Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter was the most advanced combat aircraft in the world with lethal technology to destroy our enemies who included the Islamic State terrorists in the Middle East.
Challenged on the F-35’s cost and capabilities, the Prime Minister said the Defence Force needed the best capability, the greatest lethality and greatest survivability.
“So that when we send our young men and women out to war they will have the tools to do the job, to destroy their enemies, to destroy the terrorists that seek to do us harm and then to come safely home,” he told reporters at the Avalon Airshow on Friday.
After watching the arrival of Australia’s first two F-35 aircraft, Turnbull faced the press, saying right now the RAAF was in the Middle East on combat operations.
The government had made that job easier by amending restrictive rules of engagement which meant defence personnel could only target those directly engaged in combat, he said.
“My government changed the law so that our Australian Defence Force, our Air Force, is able to kill terrorists in the Middle East whether they have a gun in their hands, a bomb in their hand or whether they are in the back office planning an attack, raising money or engaged in logistics,” he said.
“This is a struggle where we are determined to destroy the terrorist enemies we face in the Middle East. Our men and women are doing that together with our allies the US and others. We are doing that successfully. We are destroying Daesh in the field and their so-called caliphate is coming to an end.”
Earlier, Turnbull, accompanied by Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne and Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne inspected the two aircraft and welcomed their pilots, Wing Commander Andrew Jackson and Squadron Leader Andrew Bell.
The two aircraft are based at Luke USAF Base in Arizona as part of the international pilots training pool. After Avalon, they will return to the US.
Their first visit to Australia and the Avalon Airshow prompted considerable excitement among onlookers and VIPs.
“What an exciting day,” said the PM, adding that 2,500 Australians were now working on this project, rising to 5,000 in 2023 when it would contribute $1 billion a year to GDP.
Senator Payne said there was nothing like landing a pair of JSFs in Australia to make a defence minister’s day.
“They will provide the Air Force with the ability to execute air combat missions previously beyond our scope and not too long ago beyond our imagination,” she said.
Pyne said Australia had been involved in this project from the very beginning and already 32 local businesses had done $800 million worth of business through their involvement in the F-35 project.
“The success of this project should be measured in its capability for the RAAF. But it is also creating high-tech advanced manufacturing high-value jobs future,” he said.