Australia backs F-35 fighter jets in new defence strategy

CANBERRA Thu May 2, 2013 8:02pm EDT

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CANBERRA May 3 (Reuters) - Australia committed to long-term plans to buy up to 100 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets in a new defence blueprint released on Friday, helping to ease concerns about the future of the controversial stealth fighter.

Canberra, a close U.S. ally, would also buy 12 Boeing Co EA-18G electronic attack planes, modified versions of the 24 Super Hornets already equipping Australia's air force, as a stopgap for the F-35, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said.

"This important decision will assure a first-class air combat capability for Australia through the transition period to the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35), which will proceed on its current schedule," Smith said.

The new defence white paper is the first reassessment of Australia's military priorities since 2009, and the first since the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific began in late 2011, which included U.S. Marine rotations through northern Australia.

The paper makes no commitment to build a fourth advanced air warfare destroyer, partly built by BAE Systems and Spain's Navantia, but opts instead to replace two ageing supply ships.

Smith also said the government would proceed with plans for 12 new conventional submarines but he ruled out buying the submarines off the shelf, opting instead for new designs to be built in Australia.

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