03 Mei 2012
Australia Delays Fighter Jet Project to Save Money
Australia will delay its purchase of 12 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by two years (photo : Lockheed Martin)
SYDNEY: Australia said Thursday its purchase of 12 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jets would be delayed by two years to save money in an aggressive drive to return the budget to surplus.
The move is a blow to defence contractor Lockheed Martin, which has struggled to keep costs under control, with each plane's price tag doubling in real terms over the past decade.
The government announces its budget next week and the delay on delivery will provide a Aus$1.6 billion (RM4.9 billion) boost to the bottom line.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said he spoke to his US counterpart Leon Panetta Thursday morning and assured him the decision would not affect the US-Australia alliance.
"That effectively mirrors the decision which Secretary of State Panetta made with respect to over 150 Joint Strike Fighters proposed to be ordered by the United States," Smith told reporters.
"We are now essentially on the same timetable for the delivery of our first batch of joint strike fighters as the United States is."
Australia is contractually obliged to purchase two JSF jets, which have already been delivered in the United States for testing and training.
Further cost savings will be made with the cancellation of a project to acquire self-propelled howitzers, Smith added.
But the government said it would push ahead with the acquisition of 12 advanced new submarines to replace the Navy's ageing Collins fleet.
It announced Aus$214 million in funding towards detailed design and analysis for the future project.
"This will be the largest Defence capability project the Commonwealth has embarked upon," said Smith. Reports said that overall the submarine project was expected to cost around Aus$40 billion.
In announcing the decisions, Prime Minister Julia Gillard guaranteed that overseas defence operations would not be impacted by spending cuts in the May 8 budget and there would be no reduction in military numbers.
"The budget will protect the men and women on the front line," she said.
Mining-powered Australia was the only advanced economy to weather the global downturn without entering recession, and returning the budget into the black is seen as another key test of the struggling government's economic management.