Australia will negotiate with the United States to join the decade-long development phase of the US$200 billion Joint Strike Fighter Program, after Cabinet considered the proposal yesterday.
Defence Minister Robert Hill said the decision to commit up to US$150 million over 10 years as a level three partner would put Australia at the forefront of developing the world's most advanced and biggest combat aircraft program over the next 30 years.
"There are real benefits to getting in on the ground floor of the program," Senator Hill said.
"Australia will need to replace its ageing F/A-18 Hornets and F-111 strike aircraft from 2012.
"Through the JSF program, Defence will have access to levels of capability and technology in the aircraft that will be a generation ahead of other contemporary aircraft.
"Our partnership will also lead to significant savings and ensure that Australian industry is able to compete for JSF work. It will provide the Australian aerospace industry with the opportunity to participate in the global development, production and support of the project."
The JSF is a stealthy (radar-evading) supersonic multi-role fighter. It will have an internal weapons bay and will take full advantage of developments in software and radar technology. Some 3000 aircraft are expected to be produced for the US and United Kingdom alone, with total production worldwide likely to be more than 4500 aircraft.
The US$20 billion System Development and Demonstration phase is aimed at developing the JSF from a demonstrator into a mature combat aircraft, at which time production contracts will be let.
Defence will now start negotiating the terms of Australia's involvement in this phase of the project, with a view to ensuring maximum Australian industry participation. Negotiations are expected to take several months at which time Australia will join the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, Italy and Norway participating in the SDD. (ends)
Click here for a transcript of the related June 27 press conference in Canberra by Senator Robert Hill, Minister For Defence, Ian Macfarlane, Minister For Industry, and Air Marshal Angus Houston, Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force.
Air Combat Capability for the 21st Century and a Boost to Australian Industry Australia To Join Joint Strike Fighter Program