Australia may not need to buy the remaining 28 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters on the government's original 100-aircraft order, and it's looking for more clever thinkers.
Air Force Chief Mel Hupfeld told a Defence industry gathering on Thursday that changing circumstances and technology advancements meant the right choice for future capability may not be more F-35s, nor a fighter jet at all. Rather, whatever will give him air combat superiority and strike capability.
"There are already many options emerging," Air Marshal Hupfeld told the Meet the Chiefs event, which included staff from the F-35's manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
"In the changing landscape, I've got to be open to the other options that are out there."
Defence leaders have been steering the organisation and industry to better prepare for so-called grey zone conflicts - strategic activity which could be seen as threatening, but short of open warfare.
The Air Force chief said the service was effective in high-end warfighting, but it now needed to do much more than that or risk missing opportunities to contribute to Australia's objectives.
"Air Force has moved on from being 'things with wings'," Air Marshal Hupfeld said, noting that the service needed more analysts, and cyber and space experts among its recruits and collaborators.
"We can't send an F-35 to sort out election tampering in a Pacific island nation.
"A long-range ballistic missile is a bit of an overreaction to an illegal fishing boat in our exclusive economic zone."
He called on industry to work together to provide options for the Air Force to respond to emerging needs.
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