Joint Strike Fighters: Government to spend $12 billion on
58 more next-generation F-35s
Australia will buy 58 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) at a cost of more than $12 billion after the Federal Government gave the go ahead for the purchase yesterday.
The extra aircraft will bring Australia’s total Joint Strike Fighter force to 72 aircraft, with the first of them to enter service in 2020.
The $12.4 billion price tag makes the Joint Strike Fighters Australia’s most expensive Defence asset.
The Government says it will also consider the option of buying another squadron of the next-generation fighter jets to eventually replace the RAAF’S F/A-18 Super Hornets.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who formally announced the purchase today, says the JSF is the most advanced fighter in production anywhere in the world and will make a vital contribution to Australia’s national security.
"Together with the Super Hornet and Growler electronic warfare aircraft, the F-35 aircraft will ensure Australia maintains a regional air combat edge," he said before the announcement.
"The F-35 will provide a major boost to the ADF’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
"The acquisition of F-35 aircraft will bring significant economic benefits to Australia, including regional areas and local defence industry."
First fighters to enter service in 2020, with new air bases in NSW, NT
The first Joint Strike Fighters will arrive in Australia in 2018 and enter service in 2020.
As part of the announcement, more than $1.6 billion will be spent on new facilities at air bases in Williamtown in New South Wales and Tindal in the Northern Territory.
The F-35 has been billed as the smartest fighter jet on the planet, designed to strike enemies in the air and on the ground without being detected by radar.
But the plane’s development has been beset by delays and cost overruns.
The U.S. military has grounded all its new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters following an incident on June 23, when one of the high-tech warplanes caught fire on the runway of a Florida air base. The no-fly order — which affects at least 50 F-35s at training and test bases in Florida, Arizona, California and Maryland — began on the evening of July 3 and continued through July 11.
All those F-35s sitting idle could be a preview of a future in which potentially thousands of the Pentagon’s warplanes can’t reliably fly.
To be fair, the Pentagon routinely grounds warplanes on a temporary basis following accidents and malfunctions to buy investigators time to identify problems and to give engineers time to fix them.
But there’s real reason to worry. The June incident might reflect serious design flaws that could render the F-35 unsuitable for combat.
For starters, the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 — which can avoid sensor detection thanks to its special shape and coating — simply doesn’t work very well. The Pentagon has had to temporarily ground F-35s no fewer than 13 times since 2007, mostly due to problems with the plane’s Pratt & Whitney-made F135 engine, in particular, with the engines’ turbine blades. The stand-downs lasted at most a few weeks.
“The repeated problems with the same part of the engine may be indications of a serious design and structural problem with the F135 engine,” said Johan Boeder, a Dutch aerospace expert and editor of the online publication JSF News.
Pratt & Whitney has already totally redesigned the F135 in an attempt to end its history of frequent failures. But there’s only so much engineers can do. In a controversial move during the early stages of the F-35′s development, the Pentagon decided to fit the plane with one engine instead of two. Sticking with one motor can help keep down the price of a new plane. But in the F-35′s case, the decision proved self-defeating.