23 Maret 2012
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (photo : JSF)
Australia can still expect to pay an average $US70 million ($A67 million) for each Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, even as production of the next generation F-35s ramps up.
The head of the JSF program for US aerospace company Lockheed Martin, Tom Burbage, said production was now running at four aircraft per month.
"We believe over the purchase time of your 75 airplanes, that cost will average out somewhere around $US70 million ($A67 million)," he told reporters in Canberra.
"The early ones will be more, the later ones will be less.
"It is dependent on an assumption that we are going to go up in the production rate."
Australia is now committed to buying 14 of the advanced Lockheed Martin F-35 JSFs, with two arriving in 2014 and another 12 scheduled for delivery between 2015 and 2017.
Defence is likely to make a decision on the next tranche next year.
But over time, Australia is set to buy as many as 100 of the advanced jet fighters to form the core of the nation's air combat capability out to the middle of the century.
Production of the first parts for the first Australian aircraft starts soon.
Australia's first JSF aircraft will be produced in what's termed low rate initial production (LRIP) lots, with aircraft contracted at a fixed price.
Mr Burbage, who is in Australia for talks with the government, defence officials and local companies making JSF parts, also responded to criticism of the program which will also supply the aircraft to the US, UK, Canada and their allies.
There are concerns the program is costing too much, running late and the resulting aircraft will be outmatched by modern Russian and Chinese aircraft.
Mr Burbage said so far, 16 top tier air forces had fully assessed JSF and they were all still backing it.
"So I would put my stock in their evaluations and their take on what the airplane is going to be capable of doing," he said.
Mr Burbage said those views counted for more than those from a series of pundits who lacked access to all the JSF information and refused to accept that it would be highly capable.
"I often wonder to myself how much faster could we go and how much easier would this program be if we weren't constantly in a defensive crouch, trying to hold off these allegations," he said.
Mr Burbage said had Lockheed spent time trying to understand the capabilities of the aircraft most often tipped as fifth generation opponents to the JSF - the Russian PAK-FA and the Chinese J-20.
"We don't fully understand them yet," he said.
"That they are going to that type of airplane and that type of capability would indicate that what we are doing is pretty important."
The F35s will be used to replace Australia's existing Hornet and F-111 aircraft.