Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot wanted to put short-take-off and vertical-landing F-35Bs – made by American defense contractor Lockheed Martin – on the decks of the Navy's two 27,000-ton troop transport assault ships.
To accommodate the aircraft, defense officials said, the ships would require extensive modifications, including new radar systems, instrument landing systems, heat-resistant decking, restructuring of fuel storage and fuel lines, and storage hangars.
The two assault ships, as they are now, are designed to carry helicopters.
"There were just too many technical difficulties involved in modifying a ship which takes helicopters to take fighter jets and it is also very expensive," one source told the Australian Financial Review. "You can safely say it has been dropped."
Australia therefore will only operate the standard F-35A variant, of which 72 are on order and two are currently used for training in the United States. The first Royal Australian Air Force pilots are learning to fly the F-35A at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
The recently commissioned HMAS Canberra and soon-to-be delivered HMAS Adelaide are likely to be primarily used to transport troops and equipment to war or disaster zones.
At a total cost of more than $1 trillion – with a 't' – the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons program in the Pentagon’s history. Moreover, the program has been plagued by multiple delays and cost overruns.
The US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps – along with the militaries of more than a dozen US allies – are counting on the stealth fighter to replace aircraft currently in service and take over a number of missions.