Australia welcomes US F-35 programme changes

Singapore
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Australia has welcomed the restructuring of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II programme announced by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

"Australia's variant [the convential take-off and landing F-35A] is less expensive and less complex than the other variants," says acting minister for defence Jason Clare. "The restructuring announced by Secretary Gates means it is now at the front of the production queue."

Canberra approved the acquisition of an initial 14 F-35As in 2009, with the first two aircraft to be delivered in 2014. The first 10, however, will initially be based in the USA for pilot and maintenance training. The following four will arrive in Australia in 2017, where they will undergo further tests. The nation plans to eventually buy up to 100 F-35s.

"Australia has always adopted a conservative approach to [F-35] cost estimates and has explicitly included contingency funds and buffers to the schedule," says Clare.

"While there is no need to change our cost and schedule estimates, we will continue to assess options to ensure that cost and schedule buffers remain adequate."

Clare's comments follow Gates's 6 January announcement that the US Marine Corps' short take-off and vertical landing F-35B is to be moved to the back of Lockheed's production system, due to development problems.