Apr 13, 2014

Australia Likely To Order More F-35s

Australia is likely to commit to buying 58 more Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightnings this month, setting aside the alternative of consolidating its combat aircraft squadrons on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The decision will increase the country's total commitment to 72 F-35s and expand the Royal Australian Air Force's fast-jet fleet, counting a separate order for 12 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft as additional to, not part of, the fighter force renewal.
The defense department has recommended the F-35 order. The government shows every sign of accepting the recommendation. Australia had issued an original requirement for about 100 F-35.
The Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) originally simple and logistically attractive plan to buy about 100 F-35s to replace a similar number of F-111s and F/A-18A/B Hornets was thwarted by delays to the F-35 program, unexpectedly early retirement of F-111 strike bombers in 2010 and a decision last year to buy Growlers. With 24 Super Hornets having replaced the F-111s and no longer considered stopgaps, the issue now is how to replace the 71 surviving Hornets, which will run out of airframe life around 2020.
The official answer has always been the F-35, but the introduction of Super Hornets into service has presented a clear alternative: Australia has had the choice of buying more of the Boeing fighters and waiting for F-35 to look dependable, or giving up on the stealth fighter and going for a homogenous Super Hornet fleet.
Canberra has already ordered two F-35s and committed itself to another 12.
If the government does buy 58 F-35s, then the RAAF will have a fast-jet force of 72 Lightnings, 24 Super Hornets and 12 Growlers, not counting BAE Systems Hawk fighter trainers. The total of 108 is about 10% higher than the 1980s levels that previous policy has consistently sought to maintain. Unlike other Western countries, Australia has not felt more secure since the end of the Cold War, and in general has not cut its forces. It has added important capabilities such as airborne early warning, in-flight refueling and over-the-horizon radar. Fast population growth and 23 years of unbroken economic expansion have helped, although defense spending has lately been a historically small fraction of GDP.

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