The F-35A Lightning II is the only aircraft able to meet Australia’s strategic needs, an inquiry by a Senate committee examining the acquisition has concluded.
However, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee stated in its inquiry report that it “retains a healthy scepticism” about assurances from Defence regarding cost, schedule and capability, and expressed concern that program delays might create a capability gap.
According to the Committee’s report:
“Considering the history of significant changes to the acquisition schedule over the life of the F-35 program, including the recent re-baselining, together with the limited scope and considerable cost to further extend the life of the classic Hornet fleet, the committee considers it prudent for Defence to develop a hedging strategy to mitigate the risk of a capability gap resulting from further delays.”
The committee notes that ASPI advised that the most sensible such strategy would be to order another tranche of F/A-18F Super Hornets, with any such decision to be made by 2019 at the latest.
The committee also expressed concern about the potential for other countries to be prioritized over Australia in the provision of repair parts and the development of software, recommending that Defence develop a sovereign industrial capability strategy to ensure that aircraft can be supported without excessive reliance on others.