Servicing of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will be undertaken by Japan in the northern Pacific from early 2018, and Australia in the southern Pacific.
Former Minister for Defence Senator David Johnston, who was replaced as in the defence portfolio at the end of 2014 by the Hon Kevin Andrews MP, welcomed the announcement by the US Department of Defense.
“The JSF is the most advanced and complex fighter aircraft in development or production in the world,” Mr Johnston said in December last year, revealing the maintenance work would likely be based at RAAF bases in Amberley and Williamtown.
“Australia being selected to provide regional support reflects the world-leading capabilities our Defence and Aerospace industries possess, it is an outstanding endorsement. Australia is well placed to be assigned further work as part of the F-35 global support system.”
The announcement comes on top of the US$432 million that Australian companies have won in production and development contracts to date.
Senator Johnston said the awarding of the contract was as a result of the Howard Government’s decision to join the F-35 program during the development phase. As a result the senator said the Australian defence industry stands to win well in excess of $1.5bn in JSF-related production and support work over the life of the program.
Indeed, despite the business opportunities inherent in the programme, more than $1.6bn will be spent on new facilities at air bases in Williamtown in New South Wales and Tindal in the Northern Territory to cater for the aircraft.
And the F-35 program has not been without its detractors. Government backbencher Dennis Jensen has condemned the Australian Government’s plan to buy 58 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets at the cost of $12.4bn, describing the purchase as a “great national scandal” and “worse than a disgrace”.
In June last year, Dr Jensen spoke in parliament and warned that Australia’s national security was being corrupted by an “industrial-military complex” interested in promoting the global arms trade.
Fairfax revealed last year that Australia was now the seventh-largest importer of large-scale military materiel in the world, and also the biggest customer of the world’s largest weapons producer, the United States. Australia buys 10 per cent of all American weapons exports.
The additional 58 aircraft will bring Australia’s total Joint Strike Fighter force to 72 aircraft, with the first of them to enter service in 2020.