MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Australia announced plans to purchase 12 new-build Boeing EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft although it affirmed its commitment to the Joint Strike Fighter program.
The announcement was made as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Defense Minister Stephen Smith launched the labor government’s new defense white paper in Canberra today.
“While the Joint Strike Fighter program has suffered cost overruns and delays, the government remains committed to the JSF as our principal Australian Defence Force strike capability, and (is) confident of its delivery,” she said.
“We envisage three operational squadrons of Joint Strike Fighters entering service beginning around 2020.”
Australia has three operational squadrons of aging F/A-18A/B Hornets and 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets. The white paper calls for 72 F-35As to equip three operational squadrons, with a decision on a further 28 being deferred until closer to the 2030 time frame, when the Super Hornets will be approaching their planned withdrawal date.
Speaking with reporters after the announcement, Smith said the current “classic” F/A-18A/B Hornet fleet was “good for 2020 to 2022.”
“We are proceeding on the basis there are no further delays to JSF,” he warned. “We are in the hands of others, and that’s why we’ve made decisions to protect our own air combat capability with the previous acquisition of Super Hornets and now additional Growlers.”
The 12 Growlers will cost an estimated AUS $1.5 billion (US $1.54 billion).
Australia had previously elected to upgrade 12 of its existing 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets to Growler configuration but this decision means aircraft will not have to be taken off-line for conversion.
“The downside to this decision is that the RAAF will be operating a mixed fleet of Super Hornets and F-35s for the entire 2020s,” commented Andrew Davies of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “The overall capability in the late 2020s will probably be less than what might have been the case had we persevered with the full transition to the F-35, but the capability between now and the mid-2020s will be higher. And future governments can always revisit the air combat fleet size and composition if circumstances demand it.”
“Lockheed Martin is honored by the trust and confidence the Australian government showed in the F-35 program with today’s announcement,” said Trevor Thomas, head of Corporate Communications Asia-Pacific region, in response to the JSF announcement. “Along with the first two Australian jets in production, which we will deliver in mid-2014, we will work closely with the government to support their purchase of their remaining 100 F-35 aircraft.”
Gillard also announced that Australia’s Future Submarine program, which will replace six Collins-class boats with 12 conventionally powered attack submarines, would no longer consider military off-the-shelf, or modified off-the-shelf solutions.
“Our assessment is that these options are unlikely to meet the operational requirements of the Future Submarine,” she said. “The government will therefore [give] further consideration on two options: an evolved Collins class or an entirely new design.”