May 29, 2014
Australia could buy F-35B
The F-35B would be considered within the construct of the Defence White Paper, which is due in the second quarter of 2015.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has instructed planners working on the White Paper to examine the possibility of buying F-35Bs to operate from the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN's) two Canberra-class landing helicopter dock (LHD) amphibious ships.
The first of the two 27,800-tonne LHDs is currently undergoing delivery trials. The second will be commissioned in 2016.
The government announced on 23 April its decision to acquire a further 58 F-35As to take Australia's total commitment to 72. The first two will be delivered later this year, although they and subsequent deliveries will not arrive in Australia until late in 2018.
It is unclear whether any F-35B acquisition would be in addition to the 72 CTOL variants or be subtracted from that number.
Informed sources confirmed the prime minister's interest in the STOVL aircraft but pointed out that significant upgrades would be necessary to the LHDs to operate F-35Bs on anything more than a cross-decking basis with the US Marine Corps and other partner nations.
These upgrades would need to include heat-resistant deck coating for extended operations, additional fuel and weapons bunkerage, and enhancements to the command and control facilities, which are now focused on amphibious operations involving helicopters and water craft.