Friday, March 13, 2009

Caution for buyer nations of fighter jet

THE US Government watchdog has issued a warning to nations, including Australia, planning to buy the Joint Strike Fighter jet.

In its latest report on the jet, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has cautioned the Pentagon and others over any move to buy the jet before testing is completed.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is almost certain to confirm Australia's purchase of up to 100 of the jets in the Defence white paper due some time before June.

Final tests on the jet are not expected to be done until 2014.

Buying jets while they are still being tested "does not seem prudent", the GAO report said.

The office also pointed to a massive blowout in US government spending on the technologically advanced jet, suggesting the Pentagon's plan to fast track purchases could add as much as $A45.84 billion to the cost.

The jet's manufacturer Lockheed Martin said in a statement that "the overall health of the F-35 program is sound in all areas''.

There have been conflicting suggestions about the number of jets Australia might buy now the global financial crisis has hit every government department.

Some reports suggest Defence may buy only 75.

Late last month Mr Fitzgibbon announced 12 of 24 Boeing Super Hornets on order for the RAAF would be rewired so they can be readily upgraded.

The upgrade may be a trade-off for fewer JSF jets.

Under plans launched by the former Coalition Government, the RAAF's ageing F-111 bombers will be retired in 2010.

The RAAF's current fleet of F/A-18 Hornets will remain in service but will be gradually replaced by the JSF from 2015.

To ensure there was no gap between retirement of the F-111s and the arrival of the JSF, the then Government ordered the Super Hornets at a cost of $6bn.

The first Australian Super Hornets will be delivered next year.