Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Minister for Defence Stephen Smith today announced the steps the Government has taken to strengthen Australia’s air combat capability.
The 2013 Defence White Paper highlights the strategic importance of a potent and flexible air combat capability to control Australia’s air approaches and support operations in the land, sea and air environments.
Emerging advanced air combat and air defence capabilities within the region, together with the proliferation of modern electronic warfare systems, will make the air combat tasks of controlling the air, conducting strike and supporting land and naval forces increasingly challenging.
Australia’s air combat capability is a vital part of our national security framework and the Government will not allow a gap in our air combat capability to occur.
As a prudent measure to assure Australia’s air combat capability through the transition period to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the Government has decided to retain the current 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets (one operational squadron) in their current air combat and strike capability configuration.
The Government has also decided to acquire 12 new-build EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft instead of converting 12 of Australia’s existing F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft into the Growler configuration. 12 Growler aircraft will enhance significantly the ADF’s electronic warfare capability and, together with the JSF and the Super Hornet, will form a formidable air combat force capable of controlling both the air and electronic environments.
A decision on replacing the Super Hornets with additional JSF aircraft will be made closer to the withdrawal of the Super Hornets, which is not expected until around 2030.
The 2009 Defence White Paper outlined the Government’s commitment to acquire JSF and announced approval for the purchase of the first 14 JSF aircraft at a cost of around $3.2 billion. Of these, Australia is contractually committed to two, which will be delivered in the course of 2014 to 2015 in the United States for testing and training purposes.
Due to challenges and delays within the JSF Program, the United States restructured the JSF Program last year, deferring the acquisition of 179 aircraft and providing US$15 billion less in funding over the next five years. Australia aligned itself to this schedule in the 2012-13 Budget. While the US remains committed to the JSF, procurement has been slowed to complete more testing and make developmental changes before the purchase of aircraft in significant quantities.
The Government remains committed to acquiring the fifth-generation JSF aircraft, with three operational squadrons planned to enter service beginning around 2020 to replace the F/A-18A/B Hornet aircraft.
Australia’s Super Hornet aircraft, the delivery of the Growler electronic attack aircraft and the supporting KC-30A air-to-air refuelling aircraft will ensure the continued potency of Australia’s air combat system in projecting decisive air power in the defence of Australia and its interests.