The Australian government is reiterating its intention to proceed with acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, despite increasing signs that the aircraft will not be available in time to meet the Royal Australian Air Force's delivery target of 2012.

Australian defence minister Robert Hill says contingency plans are in place to deal with later delivery. The plans include proceeding with a full-scale centre-barrel replacement programme for the RAAF's Boeing F-18A/B Hornet fighters. A number of these are already undergoing centre-barrel replacement as part of a progressive Hornet upgrade programme.

Hill says the removal of the RAAF's General Dynamics F-111 strike fighters from service in 2010 will proceed as planned. Any capability shortfall will be met via the acquisition of stand-off-range weapons fitted to the F-18s and Australia's Lockheed Martin AP-3C Orion maritime-patrol aircraft.

"The sort of capabilities that we currently have in terms of the F-111s will be covered by alternative capabilities. The air force is quite confident it will be able to manage if there is a short slippage in time. But at the moment my advice is that there is no reason for us to change our in-service dates for the F-35," Hill says.

He also remains confident that the export version of the F-35 received by Australia will retain a high level of low-observable capability and that the country will receive appropriate levels of software source-code release. "From the start of this project we've known the capabilities we've wanted, we've known the access to the codes we need and we are confident it will meet all our requirements."

Twelve Australian companies have secured work in the current F-35 system development and demonstration phase.



Source: Flight International