Australia’s decision on placing an additional order of F-35s or, perhaps, buying more F/A-18E/Fs as a gapfiller could be slipping.
The nation is trying to avoid a combat-capability gap toward the end of the decade that could arise from the need to retire aging aircraft before the F-35 can be fielded.
Defense Minister Stephen Smith said today: “We’ll make a judgment in the course of this year, or early next year, about the timing, or the timetable, of the delivery of those 12, and any judgment or decision by the government about any future purchases.”
That is a slight change in tone from last month, when Smith seemed to suggest a decision was due earlier rather than later. “In the course of this year, and I choose my words advisably and carefully and say not at the end of this year, but in the course of this year, we’ll make a range of judgments. We’ll make a range of judgments about whether there’s a risk of a capability gap and what steps we need to take in that respect,” he said.
At issue is the procurement of 12 F-35s in addition to the two aircraft Canberra already is committed to acquire for testing and training purposes. Although the gapfiller plan has not been finalized, buying more F/A-18E/Fs is seen as the most likely option.
There is no indication from Smith that the government is wavering in its plans to eventually buy the additional F-35s.