The F-35 Lightning II program, better known as the JSF, is on the table down unda:
THE national security committee of cabinet will consider this week whether to go ahead with Australia’s biggest defence contract – spending at least $16 billion on 100 Joint Strike Fighters – or to delay the purchase because of the economic crisis.
Even if the Government does sign the contract early next year, the first squadron of 24 aircraft will not be operational until about 2017.
The Defence Minister, John Faulkner, the Minister for Defence Materiel, Greg Combet, the Industry Minister, Kim Carr, and senior defence and industry officials received extensive briefings last week from Lockheed Martin Corporation, which is building the multi-role jet, on the progress of the project.
Also under scrutiny is the idea of buying a remotely piloted version of the machine, an “expendable wingman” if you will, that a manned F-35 could send forward into very high threat envelopes:
While development of an unmanned Lightning was possible, it was likely the Lightning could take with it on operations unmanned fighter jets that the Lightning’s pilot would control and send into dangerous situations. ”I fully expect to see F-35s flying with unmanned aircraft on their wing,” (Lockheed program manager Tom) Burbage said.
Keeping your bomb truck as similar in fit and form – manned or unmanned – could save out-year dollars in life cycle costs, since it reduces the amount of unique auxilliary equipment and spare parts to a minimum.