This is to suggest the Australian Government order 24 F-35B Lightning II STOVL aircraft to equip the HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide. The Canberra and Adelaide are currently described as Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships, operating only helicopters from the flight deck. However, the Australian government ordered the ships fitted with ski-jump ramps intended for Short Takeoff - Vertical Landing (STOVL) fixed wing aircraft. With these aircraft, the ships will then be able to carry out their primary mission, of amphibious operations. Without the protection of aircraft, the ships will be limited to operating close to the Australian coast.
The F-35B is the highest technical rusk, most expensive and lowest performance of the three F-35 variants. Currently the Australian government is considering ordering the conventional takeoff F-35A, which is less risky, cheaper and higher performance. However, the F-35B offers the ability to operate from a ship's deck and retains the stealth characteristics and a useful payload. The extra cost of the F-35B has in effect been underwritten, by the other variants and has performed well in recent shipboard trials.
Risks remain with the F-35 project. Australia could order 24 F-35Bs, sufficient for the two ships. If the F-35 turns out to be successful, then F-35As could be ordered later for land-based use. Otherwise more F/A-18Fs could be ordered for land use and just the 24 F-35Bs retained for shipboard use.
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