The RAAF has formally accepted three more F-35As from Lockheed Martin at the Integrated Training Centre at Luke AFB in Arizona.
After rolling out and taking flight for the first time in December and January, F-35As A35-003, 004 and 005 were accepted into the ITC in early March. The new aircraft are the first JSF international partner aircraft to be delivered with the latest Block 3F operational flight program software load.
The RAAF’s first two F-35As which have been at Luke AFB for three years have recently been inducted into the USAF’s Ogden Logistics Center at Hill AFB in Utah to receive various structural, hardware and software upgrades to bring them up to the current standard.
“These latest aircraft are fitted with the program’s final software system, which unlocks the aircraft’s full war-fighting potential including weapons, mission systems and flight performance,” Defence Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
“Australia now has five aircraft at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, USA, where our pilots are currently training. Five more aircraft are scheduled for delivery by the end of 2018,” she added. “The stealthy, advanced F-35A is a step change in the Australian Defence Force’s capabilities, giving Australia an edge against the emergence of advanced capabilities in our region.”
The growing RAAF F-35 pilot and maintenance cadre from 3SQN are based at Luke AFB as elements of the combined 61st Fighter Squadron. As the 3SQN builds experience, it is expected to go through its first F-35A airworthiness board in August, before preparing to bring the first two aircraft home to RAAF Williamtown in December to commence Australian-specific validation and verification activities.
The RAAF has ordered 72 F-35As under Project AIR 6000 Phases 2A/2B which are scheduled to have been delivered by 2023 to replace the F/A-18A/B Hornet in service, and will possibly order up to 30 more aircraft under Phase 2C to replace the F/A-18F Super Hornets.