Aviation Week reports that Australia is considering purchasing an additional 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to bridge an air-power gap that will occur when Australia's older 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets are retired. If Australia does purchase the additional Super Hornets, it would be the second order they have made for Super Hornets.
Australia has committed to purchasing at least 14 F-35s already, but if the order is decreased to the minimum, it would be a blow to the F-35 program overall as Australia decreasing it's order would be a high profile blow for the F-35.
Up till the last couple of years Australia has been planning to purchase 100 F-35As to replace the aging Hornets, but when a RAND study came out that claimed the F-35 would be at a disadvantage against Chinese fighters support has started to weaken. On top of this, the present administration in Australia, and the last administration have both stated that they will not tolerate a decline in Australia's air combat capability. Thus, with the F-35 suffering from delays, and Australia's aging F/A-18A/Bs being retired, Australia will probably order the additional Super Hornets.
Possible reasons for Australia replacing the F-35 with the F/A-18 would be the fact that the F-35A has a shorter combat range than the U.S. Air Force required, and range is an extremely important factor in the south Pacific as the distances are great in that area. Another reason could be that the F-35 has only 4 internal hardpoints for carrying ordnance and placing ordnance on the wing hardpoints would disrupt the F-35's stealth capabilities. Other possible reasons could include lack of maneuverability, speed, and high costs.
Whatever the Australians choose in this matter it will be interesting to watch these events unfold, and as a result watch how Lockheed responds.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force