The RAAF has taken delivery of two more F-35As at RAAF Williamtown, doubling the locally-based fleet to four.
The aircraft – A35-011 and -012 – arrived at RAAF Williamtown on April 7, joining A35-009 and -010 which ferried in from Luke AFB in Arizona last December. The latest ferry was supported by an RAAF KC-30A tanker, and was routed from Luke AFB via Hickam AFB in Hawaii.
The new additions will join 3 Squadron’s validation and verification (V&V) effort, an Australian-specific operational evaluation of how the F-35A integrates with the RAAF’s basing infrastructure, networks and other capabilities, and force multipliers. A successful V&V is a key requirement in order for the RAAF to declare an initial operational capability (IOC) of the F-35A, currently scheduled for late 2020.
Apart from the ongoing deliveries to Williamtown, of which six more are expected this year, the RAAF will continue to maintain 10 F-35As embedded with the USAF’s 61st Fighter Squadron (FS) at the international training centre at Luke AFB until at least the end of 2021.
The arrival of the new aircraft follows an April 6 ministerial announcement that government had approved the Project AIR 6000 Phase 3 acqusition of a “range of weapons and countermeasures” for the RAAF’s F-35As and F/A-18F Super Hornets.
The announcement said didn’t specific what weapons had been approved. “Aircraft self-protection countermeasures and weapons are essential elements of Australia’s air combat capability,” outgoing Defence Minster Christopher Pyne said. “This latest investment will ensure weapons and decoys are available as Australia’s air combat fleet transitions to the F-35A and Super Hornet.
“A range of complementary weapons and countermeasures will be acquired to provide comprehensive options for use in densely contested environments.”
Also announced on April 6 was the signing of a seven-year agreement by Pratt & Whitney with Newcastle-based Nupress Tools Pty Ltd to manufacture components for the F135 engine used by the F-35.
The contract is to manufacture small machined parts including brackets, clamps, tubes and adaptors as part of P&W’s global supply chain.
“Under this contract Nupress expect to produce 50 per cent of the global supply of five engine components for Pratt & Whitney,” Minister Pyne said. “This is a fantastic achievement and I congratulate Nupress’ management and staff for their dedication to the global F-35 Program and Australia’s national security.”
The contract sees Nupress’ role on the F-35 expanded, as the company already supplies F-35 canopy slings to the Varley Group.