Australia delays delivery of 12 F-35 fighters

Associated Press Modified: May 2, 2012 at 8:45 pm •  Published: May 2, 2012

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia announced on Thursday that to cut costs it is pushing back delivery of most of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters it plans to buy from the United States.

Defense Minister Stephen Smith said delaying delivery of the advanced warplanes two years, to 2019, would save the government 1.6 billion Australian dollars ($1.6 billion) over the next four years. He said Australia remains committed to the Joint Strike Fighter project.

Australia is a funding partner in developing the JSF, which the U.S. Defense Department describes as the largest fighter aircraft program in history. The Lockheed Martin Corp. JSF program has been troubled by repeated blowouts in cost as well as delivery schedules.

Most of the funding for the fighter comes from the United States, while Canada, Turkey, Britain, Italy, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands are also funding partners.

Australia is contractually obligated to take delivery of only two of the warplanes. Those will be based in the United States and be available from 2014 for training Australian pilots.

Australia had planned to take delivery of the next 12 during the following three years.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Thursday confirmed that defense spending will be cut as part of her government's ambitious plan to return the nation's budget to surplus in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The government will unveil its spending blueprint Tuesday next week.