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Defence Minister Stephen Smith has set a firm 2012 deadline on any decision to buy additional Boeing Super Hornet aircraft in the face of further delays in delivery of the new Joint Strike Fighter. Smith again vowed he would not allow any air combat capability gap to emerge between retirement of older F/A-18 Hornet aircraft and entry to service of the JSF.
Under current plans, Australia is looking to acquire up to 100 of the advanced Lockheed-Martin F-35 JSF at a cost around $16 billion. But so far Australia has committed to buy just 14, with the RAAF set to take delivery of the first two in the US for training in 2014-15.
The Defence Minister said the RAAF’s 71 classic Hornets were being upgraded and would remain in service until around 2020 when the JSF is expected to enter full service. Twenty of 24 new Super Hornets have now been delivered with the rest to arrive later this year. He then added that Australia prudently chose to buy the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) JSF variant rather than the more troubled carrier or short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variants.
Advice from the Defence Department indicated Australia could wait until 2013 to make a judgement about whether alternative arrangements were required to ensure there was no gap in capability, he said.
“I am not proposing to wait until the last minute. I am proposing to recommend to the government that we make that decision next year,” Smith said in answer to a question from independent MP Andrew Wilkie.
He said there was an obvious Plan B – more Super Hornets.