Prime Minister Tony Abbott has instructed the authors of the new Defence White Paper currently in preparation to consider the acquisition of the STOVL F-35B variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to operate from the Navy’s forthcoming LHD amphibious ships.
“It is understood Mr Abbott has instructed planners working on his defence white paper to examine the possibility of putting a squadron of 12 of the short takeoff and vertical landing version of the JSFs — the F-35B — on to the ships,” a report in The Australian newspaper on Friday says.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister contacted by the newspaper did not confirm or deny the suggestion the F-35B would be considered as part of the White Paper process, only noting that the White Paper’s Force Structure Review would: “examine a range of capabilities and will provide the government with options to ensure Australia maintains a sustainable, versatile and highly capable defence force in coming decades”.
However, on April 23 when Prime Minister Abbott announced the decision to acquire a further 58 F-35As for the RAAF to take the total buy to 72, he made passing reference to the fact that the F-35 variant slated to be acquired for a final batch of up to 28 jets (to replace the Super Hornet) some time next decade had not yet been determined.
“We are certainly retaining the option to purchase an additional squadron – a further 18 Joint Strike Fighters and we haven’t decided precisely what type it might be – that will be something that will be looked at in the context of the coming Defence White Paper,” the PM said. While at the time RAAF officials explained to Australian Aviation that the figure of 18 aircraft was a slip of the tongue and should have been 28 jets, but the comment about “what type it might be” went largely unnoticed at the time.
But the question of F-35Bs being acquired for the ADF was subsequently flagged by Defence Minister David Johnston in an interview with The Weekend West on May 17, where he said the acquisition of the F-35B was “an option which has been considered from day one.”