Back in 2004, the new air combat capability office (NACC), stated that if the F-35 didn't pan out that we would start over.
So much for that idea because the word on the street is that there could be a commitment to purchase more Super Hornets. Sad because intellectual laziness can't replace logical considerations based in a tender process.
Time is short. It takes years to field a fighter aircraft into real squadrons. Fighters arriving in 2012 would have allowed the old legacy F-18s to retire with some kind of dignity.
The F-35 program will probably fail. If it does not, it is doubtful that an intelligent purchaser of military hardware can evaluate the design until 2020 at the earliest. This assumes initial operating capability for the F-35 in United States Air Force (USAF) does not slip further. IOC for the USAF is supposed to happen in 2018. Given another 2 years or so for tribal knowledge of real operators to grow and that is the time when you can really consider the worth of the F-35. Anything else is gross stupidity with the taxpayers money.
Australia no longer has a budget surplus like it did from the previous administration. There are also large budget commitments for Navy ships and subs. Any refresh of fighter technology will now have to be done over a longer time period. That is, unless someone can come up with an extra 200-plus billion to assuage the federal budget.
Below is a graphic I made up of one possible fighter replacement scenario. It does not fix the true problem of regional air domination. It only allows for Australia to have some serviceable second-tier strike fighter aircraft to use in conjunction with the US and other allies. It assumes short thinking on the part of Defence leadership with the fall-back being the Super Hornet.
It is possible that after an evaluation of the F-35, Australia may go in that direction. Because of all the problems, I doubt it.
So, about 2020 or so we do an evaluation of the F-35 program and either commit to it if it is mature and shows value, or move on to something else. What ever that is, I do not know.
Australia needs to start replacing legacy Hornets now. Australia can pay for the first batch of new single-seat Super Hornets and needed infrastructure by pulling the money from Faulkner's Folly.
Someone will probably trot out the comment that, "we have $16B committed to the New Air Combat Capability". Good luck with that idea in this budget climate.
It is sad that we have gotten to this point. It could have all been avoided; if only we had real air power leaders instead of useless bureaucrats. Until then, expect more misleading statements from Defence for 2012 about what a great job they are doing.
(click on image to make it larger)