F-35s waiting in the wings
THE jets set to replace the recently arrived Super Hornets at RAAF Base Amberley are on schedule to arrive in Australia and reach operational capability in 2018.
While 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets will be operational at Amberley by the end of the year, the jets have always been a stop-gap for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program.
Under the JSF program, Lockheed Martin is producing three variations of its F-35 jets for countries such as the US, UK and Australia, which have all pooled funding.
The program was recently restructured by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which will see the F-35 variation Australia is purchasing one of the first built.
Australia’s Acting Minister for Defence Jason Clare said the F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing variant was on schedule and proceeding satisfactorily.
“It is less expensive and less complex than the other variants,” he said.
“The restructure announced by Secretary Gates means it is now at the front of the production queue.”
Defence has advised the restructure of the US JSF Program will reduce overall program risk to Australia and should not affect Australia’s planned introduction date.
The Federal Government approved the acquisition of the first 14 aircraft in November 2009, with the first two aircraft expected to be delivered in 2014. Australia’s first 10 aircraft will initially remain in the United States for pilot and maintainer training.
The remaining four aircraft are scheduled to arrive in Australia in 2017 for operational testing and evaluation activities, with an estimated operational capability in Australia from 2018.
Despite fears project costs will blow out, Mr Clare said Defence had adequate buffers in place to withstand any changes to the cost and schedule.
“Australia has always adopted a conservative approach to JSF cost estimates and has explicitly included contingency funds and buffers to the schedule,” Mr Clare said.
“While there is no need to change our cost and schedule estimates, Defence will continue to assess options to ensure that cost and schedule buffers remain adequate.”