Lockheed Martin-built F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter

The Australian Government will delay the procurement of 12 Lockheed Martin-built F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) by two years in a bid to save money.

Defence minister Stephen Smith told reporters: "That effectively mirrors the decision which secretary of state Panetta made with respect to over 150 joint strike fighters proposed to be ordered by the United States."

Smith said that the delayed delivery of the JSFs would save the government AU$1.6 billion over the next four years and would be on the same schedule for delivery of the first batch of JSF for the US.

A plan for self-propelled artillery has been scrapped, saving another AU$225 millon from the 8 May budget, Smith said.

Smith had earlier cautioned that F-35 project delays would lead Australia to procure more Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets to fill its capability gap.

Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard confirmed that defence spending will form part of the government’s ambitious plan to save its surplus budget for the nation in the next fiscal year, which begins on 1 July 2012.

The government is expected to release its budget blueprint this week.

The JSF programme is principally financed by the US, with additional funding from the UK and seven international partners, namely Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

Australia placed orders for the procurement of 14 JSFs initially, of which two JSF jets have been already delivered to the US for testing and training while the remaining fighters were scheduled for delivery between 2015 and 2017.

The Government has plans to procure up to 100 F-35 JSF aircraft.

Image: Lockheed Martin-built F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter conducting mission. Photo: courtesy of JSF.