Australia will delay its acquisition of 12 Lockheed Martin F-35A aircraft by two years to save costs associated with the programme.
The decision to buy the 12 aircraft will be made in 2014-2015, as opposed to later this year, says minister for defence Stephen Smith.
Canberra has only committed to two F-35As, which will be delivered in the USA and used for ground and aircrew training. Plans call for it to buy an additional 12 under Project Air 6000 Phase 2A, and a subsequent 58 under Phase 2B.
The reports suggest that Australia hopes to save A$1.6 billion ($1.64 billion) by delaying the purchase. Smith said the move mirrors a US decision earlier this year to delay the acuisition of 150 F-35s.
"When we embarked upon the project we did a couple of very sensible things; firstly we chose the conventional Joint Strike Fighter, and secondly we put a fair amount of padding in our cost and in our timetable," says Smith. "On the timetable we have been making sure that we don't end up with a capability gap. We'll make that decision formally by the end of this year in terms of the capability gap, but my current advice is that the life of our 71 F-18 Classic Hornets and our 24 Super Hornets is sufficient for our air combat capability, but we'll make an advised judgement before the end of this year."
Boeing hopes to sell additional F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets to Canberra. Australia already has 24 Super Hornets that it acquired to fill a capability gap owing to F-35 programme delays, and Smith has consistently maintained that additional Super Hornets are an option.
Canberra's delay will only heighten cost concerns associated with the F-35. Japan, Norway and Canada have expressed concerns about the programme's cost.