Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)’s F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter aircraft fleet officially achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) today, Dec. 28.
Australia the seventh country to declare IOC for its F-35 fleet.
“The fifth-generation F-35A, along with the F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, is key to our air combat capability and critical to achieving the objectives set out in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update to Shape, Deter and Respond,” said Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds. “For the last two years, Defence has rigorously tested the F-35A fleet to assess aircraft and system performance, and declare this important milestone. I would like to thank everyone that has worked so hard to get us to this point; to have accomplished all the required testing and materiel delivery is remarkable.
“The Australian Defence Force now has an F-35A squadron ready to conduct technologically advanced strike and air combat roles, and another squadron dedicated to providing world-class training here in Australia. While 2020 presented significant challenges to all of us, and travel restrictions made it difficult to ferry our aircraft to Australia, the huge efforts of Defence, industry and our partners in the United States made today’s achievement possible,” the Minister added.
“Our defence industry has played a critical role in achieving today’s milestone, which continues the success story of Australia’s involvement in the F-35 global program,” said Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price. “Just last month we announced that more than 50 Australian companies have shared in $2.7 billion in contracts, demonstrating the Morrison Government’s commitment to backing Australian industry and supporting Australian jobs. Australia will continue to work with the United States F-35 Joint Program Office and our industry partners as more aircraft are delivered through to 2023, and a mature capability is achieved.”
“This IOC ushers in a new era of Australian air power that gives the RAAF transformational and game-changing capabilities,” said Joe North, Lockheed Martin Australia chief executive. “As the Original Equipment Manufacturer and lead industry sustainment partner for Australia’s F-35A fleet, Lockheed Martin congratulates the RAAF on achieving this milestone, and we stand ready to support the fleet with our industry partners.”
Bill Brotherton, acting F-35 vice president and general manager, acknowledged the unwavering dedication of the joint government and industry team who contributed to this milestone. “This team’s focus on delivering the most effective, survivable and connected fighter in the world ensures the sovereign protection of Australia and strengthens the future of the F-35 coalition,” Brotherton said.
The F-35A Lightning II is the Australian Defence Force’s first fifth-generation air combat capability. It is a highly advanced multi-role, supersonic, stealth fighter which will meet Australia’s requirements to defeat current and emerging threats.
The F-35A is at the forefront of air combat technology. Its advanced sensors and data fusion will allow it to gather more information and share it with other Air Force aircraft, Navy ships and Army units quicker than ever before. This will greatly enhance the Australian Defence Force’s situational awareness and combat effectiveness. In addition, to greatly enhanced situational awareness, the F-35A provides its pilots with significantly higher levels of lethality and survivability in combat.
Australia has committed to 72 F-35A aircraft for three operational squadrons at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal, and a training squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown. The F-35A is being purchased by the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG) under Project AIR 6000 Phase 2A/2B – New Air Combat Capability.
The first two F-35A Joint Strike Fighters arrived in the country on Dec. 10, 2018. Australia currently has a fleet of 33 F-35As, and RAAF crews have surpassed more than 8,780 flight hours to date, with more than 45 pilots and 600 maintainers supporting the fleet.
The first F-35A squadron, Number 3 Squadron, will be operational in 2021. All 72 aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2023. In the future, a fourth operational squadron will be considered for RAAF Base Amberley, for a total of 100 F-35A aircraft.