in  recent years with barely any public discussion, let alone debate in federal parliament.

Its a nearly impossible task to discover exactly what Australia is selling and to whom be...

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