Australia considers more F/A-18s if joint fighter delayed

Thu Dec 13, 2012 12:27am EST
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* Australia looks to 24 more Super Hornets

* Concern over Joint Strike Fighter delays

* Minister concerned about potential capability gap

By James Grubel

CANBERRA, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Australia will look at buying 24 more Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets in the event of any major new setbacks to the controversial Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter project, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said on Thursday.

That means Australia could buy fewer stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighters than originally planned and is another sign that development partners are growing frustrated by delays and cost overruns to the $396 billion programme, which is the costliest programme in Pentagon procurement history.

The announcement comes a day after Canada also said it would look to other options for its jet fighters due to mounting concerns over the development and cost of the F-35s. {ID:nL1E8NCEH7]

"Australia's air combat capability is a vital part of our national security framework. The government will not allow a gap in our air combat capability to occur," Smith said on Thursday.

Australia foreshadowed the decision in May, when it delayed orders for its first squadron of F-35s by two years to help with budget savings and to put Australia's F-35s on the same timetable as those for the United States.   Continued...