Australia’s largest ever defence acquisition project, the Joint Strike Fighter, is running into more turbulence.

American defence website Military.com reports the US Air Force plans to reduce its expected purchase of Joint Strike Fighters by 72 aircraft due to skyrocketing costs in the Lightning II program:

The proposed reduction, roughly the equivalent of one fighter wing, is part of the Air Force’s fiscal year 2008 spending plan that the service submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on Aug. 15. That budget blueprint spans fiscal years 2008 to 2013…

Such a move also would offset staggering cost increases that came to light earlier this year, officials noted. Service officials want to use the dollars that would have been spent to buy the 72 fighters to pay the unexpected bills that triggered a substantial cost spike from last year.

The total price tag for the tri-service Joint Strike Fighter program shot up by nearly $19 billion during a four-month period in 2005, according to a Pentagon selected acquisition report (SAR) released April 7 after it was sent to Congress.

The story follows hot on the heels of an earlier report from InsideDefence.com  that claims the US Navy and Marine Corps want to delay fielding of the Joint Strike Fighter by more than a year:

The Navy and Marine Corps’ fiscal year 2008 to 2013 program objective memorandum, submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense earlier this month, includes changes to the JSF program that reflect an agreement between the sea services to postpone initial operating capability by 14 months, said Pentagon officials…

The proposal, if approved, would be the second significant schedule change for the JSF in the last two years. In 2004, weight issues prompted the program to be delayed, a shift that drove costs up.

A delay in the production schedule could also have implications for the nine-nation international partnership working with the US military to develop the new fighter.

That, of course, means us. Which leaves those questions dangling again. What are we getting in for, how much is it going to cost, how long will it take – and at the end of the day, will it work?

Peter Fray

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