The federal government will spend more than $12 billion to upgrade Australia’s air force capabilities with a new fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
(Transcript from World News Radio)
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced the purchase of 58 fighter planes, raising the Australian F-35 fleet to 72 by 2020.
He says it will further strengthen Australia’s role as a regional power.
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The $12.5 billion acquisition will be one of Australia’s biggest-ever military spending commitments.
And experts say will lift the nation’s air-combat power to among the world’s most advanced.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been billed as the smartest fighter jet on the planet, designed to strike enemies in the air and on the ground without being detected by radar.
The first two of Australia’s initial order of 14 F35s are expected to be delivered this year at a cost of just under 130 million dollars U-S each.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Australia will join the United States and a select few other countries in making the fifth-generation stealth fighter the backbone of its air-combat power.
Mr Abbott says the planes will not only bolster Australia’s military capability but will provide much-needed jobs in Australian industry.
“This is one of the largest defence purchases that Australia has ever made. It will ensure our edge as a regional power. It will also, as well as maintaining the effectiveness of our air force, it will also be a very substantial boost to jobs and technology here in Australia. Australian business has already won some 1.5 billion dollars worth of work associated with this aircraft.”
The large new purchase means the Royal Australian Air Force will have three squadrons of the planes, and it puts Australia in a position as a dominant air power in the region.
China, Japan and South Korea all recently announced plans to increase their air capabilities amid growing tensions in the region over North Korea and the South China Sea.
The chief of the air force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, says the new fighters are very much part of building a stronger Australian military force.
“Air superiority is a fundamental pillar of air power. But more so, it is an essential prerequisite for the Australian way of modern joint warfare. Without it, our nation’s ground and naval forces would be required to fight in very radically different ways. But gaining and maintaining air superiority is not easy. For a country as large as Australia, an advanced air force, I think, is a critical element of national power.”
The fighter program will involve spending 1.6 billion dollars on new facilities at the RAAF bases of Williamtown in New South Wales and Tindal in the Northern Territory.
The government is also keeping open the option of buying another squadron of up to 24 fighters and raising Australia’s fleet of the cutting-edge planes to close to a hundred.
Defence Minister David Johnston says the purchase will give Australia’s air-combat capability the sort of technological edge it must continue to have.
“Air-combat capability is the cornerstone of our national security and the cornerstone of our air-defence capability. This aircraft is peerless. It has no identifiable rival in the air at the moment. We see it dominating the skies for the next at least 10 to 15 years. We will have this aircraft out to 2050. This is a commitment that the world needs to see. This is the message we are sending: We are committed to the defence of Australia.”
Labor has backed the Abbott Government’s purchase of the new fighter jets despite the Coalition’s intention to make big cuts to other areas in the May budget.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has told the ABC the former Labor government believed the Joint Strike Fighter was the right way to go.
“There had been some problems, in terms of aspects of the aircraft, but it appears that they’ve been ironed out, so Labor does think that the addition to our air force is the right way to go. These are a very long-term purchase. The acquisitions are over a very long period of time. So these defence purchases are necessary for our forward-security plans over a number of decades. It’s a pretty long-term investment.”
Most experts say the Joint Strike Fighter will be the most advanced fighter for years to come, but critics point to flaws, delays and cost overruns that emerged in developing it.
Critics also point out the new fighters are actually less manoeuvrable than some older planes.
But supporters say it will never need to turn sharply because its radar will ensure its safety.