The details are sketchy (and not confirmed by additional sources) but the plan-B could be 24 single-seat Block II Super Hornets.
The response by Lockheed Martin is a pack of lies.
The company's F-35 program integration general manager, Tom Burbage, said last month that the Super Hornet price was right up there with the projected $65 million cost per plane of the first 14 F-35s.
The difference was the F-35 was a fifth-generation stealth fighter while the F/A 18 was an old school, fourth-generation design.
The F-35 is not “fifth-generation”; except in the eyes of the marketing pukes. USAF—the supposed biggest buyer of the F-35-- is yet to see anywhere close to “$65 million” for the each aircraft, so that is a lie too. The last LM lie is that the Super Hornet is “old school”. Even though it is the wrong choice for Australia, (neither aircraft can stand up to high-end threats) the Super is a working weapon system. The troubled F-35 is not. The Super is more survivable and more useful than the F-35 which has no credible defensive jamming when stealth goes naked. And, do you want to be in an “old school” Super Hornet or an F-35 when you are over water and one engine quits?
So if the plan-B is taken, Australia will have 24 two-seat and 24 single-seat Super Hornets by around 2016-17. Above the acquisition cost, total support and training expense for each aircraft will be around $12 million per year.
Even if it is not what Australia needs for a valid defence of the nation, the Super Hornet is an easy (read lazy) set of tasks for the entrenched Defence bureaucracy to perform.
Success will be proclaimed by Defence even if the New Air Combat Capability (NACC) office is an example of groupthink and failure.
Success will be proclaimed by Boeing: who devised this plan over 10 years ago.
I suspect that by 2015—if not sooner—we will see another 24 Super Hornets put on order. After all, we don't want the entrenched Defence bureaucracy to hurt themselves thinking too much.