ADELAIDE --- Australia faces an air combat capability gap later this decade with revelations the RAAF's new fighter won't be available until after 2017.
Deputy program executive officer for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, US Air Force Major General John Thompson, said the development program for the fighter had been extended by two years to at least 2017.
The RAAF was due to have its initial capability of 14 jets operating at Williamtown air base in 2017. That means the Government will have to buy more Boeing Super Hornet jets to replace the classic F/A-18 Hornet fighters that will be retired during the next five years.
"We are still ... five to six years away from the end of our development program and we are only 20 per cent through our flight test program," Maj-Gen Thompson said.
The latest estimate for the cost of the so-called "fifth generation" stealth jet is about $130 million.
The Government is only committed to 14 but the plan calls for up to 100 of the jets for the RAAF to replace its fleet of F/A-18 fighters and F-111 strike jets.
The Federal Opposition says it will cut the order to just 50 fighters if it wins the next election.
Maj-Gen Thompson said that if serious problems were uncovered during the development phase then the fighter's capability might need to be reduced, rather than expose customers to long delays.
He said the program partners were focused on reducing the life cycle costs of the jet and driving down production costs. through greater efficiencies at Lockheed Martin's JSF production line at Fort Worth in Texas. (end of excerpt)
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