CANBERRA, Australia, March 22 (UPI) -- Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith has decided to delay an order for more JSF F-35 fighters.
The Royal Australian Air Force is scheduled to receive a second batch of 58 Joint Strike Fighters, and Smith's decision to delay the order is being criticized, as it may increase their final cost.
Both Ministry of Defense and industry critics say the decision could create the air warfare capability gap the government says it is trying to avoid, The Canberra Times reported Thursday.
Last month Smith told Parliament he worried that ''a delay in the production of the Joint Strike Fighter and the aging of our classic Hornets'' would create an air warfare capability gap.
Lockheed Martin Vice President Tom Burbage told a parliamentary defense committee the postponement of plane orders by the U.S. and other governments impacted by the global financial crisis was ''the single largest contributor to the increases in the unit cost of the F-35,'' and he urged the Australian government to ''stay the course'' to keep the production line for the sophisticated fifth-generation stealth fighter running at maximum efficiency.