|Patrick Walters, National security editor From: The Australian November 25, 2009 4:15PM
THE Rudd government has given the green light to Australia's largest ever defence purchase, approving a buy of 14 F-35 joint strike fighters at a cost of $3.2 billion.
Cabinet's national security committee has backed the RAAF's plan to buy at least 72 of the fifth generation fighters at a projected cost of at least $12bn but Australia's F-35's will be bought in batches with the first aircraft expected to be delivered in 2014.
Defence minister, John Faulkner, announced yesterday government approval for the the first batch of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft as foreshadowed in the 2009 Defence White Paper with approval for further acquisitions to be considered in 2012.
"Approval of the next batch of aircraft and all necessary support and enabling capabilities, sufficient to establish three operational squadrons and a training squadron of CTOL JSFs, will be considered in 2012. This will fulfil our White Paper commitment to acquire three operational squadrons comprising not fewer than 72 aircraft,'' Senator Faulkner said.
By 2012 Defence would have much firmer cost estimates for the remaining aircraft and necessary support and enabling capabilities as part of the planned first multi-year buy that is expected to comprise over 1000 aircraft for the US, Australia and other partners.
"This will allow for much more effective planning of the final JSF acquisition in the context of the overall Defence Capability Plan," Senator Faulkner said.
He said the government had examined the F-35's capabilities very carefully in the context of the Air Combat Capability Review and 2009 Defence White Paper deliberations, and remained confident that the F-35's combination of stealth, advanced sensors, networking and data fusion capabilities would ensure Australia maintained its strategic capability advantage out to 2030.
"Defence has done more analysis on this platform than any other platform in the acquisition history of the ADF" Senator Faulkner said.
Senator Faulkner said the government had approved acquisition of the first 14 Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) Joint Strike Fighters and infrastructure and support required for initial training and testing.
Acquisition of an additional operational squadron – bringing the total number of F-35's to around 100 – will be considered at a later date in conjunction with a decision on the withdrawal of the F/A-18F Super Hornet expected early in the 2020's.
Australia's first JSF aircraft will be delivered in the United States in 2014 to commence initial training and test activities. The first operational squadron will be based at Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown, and is planned to initial operations in 2018-19.
Air force chief , Mark Binskin said the F-35 acquisition would allow Australia to maintain its regional air combat superiority.
"It will also enable Australia to effectively contribute to regional security and enhances opportunities for interoperability and commonality to support future coalition operations," Air Marshal Binskin said.