An F-35 II Joint Strike Fighter prototype undergoes testing in America.
An F-35 II Joint Strike Fighter prototype undergoes testing in America. US Department of Defence

Air fighter delayed

IT APPEARS the Superhornet will be in Ipswich skies for even longer than expected with more delays on the cards for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

There's also a chance more Superhornets will be at RAAF Base Amberley to avoid risking a gap in Australia's air defences.

The F/A-18 Superhornet was meant to be a stop-gap between the F-111 and the JSF, which was expected to arrive at Amberley around the end of the decade.

But the JSF has been dogged by delays, cost blow-outs and criticism that its capability isn't all it was claimed to be.

The latest delay in the JSF program is a new United States military strategy and budget plan aimed at a leaner US military.

The budget is expected to detail $487 billion in spending cuts and call for a slowing of the pace of production for the F-35 jet.

Australia plans to buy up to 100 Lockheed Martin F-35 JSF aircraft and has so far ordered 14.

Lockheed Martin has a contractual obligation to deliver the first two aircraft in 2014 with the next 12 to be delivered in 2015-17.

Australia is now reassessing the planned delivery schedule for the second batch while deciding how to fill the capability gap.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said a decision on any alternative would be made this year.

"We will not allow a gap in capability occur under any circumstances. We will get an exhaustive review," Mr Smith said.

Ambassador to the US Kim Beazley said production of the JSF may be impacted by the shift to a leaner US military.

"I don't expect that out of this will emerge delays to a successful conclusion of the project but it may have an impact on the cost structure," Mr Beazley said.