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THE controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has hit another hurdle with the fleet of 20 test planes grounded because of a serious mechanical failure.
Australia will buy up to 100 of the fifth-generation stealth planes for up to $16 billion – about $100 million each plus support costs – to provide the RAAF with the world’s most advanced fighter jet.
Most of the problems with the JSF project have involved the so-called short take-off and vertical landing – or STOVL variant – being built for the US Marines and the British Royal Navy, but the latest incident involved the conventional air force model Australia is buying.
The program’s Joint Project Office announced the latest crisis in a statement to US reporters and Australia’s military buyer, the Defence Material Organisation, last Thursday.
Defence decided not to distribute the statement to Australian media but quietly posted it on the DMO website.
It said the 20 aircraft being tested would be grounded after a failure in aircraft number four.
Defence told the Herald Sun it was “closely monitoring” the situation, but did not expect the grounding to affect the overall program.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the Government was closely watching the program and hinted that it would not hesitate to buy additional Super Hornets from Boeing if there was a risk of a capability gap.
Australia has ordered 14 JSF’s for $3.2 billion with the first due to be delivered to RAAF test pilots at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida during 2014. The first JSF squadron is due in Australia by 2017-18.