Officials in Britain's Defence Ministry are pushing to scrap their country's plans to buy a variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, reports from Britain say, potentially raising the cost for other customers such as Australia.
Media reports claim officials want the Royal Navy to buy older, less-capable F-18 jets, rather than pay higher prices for 138 JSF aircraft designed to be flown from aircraft carriers.
Australia has committed to buy 14 of the fighters so far and has indicated it will end up buying 100 of the planes for about $13 billion. But if nations such as Britain - which intends buying a lot of the planes - cut back, the cost for other countries could rise.
The reported scepticism within the Defence Ministry follows big spending cuts to Britain's defence budget forced by the global financial crisis.
Last year, the British Government scrapped plans to split its purchase between the vertical-take-off JSF model and the conventional model.
It concentrated instead on the latter, cheaper variant, a development the Australian Defence Department admitted at the time would have an effect - although minimal - on the cost of Australia's planes.
''Like Australia, the armed forces of [Britain] are likely to continue to push for the most sophisticated equipment they can get, which in this case would be the JSF,'' the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's Andrew Davies told the Herald yesterday.
''But Britain's financial position is causing them to have to look at other alternatives.''
On a visit to Washington last week, the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, warned US budget cuts could affect the price of Australia's planes and canvassed the possibility of buying more Super Hornet fighters to plug any gap left by the JSF program's troubles.