More than three years on from its maiden flight, the US-built F-35B Joint Strike Fighter is finally entering production.
Its first aircraft has been completed and is now being flown by more than 60,000 US troops.
But while the US military hopes to have its first F-22 Raptor squadron ready to fly in 2019, Australia is in the process of buying another F-18 Super Hornet fighter jet.
The F-15C Joint Strike Eagle has been mothballed for a decade, and while it has flown on several occasions, it has never entered combat.
In recent months, US President Donald Trump has suggested the F-16, which has been plagued by safety and reliability problems since it entered service in the 1990s, could be retired in 2019.
He is likely to do the same to the F/A-18, which will be retired after 20 years of service in 2020.
The US has been spending a record $US1.6 billion on the F35, which is being built at a cost of about $US3.5 billion.
A major factor in the decision is that it will replace the F4 Phantom II, the aircraft Australia’s then Defence Minister Kevin Andrews called the “ultimate stealth fighter”.
Mr Andrews said the F5A was also a potential replacement for the F6E/F-18.
“If we can reduce the cost, it is certainly one option that we would consider,” he said.
“We’re a nation that wants to be a global force, and we will need to maintain that capability.”
But while he would be keen to maintain the F1 fighter aircraft, which the US has also ordered, he said there was no point continuing to build the F3A and F4A.
“There’s no sense in continuing to go through the process to build that fighter when you’re not going to be able to fly it,” he told ABC Radio.
“The F3 has already been built.
It’s ready to go.”
Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the decision to retire the F15C had been made in consultation with Defence, Industry and Defence Trade Association chief executive Tim Pomeroy.
“Our industry, our nation, and our defence has been and continues to be the cornerstone of our national security,” he wrote in a statement.
But the announcement comes after a number of reports in recent weeks indicated the F16 could be scrapped. “
[I]t is a prudent move to continue to build our aircraft, and to do so at a low cost to our nation.”
But the announcement comes after a number of reports in recent weeks indicated the F16 could be scrapped.
In December, Defence reported a $US100 million cut to the $US5 billion F-20 fighter jet program, which had been ordered in 2014 and has flown five times in the past six years.
The cuts were reported as part of the US Navy’s plans to sell the F22 to the Chinese military, which could lead to a major cost increase.
Earlier this year, a report by US-based aerospace firm Northrop Grumman said the cost of the F20, which includes a single-seat fighter and a large radar system, could hit as much as $US300 million per plane.
It also found that the F21 could cost as much $300 million.
Northrop Grunfeld said the proposed F21 would be more than capable of meeting current threats, including cruise missiles and drones.
This was a big change from the F2 program which has flown four times in its 20-year life, which Northrop said was well above what it was used to flying in the 1980s and 1990s.
“A large number of our competitors, including some of our current customers, are looking to use the F 21 to replace their existing F-19s and F-21A/B aircraft,” Northrop CEO Tim Loparic said.
‘It’s not a decision to take a knee’Northrop says the F14 will remain in service for 20 years, but the decision will be made in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
F14 will be the only plane in the fleet to operate for 20.
But in a sign of how rapidly the industry is changing, the Northrop report said the price tag of the new F15 would be a “significant” reduction.
That is despite a $7.6-billion cost savings in 2016-17, which included cutting the F11B engine and the F18E engines.
One of the main criticisms of the Super Hornets and the Typhoon fighter jet is that they have been criticised for being too expensive to maintain, while the F45 was criticised for not being capable of surviving an attack.
The price tag is $US6.3 billion for the Super Hornets, which were designed and built by Lockheed Martin.