|From: AAP February 15, 2010 3:22PM
THE Joint Strike Fighter program will cost Australia more than originally planned and be delayed by about a year, the US government says.
Australia will buy 14 of the jets from the US and may purchase up to 100, but the Pentagon said today the price - as much as $100 million each - would rise.
The US government has withheld performance fees to lead contractor Lockheed Martin and sacked General David Heinz, who was in charge of the program.
US Deputy Secretary of Defence Bill Lynn said on Monday the steps would strengthen the program.
"When we looked at it as we came into office last year, we thought that some of the costs were underestimated in terms of production, and we thought that development was going to last longer than was originally projected," Mr Lynn said.
"We have now recosted the production to, we think, a better estimate, and we have taken the development and tried to strengthen it with some additional test aircraft so that we can get it closer to the original schedule.
"We think with those steps it will continue on its path to be the backbone of tactical aviation for both the United States and hopefully Australia.''
Lynn said "the development was definitely going to cost more and the unit costs have gone up", without detailing the cost rises.
"But the important thing was to get it right and budget it right, and that is what we have done," he said.
"We think that the additional test aircraft ... will be closer to a delay of about 12 or 13 months."
Australia has already been forced to buy Super Hornets to fill the capability gap between the retirement of the F1-11 bombers and F/A-18 Hornet fighter bombers and the arrival of the first JSF, which was scheduled for 2014.
In 2012, the government will decide on additional aircraft to make up three operational squadrons and one for training, totalling 72 aircraft.
The first squadron won't be ready to fly until 2018.
A fourth squadron, taking the total number of aircraft to around 100, will be considered later.