Australia has sent a letter of request (LOR) to the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency seeking information on costs and availability for a possible purchase of 24 additional Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets.
According to a joint statement from Australia's defence minister Stephen Smith and defence materiel minister Jason Clare, the LOR is the latest step in a process assessing Australia's air combat capability options in the light of delays to the Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and the retirement of the Royal Australian Air Force's 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets.
"The sending of this LOR does not commit Australia to purchase more Super Hornets," it says. "It is being sent so that the Australian Government can consider all options in 2013 with the latest cost and availability information."
Royal Australian Air Force
The timing of any decision indicates that this may be left for a new government, with elections due in 2013.
In May, Smith announced that it was pushing back the acquisition of an initial 12 F-35As until 2014-2015 to reduce costs, adding that it would launch an transition plan to assess options to ensure that a gap does not emerge in the RAAF's air combat capability.
Australia received its 24 Super Hornets between March 2010 and October 2011, which were acquired by the previous government to cover the gap between the retirement of the General Dynamics F-111 fleet and the introduction of the F-35A.
In August, Canberra committed to transition 12 of the aircraft to the electronic warfare EA-18 Growler configuration at the end of 2020.