CANBERRA - Australia will delay orders for its first squadron of Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighters to help with budget savings, the government said on Thursday, in the latest setback for the long-delayed and over-budget international project.
Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said a decision on when to take delivery of the 12 stealth aircraft would be pushed back two years, putting Australia on the same timetable as the United States, which has also delayed initial purchases.
Australia has committed to two joint strike fighters to be delivered in 2014-15, but which will remain in the United States for testing and pilot training. It was due to decide later this year on the timing of the next 12 planes for use in Australia.
"We are now essentially on the same time timetable for delivery of our first batch of joint strike fighters as the United States," Smith told reporters, adding the delay would save Australia $1.6-$2.1 billion to help the government return its budget to surplus.