Procurement: The Royal Australian Air Force Evolves

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May 2, 2014: Australia has approved the purchase of another 58 F-35 fighters. This will give Australia 72 F-35s, enough to equip three squadrons. These, in addition to 24 F-18F fighters and twelve EA-18G electronic warfare aircraft will be the primary Australian air combat force in the future. This is a modification of the original plan drawn up over a decade ago.

In mid-2011 Australia received the last of the 24 American F-18F fighters that had been ordered in 2007. The first five F-18Fs arrived in 2010 and 24 were ordered. The original order was originally include 6 that were to be converted to EA-18Gs at a cost of about $50 million each. In 2013 it was decided to keep the 24 F-18Fs and order twelve EA-18Gs but these won’t enter service until 2018.

All this was part of an evolving Australian strategy to obtain American F-35s. It worked like this. In 2009, after over four years of deliberation, Australia decided to begin buying U.S. F-35 fighter-bombers. The first 14 were ordered, at a cost of over $100 million each (the price includes a lot of training and maintenance infrastructure). The plan was to replace the existing force of F-111 bombers and F-18B fighters with F-35s. The worn out 1960s era F-111s were finally retired in late 2010, after 37 years of service.

Then in 2007 it was realized that it would take too long for the hundred F-35s to arrive, and an interim aircraft would be needed. Australia had been told that the F-35s would not arrive until 2018. Meanwhile, Indonesia was 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 and these will be retired by the end of the decade. While the two versions of the F-18 have a lot in common (about 25 percent commonality in parts), the F-18F is a new, and larger, design that is based on the original F-18. The F-18Fs provide Australia with a high performance fighter-bomber that could cope with the Su-30. The F-18Fs will last into the 2020s, especially since it was decided to convert six of them into F-18Gs. So Australia will end up with 72 F-35s, 18 F-18Fs and six EA-18Gs.

 


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