Australia set to order 58 F-35 Lockheed Martin fighters

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON, April 23 Tue Apr 22, 2014 7:31pm EDT

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON, April 23 (Reuters) - Australia will announce plans on Wednesday to order 58 more F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp for A$12 billion ($11 billion), sources in Washington and Canberra told Reuters.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will make the announcement of the purchase around midday local time in the Australian capital, Canberra, the sources said.

"The fifth-generation F-35 is the most advanced fighter in production anywhere in the world and will make a vital contribution to our national security," Abbott is expected to say on Wednesday.

"The F-35 will provide a major boost to the Australian Defence Force's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities."

The 58 F-35 aircraft, in addition to 14 already approved in 2009, will provide the Royal Australian Air Force with enough aircraft to form three operational squadrons and one training squadron, the Canberra source said.

Australia was also also considering acquiring an additional squadron of F-35 aircraft to replace its fleet of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter aircraft, the source said.

Lockheed is currently negotiating a contract for an eighth batch of jets with the U.S. Pentagon that does not include the latest strike fighters for Australia.

Those jets would be part of a ninth or tenth batch to be ordered next year and the year after.

The total cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is now seen at $1.42 trillion, including research, development, procurement and operations through 2065.

Local media in Australia said the joint strike fighters would raise its air combat power to among the world's most advanced.

As part of the announcement around A$1.6 billion in new facilities and infrastructure will be built in Australia, the government source said.

($1 = 1.0677 Australian Dollars) (Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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