The fighter's soaring costs have produced rising consternation in Australia, with a number of politicians questioning whether the air force can afford to purchase the 100 fifth-generation stealth aircraft it initially intended to buy.
Australia had originally intended to purchase up to 100 of the Joint Strike Fighter jets, officially known as the F-35 Lightning ll, to replace both its U.S. built McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet jet fighters and its already retired General Dynamics F-111 bomber fleet.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, principal executive of the Pentagon's JSF Program Office, candidly addressed the issue of F-35 cost overruns recently met with Australian defense officials at the Avalon air show in Melbourne, Victoria.
Bogdan said that his survey of the JSF program had uncovered "ugly" problems with the program but that his office had sought to have the F-35 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, to share the costs of fixing faults and covering delays, The Australian reported Thursday.
Bogdan said his role wasn't to be a cheerleader for the F-35, remarking that the JSF would probably cost Australia $90 million-$92 million apiece.
"You hear Lockheed Martin keep talking about $65 million, $67 million. Well, guess what? That's the cost back in 2004 or 2003. Who cares about that? I want to know what it costs the day I buy it," Bogdan said.
Alluding to the recent grounding of all 51 of the U.S. Air Force's F-35 fleet after a crack was found on an engine turbine blade, Bogdan said" "It is not unusual in development programs for these things to happen. Don't be shocked in the future if we find other things wrong with the airplane that will result in us doing the same thing."
He said he expected to know the cause of the cracking within a week.
After the F-35 groundings, former Australian Labor Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon criticized Australian air force commanders for their "obsession" with the F-35, saying: "I think there is an almost obsession with the JSF within the uniformed ranks. This is their brand new toy."
Lockheed Martin chief F-35 Joint Strike Fighter chief test pilot Al Norman, speaking at the Avalon Australian International Air Show, promoted the aircraft to the Australian air force.
"We have been at 1 1/2 times the speed of sound," he said. "We have been to all those edges of the envelope already. The F-35 brings an unprecedented amount of survivability and lethality; that's really what air forces of the future need."
The Australian's air force's first pair of F-35s is to be delivered at the end of next year. Canberra is to decide this year if it will commit to buying a dozen more, with 2016 being another milestone by which time the Australian government will decide whether to buy an additional 58 F-35 JSFs.