Federal cabinet’s National Security Committee (NSC) is reportedly due to meet today (November 24) to consider second pass approval and commit to or delay a decision on the acquisition of the F-35 JSF for the RAAF.
Most observers believe a delayed decision is most likely due to federal budget pressures, as well as delays to and a review of the aircraft’s development program in the US.
Indeed, one former senior Defence official told Australian Aviation that, “there’s just no money for anything at the moment…the DCP (Defence Capability Plan) is under-funded in forward estimates and spending on this scale will need to be pushed to the right.” Under the $15 billion Project Air 6000, the RAAF has a requirement for up to 100 F-35s to replace 71 F/A-18A/B fighters and the 24 interim F/A-18F strike fighters from 2017.
Boeing has reportedly offered an alternative scenario of additional Super Hornets to the RAAF, claiming the Commonwealth would save up to $3 billion by operating a 50/50 fleet of Super Hornets and F-35s, as well as reducing risk to the ‘classic’ Hornet fleet which will be suffering fleet-wide fatigue issues well before the F-35 enters service.
Lockheed Martin executive vice president and JSF program general manager Tom Burbage was in Canberra last week to further brief Defence officials on the program.