22 November 2010

Smith Confident of Fighter Jets Delivery

22 November 2010

Hornet and F-35 JSF (photo : Xinhua)

Defence Minister Stephen Smith has expressed confidence in the new Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) ahead of a United States report expected to be highly critical of the project.

Mr Smith said Australia had committed to buying 14 aircraft - all of which are the conventional takeoff and landing variant which had experienced few problems.

In contrast, the other two variants, the aircraft carrier version and the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) versions have experienced considerable development problems and delays.

Mr Smith said the baseline review of JSF progress, commissioned by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and conducted by the US Defence Acquisition Board, was to be released on Monday (US time).

"We will, as appropriate, have access to that briefing and we will see what consequences, if any, flow," Mr Smith told reporters.

Media leaks in the US say the report predicts a further three-year delay in the program and a $US5 billion ($A5.07 billion) cost blowout.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning JSF is an advanced stealth multi-role combat aircraft that will be the mainstay of US and allied air forces to around mid-century.

Australia will acquire up to 100 aircraft, with the first due to enter service in 2018.

The $16 billion bill makes it Australia's most expensive ever equipment acquisition.

The JSF project has faced frequent criticism about the aircraft's costs, late delivery and doubts about it being as good as initially promised.

Mr Smith said Australia had very sensibly ensured there was plenty of scope for delays in the planned JSF delivery schedule.

"So we are confident that the 14 Joint Strike Fighters we have committed to take will be delivered on schedule," he said.

"Our schedule is to see those 14 produced effectively in 2014 in the US, for work and training to occur in the US for a period of time, and for those to be delivered here for the 2017-18 timetable."

Mr Smith said in the meantime Australian defence capability was maintained through the existing upgraded F/A-18 Hornets and the 24 new Super Hornets, now entering service.

(Sidney Morning Herald)

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