Former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon has slammed the defence force chiefs he once worked with as ''obsessed'' with the troubled Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and accused them of running ''interference'' to protect it.
According to Mr Fitzgibbon, the defence ''generals'' have had a ''disproportionate'' influence on the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments' decisions to press ahead with the JSF.
His comments to Fairfax Media's Breaking Politics follow an ABC Four Corners program in which the new head of the Joint Strike Fighter program in the US conceded the highly expensive jet had been put into production before proper testing and major problems had resulted.
Australia has been committed to the multinational JSF program since 2002, with plans to buy up to 100 of the fighter jets. The program is now at least five years late and the original cost estimate per jet - $40 million - has more than trebled.
Labor's first defence minister after the Howard government lost office, Mr Fitzgibbon's assessment now of the project he oversaw for 18 months, is cautious, verging on pessimistic.
''It might still be all right in the end,'' he says.
He talks of ''the disproportionate influence of those in uniform, both on the former government and the current government'' and says they ''were in love with this project''.
So much so, according to Mr Fitzgibbon, they set out to thwart their minister when he looked for alternatives.
''When I was trying to put some strategic competition into the debate by inquiring about access to the F22 Raptor, and aircraft like the Eurofighter, I was . . . pilloried by those in uniform. Interference was run,'' he said.
''The generals if you like to use the vernacular, or though in this case it might be more apt to say the air marshals, were obsessed with the project and were disproportionately influential.''