CANBERRA, April 11 Australia is considering
buying 18 Boeing-built Super Hornet warplanes for around
$1.6 billion to plug a hole in defence capabilities left by
expected delays in Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter, a report said on Monday.
Australian defence officials plan to raise concerns about
project delays and the possibility of a serious gap in
Australia's air defences from 2020 onwards when they visit the
United States this week, the Australian newspaper said.
Military chiefs were preparing options to plug the gap,
including the A$1.5 billion ($1.6 billion) purchase of 18 extra
F/A-18F Super Hornets, adding to 24 of the aircraft bought in
2007 to fill a strategic hole, the paper said, without naming
Australia plans to buy up to 100 stealthy F-35 Lightning's
for an estimated A$16 billion and has so far ordered 14, with
the air force's first squadron hoping to be operational by 2018.
But a recent report by a U.S. government budget watchdog
found the F-35 program, already behind schedule, was likely to
experience additional production problems and cost increases,
while also criticising the project's risk management.
Australia's Department of Defence could not immediately
Australian defence chiefs have previously said they are
committed to the F-35 purchase, while Lockheed Martin insists
that problems in the United States will not derail the 2014
delivery timetable for the first F-35 squadron.
Australia has already begun a multi-billion-dollar upgrade
of its military that includes new air defence destroyers, two
large amphibious assault ships, helicopters, tanks, long-range
cruise missiles and 12 new submarines costing $25 billion.($1 =
0.955 Australian Dollars)
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by)