'Together with the Super Hornet and Growler electronic warfare aircraft, the F-35 aircraft will ensure Australia maintains a regional air combat edge', Prime Minister Abbott said today when he announced Australia would spend A$12 billion on 58 additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (14 are already on order).
He's right, but then he would also have been right about our regional combat edge if Australia had purchased additional Super Hornets. As Andrew Davies wrote in this excellent ASPI primer on the topic, 'The "further Super Hornets" option is almost certainly less expensive...and would provide adequate capability against the range of credible threats that Australia could face in the foreseeable future.'
So this is a decision that shores up our alliance by providing confidence to the overall JSF program, which is vital to the US military. But it also implicitly signals that Australia's defence planners — and our government — are less worried about Southeast Asia than about the growing capabilities of China.