13 Maret 2014

Tony Abbott to Approve Australia’s Biggest Ever Military Purchase of 86 F-35 Lightning II

13 Maret 2014

F-35 Lightning II (photo : F35)

THE Abbott Government is set to give the green light to the nation’s biggest ever military purchase allowing Defence to order up to 86 American made stealth fighter jets for the RAAF.

The planes will cost about $90 million each when they roll off the assembly line between 2018 and 2020 and the overall project will cost some $14 billion during the 30-year life of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

It is understood that a submission to buy will be presented to Cabinet’s National Security Committee for approval within weeks.

The head of the Pentagon’s largest ever defence project to buy 2400 of the “fifth generation’’ fighters has assured Australia that the controversial project was “back on track’’ and that Australian jets would be delivered on time and on cost.

US Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan told News Corp Australia in Sydney that apart from some “trust and credibility’’ issues with the prime contractor Lockheed Martin and engine maker Pratt and Whitney, the JSF program was hitting all of its milestones.

“The leadership of Lockheed Martin doing a much better job of listening to the customer, which is us,’’ he said.

The US will purchase 2443 of the fighters including 1763 conventional ‘A’ models for the air force, 360 ‘B’ or vertical landing versions for the US Marine Corps and 360 ‘C’ or carrier models for the US Navy.

The JSF was one of the few military programs to escape cuts under so-called US budget sequestration.

“I have not lost a single penny in terms of development, in terms of getting it done on time,’’ General Bogdan said.

The first two RAAF ‘A’ model jets are on the production line at Lockheed’s Fort Worth factory and the first aircraft are due to arrive at RAAF base Williamtown in 2018 with the first operational and training squadrons online during 2020.

The JSF will replace the fleet of ageing F/A-18 Hornet fighter planes and will give the RAAF a major edge over any regional force apart from those allies such as Singapore who will also buy the jet.

At the end of 2013 the JSF had flown 12,000 hours over 8000 flights and there were 59 operational planes and 20 test jets in the air.

“War fighters love flying it, technical challenges are being overcome and we are just starting to see the real capability of the aircraft,’’ he said.

At a Williams Foundation air power seminar in Canberra yesterday, RAAF fighter pilot Squadron Leader Matt Harper and US Marine Corps fighter pilot Lieutenant Colonel Chip Berke both sang the praises of the super computerised, fully networked stealth aircraft.

Squadron Leader Harper was the first Australian to fly the fifth generation F-22 Raptor and Lieutenant Colonel Berke is the only pilot to fly both the F-22 and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“Stealth makes you unstoppable and reduces an adversaries situational awareness to almost zero,’’ Squadron Leader Harper said.

“The jet provides an exponential increase in survivability, reduces mission risk and increases the probability of mission success.’’

Lieutenant Colonel Berke said the old mantra of “speed is life, more is better’’ had been replaced by “information is life, more is better’’.

“Information is far more valuable than speed,’’ he said.

“The F-35 has no peer in terms of information dominance and the sharing of that information.’’

Australian companies are signed up for more than $300 million worth of work on the JSF and there is potential for more than $2 billion over the life of the program.


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