Australia is holding off on buying the initial batch of operational F-35s. For some time, that was expected to be good news for Boeing, but that no longer looks like it is the case.
Australia is loath to suffer a capability gap when its aging classic F/A-18s reach the end of their service life toward the end of the decade. Conventional thinking was that if the F-35 did not arrive on time, more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets would have to be acquired.
But maybe not.
Defense Minister Stephen Smith says that the decision to purchase the first tranche of 12 F-35s (beyond two test aircraft being bought for delivery in 2014 and 2015) will be delayed for two years. The goal is to mirror the U.S. decision to avoid buying too many aircraft early in the program when development is still underway.
That is bad news for Lockheed Martin, which is looking for international buyers to offset U.S. deferals. But Smith also had bad news for Boeing. "My current advice is that the life of type of our 71 classic Hornets and our 24 Super Hornets is sufficient for our air combat capability,” while acknowledging the issue was still under study and a decision will be taken by year-end.
Smith had some good news for Boeing. The new defense budget will protect funding to upgrade some F/A-18F to EA-18G electronic attack aircraft, if a decision is taken to do so.
Also protected appears to be funding for a Caribou replacement, with Alenia Aermacchi and Airbus Military watching closely as they hope to sell their C-27J and C-295 respectively.