The first two RAAF Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighters to be based in Australia have been formally welcomed to their home base of RAAF Williamtown today.
The two jets, A35-009 and -010 arrived at Williamtown at 10:20am on December 10 from RAAF Amberley. The aircraft had arrived at Amberley last week after ferrying from Luke AFB in the US via Hawaii.
These two aircraft were delivered in August and September and were the first to be accepted directly into an Australian operational unit and RAAF airworthiness authority, with the previous eight being placed onto the USAF’s system via an RAAF Chief of Air Force directive.
“This is the most advanced, multi-role stealth fighter in the world,” Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said in a statement. “It will deliver next generation capability benefits and provide a major boost to our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
“In Australia’s immediate region, Japan and South Korea are in the process of procuring the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, and are closely aligned with Australia’s pursuit of shared strategic, security and economic interests,” Minister Pyne added.
In a separate statement, Lockheed Martin Australia Chief Executive, Vince Di Pietro added, “The arrival of the first F-35 aircraft to be permanently based in Australia is a historic occasion and we are proud of our role as the 5th generation design pioneer and F-35 original equipment manufacturer. We congratulate the RAAF, the ADF and all of our Australian industry partners who have worked to make this achievement a reality.”
The once in a generation delivery event comes 16 years after Australia committed to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program as a development partner nation in 2002, and 33 years after the first delivery of the aircraft the F-35A will succeed, the F/A-18A/B Hornet in May 1985. To date, 10 F-35As have been delivered to the multi-national integrated training centre (ITC) which is operated by the USAF’s 61st Fighter Squadron (FS), and to 3SQN at Luke AFB in Arizona.
When Australia joined the JSF program, it had a ‘program of record’ requirement for 100 new fighters to replace the F-111C and F/A-18A/B Hornet in service from 2012.
But multiple development delays and a ‘re-baselining’ of the program in 2005 which saw a redesign of all three versions of the aircraft, primarily due to the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B being overweight, added about five years to the development schedule, and a similar delay to the RAAF’s schedule.
With the F-111 rapidly approaching the end of its service life, in 2007 the RAAF ordered 24 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets as a ‘bridging capability’ between the F-111 and the F-35, with these aircraft entering service in 2010. Today, the RAAF has 10 F-35As on strength and 72 on order through Project AIR 6000 Phases 2A/2B, with Phase 6 to consider a requirement for a further 28-30 aircraft from 2028 to either replace the Super Hornets or to upgrade them to the latest US Navy-common Block III standard.
“Flown by Australian pilots, maintained by Australian maintenance personnel and containing many best-of-breed advanced components made right here in Australia, all Australians have every reason to be proud of this achievement,” Di Pietro said. “Australia plays a significant role in the program with a suite of local industrial technology and knowhow behind the hundreds of F-35s flying today, as well as the thousands of F-35s that will be produced in the future.”
While 009 and 010 are the first F-35As to be based in Australia, they are not the first RAAF F-35As to visit Australia. In February 2017, A35-001 and 002 visited briefly to appear at the Avalon Airshow, but returned to the ITC at Luke AFB to continue the RAAF’s commitment to the international training effort.
The original eight RAAF F-35As will remain at the ITC at Luke, while A35-009 and 010 will commence a two-year validation and verification (V&V) of the aircraft in the Australian environment. A further 15 F-35As will be delivered to 3SQN and the ITC at Luke in 2019 before they start to ferry home in early 2020 to complete 3SQN’s roster and start to populate 2OCU’s ‘carports’ and hangars at Williamtown.
The RAAF is scheduled to achieve an initial operational capability (IOC) in late 2020 with 3SQN and 2OCU, and will withdraw from the Luke AFB ITC in 2021 as 77SQN and then 75SQN swap out their F/A-18A/Bs for F-35As.