CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia said Friday it would buy 12 Boeing EA-18G Growler advanced electronic warfare technology aircraft because it can't risk delivery delays in their replacement, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
The government announced last year that its air force will equip 12 of Australia's F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighters with Growler radar-jamming equipment and other gear to knock out a wide array of electronic devices from 2018.
But the reviewed defense strategy released Friday said the government now plans to buy 12 new Growlers and to keep Australia's existing 24 Super Hornets as they are. Australia will be the only country other than the United States to operate Growlers, which are to be replaced eventually by JFSs.
"We've made decisions to protect our own air combat capability with the previous acquisitions of Super Hornets and now additional Growlers," Defense Minister Stephen Smith told reporters.
"It is quite clearly the case on our one analysis but also on U.S. analysis that the Joint Strike Fighter project ... has improved, but there are still risks associated with that and we're not prepared to ... take the risk of a gap in our air combat capability or superiority," he added.
The government has not said when the new Growlers will be delivered. Smith said they will cost around $1.5 billion.
Australia plans to buy 14 JSFs for $3.2 billion and is contracted to buy two which will be delivered in 2014 and 2015.
The government announced last year that it was pushing back delivery of most of the JSFs by two years to 2019 as a cost-cutting measure.
The JSFs are to replace the Growlers and Super Hornets which are expected to be retired around 2030. Smith said the first of three JSF squadrons are scheduled to be delivered from 2020.
Lockheed Martin Corp. welcomed the government's announcement that it maintained a long-term strategy announced in 2009 to buy as many at100 JSFs for $17 billion.
"Lockheed Martin is honored by the trust and confidence the Australian government showed in the F-35 program with today's announcement," the company said in a statement.
"Along with the first two Australian jets in production, which will deliver in mid-2014, we will work closely with the government to support their purchase of their remaining 100 F-35 aircraft," it added.
Smith said a "modest increase" in defense spending will be announced on May 14 with the government's budget for the next fiscal year beginning July 1.
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