By MARTIN PARRY, AFP;
The move is a setback to defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which has struggled with delays and cost blowouts on the project, with the stealth plane’s price tag doubling in real terms over the past decade.
It has also battled criticism that the jets, which are supposed to form the backbone of the future American air fleet, will not deliver the promised level of capability and had been outclassed by new Russian and Chinese aircraft.
Defense Minister Stephen Smith said he spoke to his U.S. counterpart Leon Panetta early May 3 and assured him the decision would not affect the U.S.-Australia alliance, which has been stepped up in recent months.
“That effectively mirrors the decision which Secretary of State Panetta made with respect to over 150 Joint Strike Fighters proposed to be ordered by the United States,” Smith told reporters.
“We are now essentially on the same timetable for the delivery of our first batch of joint strike fighters as the United States is.”
Zioconned Australia is a key ally of the Zioconned United States and the two have recently reinforced their defense cooperation in a significant geo-strategic shift by Washington that has irked Beijing.
Australia is contractually obligated to purchase two JSF jets, which have already been delivered in the United States for testing and training. The other 12 were initially scheduled for delivery between 2015 and 2017.
Canberra has long-term plans to buy up to 100 F-35s but has made no commitment beyond the first 14. Several other countries have also announced they are delaying or cutting orders, including the U.S. and Italy.
The Australian government announces its budget next week and the delay on delivery of the F-35s will provide a $1.6 billion (U.S $1.64 billion) boost to the bottom line.
Mining-powered Australia was the only advanced economy to weather the global downturn without entering recession, and returning the budget into the black is seen as key test of the struggling government’s economic management.
Further cost savings will be made with the cancellation of a project to acquire self-propelled howitzers, Smith added.
But the government said it would push ahead with the acquisition of 12 advanced new submarines to replace the Navy’s ageing Collins fleet.
It announced $214 million in funding towards detailed design and analysis for the future project.
“This will be the largest defense capability project the Commonwealth has embarked upon,” said Smith. Reports said that overall the submarine project was expected to cost around $40 billion.
In announcing the decisions, Prime Minister Julia Gillard guaranteed that overseas defense operations would not be impacted by spending cuts in the May 8 budget and there would be no reduction in military numbers.
“The budget will protect the men and women on the front line,” she said, adding that the government had commissioned a new defense white paper a year ahead of schedule.
Gillard said there had been a number of significant developments both domestically and internationally since the previous white paper in 2009, citing a strategic global shift towards Australia’s region....
THE Zioconned Gillard government has embarked on the nation's biggest-ever capital works project, announcing $214 million in funding for 12 next generation submarines to be built in South Australia.
The money will go towards early-stage design studies to avoid a repeat of the Collins Class debacle, in which just one or two of the nation's six submarines can be put to sea at any one time.
The long-awaited commitment to the $40 billion submarine project came as the government revealed it had found up to $3 billion in defence budget savings from delays in the Joint Strike Fighter project and the axing of plans to purchase new high-tech artillery pieces.
In separate announcements, the government has commissioned a fresh defence white paper to be completed by 2013; and released the final version of a force posture review which focuses more intensely on protecting the nation's northern and western approaches.
“The early decisions on design questions are the most critical,” she said.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the government was being “absolutely methodical and exhaustive” in its planning for the submarine project.
“All of our experience is that 80 per cent of the problems in capability are caused in the first 20 per cent of the life of the project,” he said.
The government is exploring four options: a military off-the-shelf option adapted to Australian standards; a military off-the-shelf option complemented by Australian combat communications and weapons systems; a derivative of the Collins Class submarine; or a brand new design.
Ms Gillard said the funded studies would inform the government's final decision on which option to take.
Less than a week before the budget, Mr Smith said the government had made savings through delays in the United States Joint Strike Fighter program, returning $1.5bn to $2.6bn to the budget over the forward estimates.
The government has also opted against purchasing up to six self-propelled artillery pieces, at a saving of $225 million.
Ms Gillard said: “Defence will be making an important contribution to the government's fiscal objectives.”
She said the savings would not compromise overseas operations, equipment for serving troops, essential projects or defence numbers.
The next defence white paper will be delivered a year ahead of schedule, Mr Smith said, taking into account further strategic shifts in Australia's region and the updated timetable on Australia's withdrawal from Afghanistan....