Australia will continue with the F/A-18 Super Hornet program, produced by Boeing [BA], based on advice from its ongoing Defence Review, the government said March 17.

In addition, the government said the detailed analysis in the review has led the Defence Department to expect savings of up to $275.5 million in internal defense and industry costs of supporting the aircraft.

Last spring, under the previous government, Australia signed a potential $2.3 billion with the U.S. Navy to acquire 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets and associated support systems (Defense Daily, May 9). The total program investment is approximately $4.9 billion over 10 years, including acquisition and support.

Based on the review, the government concluded that: "There has been a lack of sound, long-term air combat capability planning decisions by the former government over the course of the last decade.

The retirement of the F-111 was made in haste but is now irreversible. The cost of turning the F-111 back on would be enormous and crews and skills have already moved on. The former Government’s decision to leave Australia’s air defences in the hands of the Joint Strike Fighter project was a flawed leap of faith in scheduling terms and combined with the quick decision to retire the F-111 early, allowed an air combat capability gap to emerge."

Thus, defense planners had "no choice" but to recommend the Super Hornet. "No other suitable aircraft could be produced to meet the 2010 deadline the former government had set."

The government said canceling the Super Hornet would carry not only financial penalties but create tensions with contract partners.

The defense review analysis also highlighted additional capabilities such as specialist electronic warfare variants, such as the F/A-18G, that will be considered as part of the Super Hornet acquisition. Such capabilities will be explored in greater detail in the second stage of the Air Combat Capability Review.

The defense review continues and more announcements will be made after it reports out late next month. It will consider Australia’s air combat capability needs out to 2045, including the status of plans to acquire the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

"Air superiority is Australia’s single most important Defence capability," the government said.