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Lockheed Martin hopes to deliver more F-35s to Australia



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The logo of Lockheed Martin is seen at Euronaval, the world naval defence exhibition in Le Bourget near Paris, France, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Lockheed Martin Corp (NYSE:) hopes Australia wants to buy more of its F-35 fighter planes after the country completes an ongoing defence review, an executive at the U.S. manufacturer said on Tuesday.

“We hope for the opportunity to deliver additional F-35s beyond” the 72 Australia has on order, Executive Vice President of Aeronautics Greg Ulmer told reporters on the sidelines of the Australia International Airshow.

Ulmer also said Lockheed has had initial talks with Australia about teaming the F-35 with Boeing (NYSE:) Co’s MQ-28 Ghost Bat fighter-like drone.

Boeing’s defence division head Ted Colbert said during the air show that a partnership would be “great news”.

Australia has purchased 72 Lockheed F-35A jets to form three squadrons, with all aircraft scheduled to be fully operational this year.

A defence strategic review considering Australia’s future force posture – including the possible purchase of a fourth squadron of F-35 jets – was handed to the government on Feb. 14.

Defence Minister Richard Marles, in a pre-air show speech on Monday, said the review and the government’s response would be made public in April.

He said the review comes against a backdrop of increased strategic competition between nations in the region.

“In the Indo-Pacific, China is driving the largest conventional military build-up we’ve seen anywhere in the world since the Second World War. And much of this build-up is opaque,” Marles said.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, has joined the United States in pushing back against China’s growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.

Singapore last week said it would acquire an extra eight F-35B jets, in addition to the four it ordered in 2019.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan and South Korea also operate the fifth-generation fighters, while Thailand has expressed interest in buying them.

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