Defence Minister Stephen Smith has said that he is committed to “an exhaustive risk assessment on schedule” of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by the end of this year, saying that any decision to acquire additional Super Hornets to fill a potential capability gap should the JSF be further delayed would be taken next year.
While reiterating that additional Super Hornets for the RAAF would be the “obvious option” if an air combat capability gap emerged, Smith told the Australia Network’s Newsline program on August 18 that he was “confident that the Joint Strike Fighter project will get up”, particularly given Australia’s selection of the F-35A CTOL variant.
“Our pre-planning had a lot of …padding in for cost and for schedule. We’re now starting to run up against schedule. We’re still expecting to receive our first two planes in the United States in 2014-15 for training purposes. We’ve committed ourselves to 14. Our Defence White Paper and our Defence Capability Plan talks in terms of around or up to 100 but beyond 14 the government will make a judgment and a decision as time and as events unfold,” Smith said.
Consequently, Smith did not rule out a further Super Hornet purchase, if his planned risk assessment of the F-35’s schedule justifies such action to be taken by next year. “I’ll make a judgment and recommend to government as to whether we need to exercise any other options to ensure there’s no gap in our air combat capability, moving as we have historically from F-111s to classic Hornets, to Super Hornets and to Joint Strike Fighters,” Smith said
“What I can guarantee is I will ensure that there is no gap in our air combat capability and I’ve made it clear both in the United States when I was there recently, on my return here and in the Parliament this week, that the obvious option to ensure there’s no gap in capability is further Super Hornets,” he added.
“Now, we haven’t had to make that decision yet, we haven’t concluded a view on that, but I’m not going to leave it to the last minute to ensure there’s no gap in capability and that’s why we’ll make the decision next year.”