“Mr Speaker, this year’s Budget continues the Government’s strong commitment to Australia’s national security,” Peter Costello said in his big speech . But was Defence Minister Robert Hill listening?

Australia is scrapping its F-111s in favour of the new US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – even though it’s not really known when it will be in the air. Now, the JSF seems to be causing budgetary concerns of its own to the US House Armed Services Committee.

The Los Angles Times reported on Friday that “in its version of the 2006 defense authorization bill, the committee sliced $152 million off the Bush administration’s request for the F-35 joint strike fighter…The bill was approved by a 61-1 vote of the committee Wednesday and now heads for a floor vote in the House of Representatives.”

So why the cut? The LA Times quotes the committee’s chair, Republican Duncan Hunter, as calling the bill “ ‘tough medicine for some programs’ that need to get their costs under control… In cutting the F-35 budget, the committee noted that changes had to be made to the fighter’s design in order to shed weight. The changes pushed the first flight of the jet back to 2008.”

We don’t know when our key air defence platform will fly – and what it will cost. That’s a strong commitment, hey Treasurer? Hilly?