The New $24 Billion Fighter Jets Are Garbage. Let’s Build A Fleet Of Skywhales Instead.

An open letter to new Defence Minister Kevin Andrews.

To the Office of Defence Minister Kevin Andrews

PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Minister,

Firstly, congratulations on your new role as Minister of Defence. While it’s a bit odd you took the job given you admittedly have “no interest” in defence issues, chances are you’ll do better than the last guy so long as you don’t sledge the people who build our submarines or spend heaps on fancy food.

That said, you’ve got a bit of a crisis on your hands — we’re spending heaps of money on some garbage planes, and Australia’s defence needs might not be adequately met for the next couple decades. In the interests of The Nation, and because it would be really funny, we’ve come up with a radical solution that could solve Australia’s air woes once and for all: Skywhales.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: The Dugong Of The Sky

As you’re no doubt aware by now, one of the biggest issues on your plate is the $24 billion the government’s committed to buying and maintaining a fleet of 58 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets from the United States. That is hella cash, Minister, and I applaud your resisting the very human temptation to shoot a rap video on an aircraft carrier entitled ‘Big Money (feat. Pitbull)’.

Unfortunately, not all of the problems with the F-35 can be solved with a bangin’ club hit — that plane we’re looking to buy is precious, unreliable, temperamental and generally infuriating, like an Eastern Suburbs soccer mum sending her brunch eggs Hollandaise back, and will most likely be a colossal waste of money. We ran a feature on what a dog the F-35 is back in April, but since then so many new problems with the plane have surfaced that the list is now out of date. Besides not being able to fly in storms, not being suited to Australian combat conditions and parts of the plane falling off mid-flight, the F-35 can’t take fuel that gets above a certain temperature, meaning that the US Air Force is having to spend $4,000 a pop re-painting all of its fuel trucks to something that absorbs less heat than the standard green.

That’s not all. Back in July Business Insider called the F-35 “a historic disaster” after one of the planes caught fire, forcing a planned demonstration at England’s Farnborough Air Show to be cancelled. Experts at the Air Force-affiliated RAND Operations Simulations Facility in California ran the F-35 through a simulation in 2008 and concluded it “can’t climb, can’t turn, can’t run”, all of which are fairly important things for a fighter jet to do. Most recently, a newly-discovered computer glitch means that the F-35 probably won’t be able to take off until 2019 because said glitch means the plane’s main gun won’t be able to fire, making the F-35 less of a “fighter jet” and more of a “very expensive Jetstar plane”.

All these teething problems mean the plane’s budget has ballooned, both for construction and maintenance. The US is projected to spend a cool US$1 trillion — that’s “trillion” as in “one thousand billion” — maintaining the F-35 over its lifetime, which translates to $12 billion in maintenance fees for the 58 we’re penciled in to buy, taking our total spend for these dugongs of the sky to around $24 billion.

In a nutshell? Plane’s fucked, Sir. Soz.

A Modest Proposal: Replace The Dugong With A Whale

Admittedly, it’s a pretty grim picture so far. We’ve basically staked our air defence for the medium-term future on these things, and as John Marsden’s Tomorrow series taught us, we’re one idle camping weekend away from being invaded by a vast, powerful, vaguely Asian nation. No one wants that.

But! In the midst of crisis comes opportunity, a situation the Chinese famously refer to as “crisitunity”. What if we already had a large airborne vessel designed and operated in Australia, by Australians? What if we tweaked the design of said vessel for military purposes, began manufacturing them on an industrial scale, and deployed them to defend Australia’s skies against all comers?

Behold, Minister: the answer to your woes, and Australia’s future.



Canberra’s Skywhale is a controversial and oft-maligned creature, derided for being a “waste” of taxpayer money and also for having lots of whale boobs. But if we can harness the Skywhale’s potential as a weapon of war, Australian air supremacy will be established for the foreseeable future at a fraction of the cost of buying a tranche of F-35s.

Let’s talk money. According to The Age, the Skywhale project cost $340,000, but minus educational tools for schools and promotional material, the nuts and bolts of the Whale itself — commission, design, construction, shipping — only cost $170,000. Remember that number, $170,000: we’ll be coming back to it later.

The Skywhale used more than 3,500 metres of fabric and took around 1,800 man-hours to build. It was also constructed offshore, by Bristol’s Cameron Balloons, presenting the Department with a unique job-creation opportunity; if we invested a few million dollars in setting up our own Skywhale hot-air balloon factories, we could simultaneously remove Australia’s dependence on foreign armaments, revitalise the flagging manufacturing industry and create thousands of new Australian jobs devoted to building a fleet of many-breasted death machines.

Weaponising the beast to maximise its military effectiveness also presents Defence with a range of options; clearly the War Skywhale would be much slower and Earth-bound than “mainstream”, “modern” air weapons like fighter jets, but this could be used to our advantage. Perhaps it could shoot some kind of deadly acid from its teats, or plow gracefully into strategic targets and explode on impact like the Hindenburg with a face. That side of things is best left up to you and the ADF, but if we could suggest strapping an angry dog to the front? Like, a really angry dog? Just a fucking furious dog. Dogs are very scary when they’re mad.

While there would be significant set-up costs associated with such a venture — construction of factories and roadways, employee recruitment and training, military testing and studies — these would likely fall well within the current $24 billion budget set aside for the F-35, and provide economic and social benefits besides. Skywhale designer Patricia Piccinini is Australian and presumably a patriot, so we could commandeer her design on the grounds of national interest without paying her anything, and she’s an artist anyway. they’re used to not getting paid under this government. It’s a win-win! Sort of.

Final Calculations, And Our Manifest Destiny

Let’s assume the worst and say set-up costs blow out, reaching $10 billion to build the factories and train the people and do the tests. Let’s also set aside $2 billion for ongoing maintenance and troubleshooting, leaving us with $12 billion for construction; the same pricetag as the 58 Joint Strike Fighters. Finally, let’s assume that weaponising each Skywhale would cancel out the cost-per-unit savings building them on an industrial scale would bring, and estimate the cost of each one at the same price as the one-off prototype: $170,000.

That makes it a simple question of arithmetic; $12 billion divided by 170,000 will tell us how many weaponised Skywhales we can build, float and deploy in Australia’s defence.

The answer? Seventy thousand, five hundred and eighty-eight.

Imagine it, Kevin. A fleet of Skywhales. A Skywhale army, silently standing guard over our vast horizons, our jewel sea! Our white-clad children singing patriotically on the beach!


With that many Skywhales, we could do more than defend our home soil from foreign threats. The Australian mainland only has 35,876 kilometres of coastline; that’s roughly one Skywhale every 508 metres, gazing out to sea with their watchful, unblinking eyes. Imagine a Jihad bludger getting within coo-ee of Aussie shores and copping an eyeful of that! He’d piss off back to wherever he came from, no worries.

If we wanted to get a bit more ambitious, we could scale it back to one Skywhale per kilometre and use them for foreign intervention; massive airborne invasions; floating conqueror cities! The sky’s the limit, literally. We could rule the Earth.

Embrace your destiny, Kevin Andrews. Become the Minister for Skywhales, and history will remember you as a God.

Yours sincerely,

Every Decent Hard-Working Right-Thinking Australian.

PS – I am sorry I said you look like Richard Nixon that one time, that was mean of me.

Feature image of Parliament House originally by Eduardo M.C. Used and adapted on a Flickr Creative Commons licence.