The RAAF has taken delivery of its ninth F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and the first to be taken on strength by its first operational flying unit to fly the jet, No 3 Squadron.
F-35A A35-009 was delivered to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona where it was accepted by 3QSN in early September.
“It’s is an exciting time for ACG as we transition to F-35A operations over the next few years,” Commander Air Combat Group Air Commodore Mike Kitcher told Air Force News.
“While there are challenges ahead, particularly as we prepare for the conduct of Australian-based operations next year, I am confident we are well placed to manage the transition.”
3SQN pilots and maintenance personnel are currently training on the F-35 with the US Air Force’s 56th Fighter Wing at Luke. The squadron is due to bring the first two jets to Australia in mid-December for a ‘Verification & Validation Testing’ program and to allow in-country F-35 maintenance training to begin.
Earlier RAAF F-35As are flying with the 56th Fighter Wing as part of the International F-35A Pilot Training Center.
“We plan to conduct the transition process with a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach with an initial low rate of effort,” AIRCDRE Kitcher said.
“Our flying program initially would involve functional check flights, ferry work-up and ferry flights, flying training activities in Australia and public relations activities.”
Australia has committed to buying 72 F-35As under Project AIR 6000 Phases 2A/2B, which are scheduled to be delivered by 2023 to replace the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B Hornets.
RAAF Initial Operational Capability with the F-35A is planned for December 2020.