12 Mei 2011
F-35 Lightning II (photo : Lockheed Martin)
For the first time in an official, public document, the government has admitted the revolutionary Joint Strike Fighters intended to provide Australia's main air defence long into this century are likely to arrive later than planned and cost much more than expected.
A document released with Tuesday's budget describes a technical review of the US program to develop the multi-purpose stealth aircraft, which the RAAF intends will replace its retired F-111 long-range bombers and F/A-18 Hornet fighters. The review is expected to be completed mid-year.
Australia has ordered 14 JSFs, now officially designated the F-35 Lockheed Lightning II. The first of those aircraft was to be handed over to the RAAF in the US in 2014 so training of pilots and ground crew could begin there. It is hoped the first squadron of JSFs will be operational by 2018.
The Australian Defence Force, the Defence Department and successive governments have long said sufficient margins were built into the anticipated $16 billion cost of the project to cover any increases.
The budget document says the current approved costs of the aircraft and timing of their delivery are adequate, but it adds: "However, the diminishing buffers are of considerable concern and are being closely monitored."