After over four years of deliberation, Australia has decided to begin buying U.S. F-35 fighter-bombers. The first 14 have been ordered, at a cost of over $100 million each (the price includes a lot of training and maintenance infrastructure). Eventually, Australia plans to buy about a hundred F-35s, to support a force of three, 24 aircraft each, squadrons.
The plan is to replace the existing force of F-111 bombers with F-35s, and then the aging F-18s. But two years ago, it was realized that it would take too long for the F-35s to arrive, and an interim aircraft would be needed. The worn out, 1960s era F-111s, will have to be retired by 2010. The F-35s will not arrive until 2018. Meanwhile, Indonesia is buying Russian Su-30 fighters. In response, Australia bought 24 American F-18F fighters, for about $100 million each (including spare parts, training and such). Australia already operates 72 of the older, and smaller, F-18B (which will be retired in another ten years). While the two versions of the F-18 have a lot in common (about 25 percent commonality in parts), the F-18F is basically a new, and larger, design that is based on the original F-18. The F-18F deliveries begin next year, and provide Australia with a high performance fighter-bomber that could cope with the Su-30. The F-18Fs will last into the 2020s.