Senate to Inquire Into New Fighter Program
(Source: Australian Associated Press; published Dec 02, 2015)
A Senate committee will examine plans to acquire the controversial Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter, the high-tech aircraft set to be the centrepiece of the RAAF's air combat force.

The Senate foreign affairs, defence and trade committee will assess future air defence needs JSF is intended to fill, costs and benefits, changes to the acquisition timeline, aircraft test performance and potential alternatives.

It will report back by May 1, 2016.

The motion was proposed by Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson and backed by Labor and independents. It was opposed by government senators.

Labor defence spokesman Stephen Conroy said the opposition's support for the inquiry did not suggest it didn't support Australia's participation in the JSF project.

Liberal frontbencher Scott Ryan labelled Labor's support as "embarrassing".

At A$16 billion, this is now Australia's most expensive defence acquisition program, although that will certainly be exceeded by the project to build new submarines.

Development of this advanced stealth aircraft has been beset by delays, technical problems and cost increases.

The worst of the problems now appears to be past with the US Marines standing up their first operational squadron earlier this year.

Australia plans to acquire 72 F-35 aircraft and maybe as many as 100. So far just two have been delivered and now form part of the training pool in the US.

The RAAF plans to have its first two F-35 squadrons ready for operations in 2020.


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