by Joe Vialls
On Monday 16 December, the Australian Government claimed to have “underestimated” defense spending in 2002 by nearly five hundred million dollars. This is a huge sum for a country like Australia, which has a miniscule defense budget suited to its tiny population of less than twenty million people.
Government ministers faced media cameras with poker faces, hinting strongly that as a result of the excessive spending, defense cuts would have to be made at the “sharp end”. What this means, for example, is that the fabled Special Air Service (SAS) might have to make do with inferior equipment while on operational duty in Afghanistan, or even in Iraq while hunting President Saddam Hussein, if ordered to do so by American President George W. Bush.
Of course the $500 million wasn’t really “missing” at all. Australian Ministers lie on television every day and 16 December was no different from any other. The politicians had known for more than a year that five hundred million dollars was to be spent on special equipment regarded as “Top Secret”, but all were desperate to ensure that ordinary Australians would be unable to identify the equipment itself, or indeed its purpose.
No matter how vital to national security the new special equipment might be, politicians knew there would be a public outcry when the SAS and other regiments later had their budgets deliberately slashed. Downgrading SAS and other army equipment to the point where individual survival on active service might become difficult or impossible, would produce an unwelcome Australian public backlash of unpredictable magnitude.
The $500 million was actually spent over a period of several months in 2002, during which six new highly specialized aircraft were delivered to a Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF] base located near Canberra, home of Australia's Federal Parliament. Later in this report we will tear away the veil of government secrecy completely, and examine this new “Top Secret” equipment in minute detail, because surface appearances can be very deceptive.
Delivery of the six aircraft was spaced out, with each arriving in Australia individually, normally under cover of darkness. Viewed from the outside, the mixed aircraft appeared to resemble two Boeing 737-800 long-range airliners, and four Bombardier Challenger 604 twinjets, but there the resemblance ended. Their actual purpose remained a mystery to members of the Australian public.
Security was so tight, that on one occasion Australian Prime Minister John Winston Howard [“President Winston” to his close friends], personally blocked eager media personnel who were trying to board the aircraft to take pictures. Puffing out his manly little chest, President Winston cited national security and had the photographers swiftly escorted out of the hangar. Obviously these aircraft were of huge importance to Australian national security, and so utterly secret that no ordinary Australian citizen would ever be allowed to look inside.
As you might expect, rumors started slowly circulating throughout the various Australian military units, with members of each unit predictably certain that the new aircraft were intended solely for “their” own use. Right at the top of this list were members of the SAS, who collectively comprise the “pointed tip” of the “sharp end” referred to by the politicians. Required to fly to “Muslim hot spots” instantly at the snap of George W. Bush’s evangelical finger in the ongoing Judeo-Christian Crusade against Islam, the Australian SAS traditionally boards a handful of truly ancient RAAF Boeing 707s for rapid transit to the Middle East.
To actually fly in one of these geriatric Boeings at all, is probably bravery above and beyond the call of duty, because one of their cousins suddenly dived into the Pacific Ocean a few years ago, killing its entire Australian crew. No one really found out why the 707 crashed because there wasn’t enough time for a Mayday call, but terminal metal fatigue seemed the most likely culprit. Ever since then, brave Australian troops obliged to fly in one of the creaking and groaning survivor 707s, invariably do so with white knuckles gripping the seats.
Bearing in mind the obvious dangers, it was no surprise when earlier this year members of the SAS became convinced that the new aircraft in Canberra were for their own exclusive use on special operations. This rumor had substance, because each of the latest Boeing 737-800s has a range of nearly 4,000 miles and can carry 173 soldiers, roughly the same number as the ancient Boeing 707s