The Australian government said Friday that it will purchase 12 Boeing [BA]-built EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft.
Defense Minister Stephen Smith, in rolling out the country’s national security strategy, said the decision to buy the Growlers was in part based on accounting for any additional setbacks in the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
|Growler in the foreground flying beside a Super Hornet. Photo by Boeing.|
“There are still risks associated with (the F-35) and we’re not prepared to take the risk of a gap in our air combat capability or superiority,” Smith told reporters, according to a government transcript.
The Pentagon and prime contractor Lockheed Martin [LMT] have been trying to rein in problems with the F-35 program, which has seen costs balloon and has been plagued by delays.
The Growlers are based on the F/A-18 Super Hornet airframe. Australia has purchased 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets and at one time considered converting half of those into Growlers. But Smith said the country determined it was best to keep all F/A-18s and make a separate purchase for the Growlers.
The decision is a boost for Boeing, which would have been forced to shut down its F/A-18 and EA-18G production line in St. Louis in 2015, when multi-year procurement with the U.S. Navy was completed. But Australia’s new plans, coupled with additional aircraft for the U.S. Navy, will now push that timeframe at least until the end of 2016, Boeing spokeswoman Karen Fincutter said.