CANBERRA, Australia, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- The Australian air force will take delivery of another three Super Hornet fighter jets by the end of the year, boosting its fleet to 14.
"Super Hornets are on-schedule and under budget," Minister for Defense Materiel Jason Clare said.
"They will add to the fire power of our air force, taking our air capability to the next generation of fighter plane."
The purchase of the Boeing Super Hornets -- 24 in all -- is bridging strategy within Australia's air defense capability, authorities said. The planes are to cover the retirement of the Australian air force's aging fleet of General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark strike aircraft and fill the gap until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is operational by 2018.
Australia has been taking advantage of upgrade options in its contract for the Hornets and Super Hornets. This summer L-3 Communications MAS in Canada and BAE Systems Australia completed a fuselage upgrade on an unspecified number of older Australian air force F/A-18 Hornets.
The work to extend the operational life of the aircraft to around 2020 -- to overlap with the introduction of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- involved replacing the center barrel unit, the main structural element to which the wings and undercarriage are attached.
L-3 MAS and BAE Systems Australia worked on the barrel replacement program under contract to Australia's Defense Materiel Organization.
Last month the government announced it was set to buy Boeing's EA-18G Growler, essentially a specialized version of the two-seat F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and which the U.S. government approved for full-rate production only last December.
The decision for was made by the U.S. Technology, Transfer, Security Assistance, Review Board, and will make Australia the first export country for the Growler.
The Growler is fitted with ITT ALQ-99 radar jamming pods and an interference cancellation system, Northrop Grumman ALQ-218(V)2 radio frequency receiver and Raytheon ALQ-227 communication countermeasures suite for electronic surveillance.
Power is from twin General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofans giving a maximum speed of nearly twice the speed of sound, around 1,190 mph at 40,000 feet.
The armaments have been removed to accommodate electronic surveillance and jamming equipment. This includes removing the wingtip missile launcher rail for the AIM-9 Sidewinder, as mounted on the Super Hornet, and replacing them with AN/ALQ-218.
Australia's main attack aircraft will be the F-35, which had its first test flight at the end of 2006. The main engine is a Pratt & Whitney F135 with a joint General Electric and Rolls-Royce F136 engine as an alternative.
The Australian government gave final approval late last year for the first group of Joint Strike Fighters, worth $3 billion for 14 aircraft to be delivered in 2014.
The Ministry of Defense said at the time the F-35 aircraft will be handed over in the United States, ready to begin initial training and test activities and are to replace Australia's F/A-18F Super Hornets.
Australia's first operational F-35 squadron will be based at Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown and will be ready for operations in 2018, a government statement said.
The acquisition in 2014 is the first of three purchases for three squadrons totaling 72 planes, all expected to be in service by 2021 as announced in the government's Air Combat Capability Review and 2009 Defense White Paper, a ministry statement said.
Also during the announcement of the arrival of the next three Super Hornets, Clare said Australia had completed the first test firing of the air-to-ground Joint Standoff Weapon, made by Raytheon, outside of the United States.
The AGM-154 JSW, a joint venture between the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, is a standardized medium-range precision-guided weapon, especially for engagement of defended targets from outside the range of standard anti-aircraft defenses.
"This weapon was dropped from one of our new Super Hornets," Clare said. "The glide weapon has a range of up to (62 miles) and provides a precision strike capability against hardened targets, such as bunkers."
The Super Hornets conducted two firings in August and September of the weapon at the Woomera Test Range against two hardened concrete targets.
"This is a significant milestone. It means that Super Hornets are on track to become operational later this year," Clare said.
"The arrival of the Super Hornets marks an important transition for the RAAF, who will decommission the final F-111 squadron after four decades of service."
The Australian Department of Defense said the F-111 squadron will be "farewelled" in the first week of December at RAAF Base Amberley.