The first two Lockheed Martin F-35As to be based in Australia have departed Luke AFB in Arizona, bound for RAAF Williamtown. The two aircraft, A35-009 and A35-010 are scheduled to arrive at Williamtown on Monday December 10. The ferry flight will travel via Hawaii, Guam and RAAF Amberley, and will be supported by an RAAF KC-30A MRTT.
Just like the arrival of the first two F/A-18 classic Hornets in May 1985 when a brace of Dassault Mirage IIIOs flew out to meet and ‘escort’ them in to Williamtown, up to three Hornets will fly out to greet the F-35s. The formation will fly low along the Hunter region coastline from Port Stephens to Lake Macquarie, before landing at Williamtown just after 1000am.
The two F-35s are the first of 72 that will be based in Australia with 3SQN, 2OCU and 77SQN at Williamtown, and 75SQN at RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory. 3SQN will conduct a two-year verification & validation (V&V) period with the F-35s from early 2019. The V&V will be the major effort in order to achieve an initial operational capability (IOC), and will validate the F-35’s capabilities in an Australian operational and maintenance environment.
In the meantime, Australia will continue to build its cadre of F-35 pilots with the USAF 61st Fighter Squadron’s multi-national Integrated Training Center (ITC) at Luke AFB, with the next RAAF unit, 2OCU scheduled to start bringing its F-35s home from early 2020.
After 2OCU has received its F-35As, is settled at Williamtown and has conducted its first F-35A operational conversion (OPCON) course, the RAAF is expected to declare IOC in late 2020. After 2OCU, 77SQN will re-equip in 2021, and 75SQN will follow in 2022.
The RAAF has a ‘program of record’ requirement for 100 F-35s, and has an outstanding requirement for 28-30 aircraft to ostensibly replace the F/A-18F Super Hornets from 2028 under Project AIR 6000 Phase 6. But the RAAF may instead decide to upgrade its Super Hornets to the US Navy-common Block III standard, or alternatively look at an unmanned capability.
The November-December 2018 issue of ADBR has a comprehensive coverage of the F-35’s introduction into RAAF service, including the growing presence at Luke AFB, pilot and maintainer training, RAAF and industry sustainment, and other key elements required to bring this next generation capability into service.