The BAE Systems Australia maintenance and sustainment depot at RAAF base Williamtown has been officially opened, and has inducted its first F-35A Lightning II fighter.
The milestone comes after the company’s two hangars at Williamtown were upgraded to sustain the F-35A and the RAAF’s upgraded Hawk 127 lead-in-fighter. The facility has been designated as the southern pacific regional F-35 maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade (MRO&U) depot F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) for RAAF and regional F-35 operators, including Japan, South Korea, and Singapore.
“It is a privilege to contribute to this exciting global program,” BAE Systems Australia CEO Gabby Costigan said in a company release. “We look forward to delivering a critical maintenance capability, and continuing to partner with the RAAF, the Department of Defence, Lockheed Martin and Defence industry to support the global F-35 program.”
The first of 72 F-35As was delivered to Australia in late 2018, and there are currently 30 aircraft now based at Williamtown with 3SQN and 2OCU, and three more to arrive by the end of February. The RAAF declared an initial operational capability (IOC) of its F-35A in late 2020, and is expected to achieve a full operational capability (FOC) in 2023.
Williamtown’s 77SQN relinquished the last of its F/A-18A/B Hornets in late 2020 and will transition to the F-35A in 2021, while the Tindal-based 75SQN will follow in 2022. The RAAF will take delivery of 15 F-35As in 2021, 15 more in 2022, and the final nine in 2023.
While Australia maintains a ‘program of record’ for 100 aircraft, the final tranche of 28 aircraft to be acquired under Project AIR 6000 Phase 7 may not necessarily be F-35As, and may instead be upgraded F/A-18F Block IIIs, unmanned systems such as the Boeing ATS Loyal Wingman, or a combination of these.