PM confirms RAAF order for 58 F-35As

written by australianaviation.com.au | April 23, 2014
CAF of Air Force Air Marshal Geoff Brown explains features of the F-35 at Wednesday's announcement. (Paul Sadler)
Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Geoff Brown explains features of the F-35 at Wednesday’s announcement. (Paul Sadler)

The Australian government has approved the purchase of a further 58 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs to allow the replacement of the RAAF’s fleet of F/A-18A/B ‘classic’ Hornets. Prime Minister Tony Abbott made the formal announcement – which would take Australia’s F-35 acquisition to 72 jets, after a first batch of 14 F-35As was approved by the previous Labor government – in Canberra on Wednesday.

The 58 additional jets will be acquired at a cost of $12.4 billion, a pricetag that includes $1.4 billion in facilities work at RAAF Bases Williamtown and Tindal, plus training, spare parts, weapons and support equipment.

“Together with the Super Hornet and Growler electronic warfare aircraft, the F-35 will ensure Australia maintains a regional combat edge,” the Prime Minister said.

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The announcement also effectively ensures Australian industrial participation in the F-35 program worth over $1.5 billion, although the Prime Minister told media the acquisition was being made on the basis of  “defence priorities” and not for the job creation and Australian industrial involvement that comes from Australia’s participation in the F-35 program.

The government was understood to have received a cabinet submission from the ADF earlier this year with two options, one for the full 58 jets and the other for a split buy of 38 jets this year and 20 more in future years. The F-35s are being acquired under the DMO’s AIR 6000 Phase 2A/2B New Air Combat Capability (NACC) project.

This decision follows a May 2012 two-year deferral of a Phase 2A/2B approval by the Gillard Labor government, ostensibly to “align” the RAAF’s planned initial operating capability (IOC) of 2020 with that of the US Air Force.

The RAAF already has two F-35As in final production that were contracted under the program’s low rate initial production (LRIP) lot 6, and has also secured long-lead production items for a further 12 aircraft. The first two RAAF aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to the USAF’s integrated training center at Luke AFB in Arizona by the end of the this year, while the RAAF’s first two pilots will begin training on the F-35 in December this year and in April 2015.

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The 72 F-35As will replace the 71 classic Hornets of Williamtown’s 3 and 77SQNs and 2OCU, and RAAF Tindal’s 75SQN. IOC – initial operating capability – for Australia’s first F-35 squadron is planned for 2020, the current classic Hornet fleet will be withdrawn from service over 2021-22 and FOC – full operating capability – for the three operational squadrons and 2OCU with the F-35 is planned for 2023, the Prime Minister confirmed.

A further Phase 2C tranche of the project for up to 28 F-35s was deferred back in 2012 for a decision in the early 2020s to replace the 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets of the Amberley-based 1 and 6SQNs, meaning for the foreseeable future from the early 2020s onwards the RAAF will operate an air combat fleet of 72 F-35As, 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets and 12 EA-18G Growlers. The Super Hornets were ordered in 2006 as a ‘bridging’ capability between the retirement of the General Dynamics F-111C in 2010 and the arrival of the F-35A, but ongoing delays to the JSF program means it is likely the Super Hornets will be retained for a full life-of-type of 20 or more years.

In a statement, F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin welcomed Wednesday’s announcement: “Lockheed Martin appreciates the confidence the Australian government has demonstrated in the F-35 by their decision today. As the world’s only internationally available 5th generation aircraft, the F-35 provides transformational capability to the Royal Australian Air Force ensuring their ability to maintain a technological leading edge in the region, well into the future. We are committed to ensuring Australian companies remain a vital part of the F-35 global supply chain for both production and sustainment for many years to come.”

 

PM Abbott with the first RAAF pilots selected to fly the F-35. (Paul Sadler)
PM Abbott with the first RAAF pilots selected to fly the F-35, Squadron Leaders Andrew Jackson and David Bell. (Paul Sadler)

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60 Comments

  • Michael

    says:

    What are the chances the government will order an extra 24 on top of the 72 to operate alongside rather than replace the super hornet. Last time I checked our population and economy has grown quiet significantly over the years and looks like it will continue to do so. I’m sure we can afford it and I think it is important given that the qualitative edge that the ADF has over its regional rivals is going to start being eroded away in coming years.

    I’m no air combat strategist but I think it would also make sense to have these extra 24 jets based permanently at RAAF Learmonth. Given that we currently have no fighters based in the Western third of the continent and such a large percentage of our economic wealth comes from the NW of it I think this would be a good idea.

  • John N

    says:

    Michael,

    Whilst I agree with you sentiment about the growth in the population, economy and about the bare bases in the North West, I seriously don’t think we will ever see the RAAF operating the full 100 F-35A’s + 24 Super Hornets + 12 Growlers.

    If you look at most Western Nations, who are renewing their fast jet fleets, it appears that they are reducing the overall size of their replacement fleets, Canada is a good example, originally operated 138 Classic Hornets, now has around 80 in service and is planning to replace them with 65 F-35’s (that’s if they can ever make up their mind and make a commitment!!)

    The RAAF on the other hand, by the early 2020’s, will have seen an increase of around 10% in the size of the fast jet fleet due to an almost ‘one for one’ replacements of the 21 F-111C’s (originally 24), 71 Classic Hornets (originally 75), plus the addition of the 12 Growlers.

    What I think will be just as important as the overall fast jet fleet size, is the ‘force multipliers’ such as the E-7A Wedgetail fleet, P-8A’s, Triton and the KC-30A tanker fleet (which there should be a minimum of at least another 3 airframes!!)

    And of course ensuring that the fleet is equipped with long range anti-ship and long range land attack weapons, such as JASSM-ER, LRASM and/or JSM, apart from the appropriate anti-air missiles and smart bombs too.

    It may be a long time, if ever, before we do see a full fleet of around 100 F-35A’s, but all in all the RAAF is in a pretty good position for the challenges it may be faced with in the decades ahead.

    Cheers,

    John N

  • Peter

    says:

    Michael, I like your logic about Learmouth, unfortunately there’s going to be flack from all the usual whingers about even these 58 aircraft. An extra 24 F-35s is not measured by just the aircraft cost. Learmouth would need a huge upgrade, and extra spares stocks + aircrew, ATC, ground crew, ADGs etc who quite frankly would think 2-3 year posting to Learmouth would be a good reason to check the Virgin / Jetstar vacancy lists. Even if 2% of GDP towards defence were available in the next few years to fund additional F-35s, an extra squadron at Tindal with additional MRTTs actually based there may prove a better investment. However RAAF would have to fight the RAN for $, as they want an extra AWD +replacements for the current patrol boats, new fleet support vessels and a doubling of the Sub fleet at…$….. ( pick a figure ! ) Of course the Army have a long wish list including additional Chinooks, self-propelled howitzers etc.
    Personally I think that RAAF have done very well in this economic climate to replace about 18 workable F-111s with 24 F/A-18Fs + 12 E/A-18Gs, and now replacing 71 classic Hornets with 72 F-35s. Not too many countries around the world replacing front line fast jets on this sort of ratio. Canada / UK etc would be very envious

  • Jamie purcell

    says:

    This is all good. But remember 72 – 100 single turbine fighters v the current 96 twin turbine jjets. Singles have a far higher loss rate, than their twin cousins. If your old enough to remember the mirage.

  • Dane

    says:

    One would hope engine reliability has come a long way since the days of the Mirage

  • The Road Runner

    says:

    The F-16 is a single engine fighter and is one of the best selling and most reliable aircraft ever built.
    It has sold huge number ,4500 plus planes.The JSF will follow on this path IMHO.

    The F-18G (12-maybe 24)might stay on as a specialist aircraft and not part of the 72- 100 fast jets 😉
    Top Gun Tony has made a good call for Australia’s defence.Our F-18 classics are shagged and JSF gives us massive strike package with F-35,AWAC’s,MRTT,P-8 and Triton.

    The future for the RAAF is looking very good.

  • ian

    says:

    The country is broke. We can’t afford any of these birds !!!

  • michael9

    says:

    No one seems to consider these aircraft have never achieved any performance or reliability that was promised, I seem to remember a Four Corners progamme that even American analysts called them underperforming overweight slugs. Lockeed themselves openly admit that the aircraft have pieces falling off on the flight line. another dud foisted on the tax payer ! Lockeed has done a great job selling them , pity they can’t even out perform a F16 in combat..An aircraft that was designed in the early seventies.

  • ngatimozart

    says:

    Well ian you can’t afford to not having them and not not having them could prove to be a darn sight more expensive than having them.

  • Jamie Purcell

    says:

    It’s all how you stretch the rubber band. Dane

  • Blind Monkey

    says:

    The JSF has bipartisan support and the money has been allocated and forecast in forward estimates for several budgets presided over by both sides of politics.

  • Damian

    says:

    ian……remember that the headline figure of $12.4 billion is not going to be written as a single cheque….it will be paid in installments over almost a decade. During that same time, the Aust Govt will collect $400+ billion each and every year on budget forecasts!

  • Bay of Bengal

    says:

    Michael. I have to disagree that the extra 24 aircraft should be based at Learmonth. What they should do is permanently based them at RAAF Pearce in WA just north of Perth, and rotate say 4 aircraft at a time through Learmonth. That way we would have 4 jets able to provide immediate coverage to the area; offshore oil and gas assets etc, allow sufficient time to mobilise the remaining aircraft to Learmonth if needed. It also puts the majority of the WA based F35’s away from immediate danger of a surprise attack; i.e. i spent alot of time flying through Learmonth and the chain mail fence isn’t really much of a deterrent to wood-be attackers!

  • The Road Runner

    says:

    @ michael9 that is just wrong about them being out preformed by F-16.
    Do you honestly think that 4 Corners knows more about JSF than the RAAF ,The US Navy Air Force and Marines ,the UK,Italy,Spain and a number of other Partner nations ,including Japan,Singapore and South Korea who will all purchase this jet?

    All these Air Forces have information about JSF that is not in the public domain.
    The RAAF has made the right choice.

    Hiya ngatimozart 😀

  • Angel

    says:

    I only hope that the aircraft “will” perform, it seems that the minister knows more then he is telling, or dose he?

  • Des

    says:

    How about we get a dozen or so B models to park on our nice new Navy boats. Seems a shame to waste all that deck space and ramp. (Assuming the B models work with the ramp of course)

  • Topside

    says:

    If only we had some carrier type ships with ski jumps on them so we could get the jump jet model………………………..

  • Kenny

    says:

    The F-35A’s combat range is 584 miles. The F-111C’s range with the same bomb load was 1000 miles + . Even with double the bomb load the F-111’s range was at least 650 miles.

    The F-35A has only one engine. Single-engine aircraft have high loss rates in both peace-time and combat.

    The F-35A’s Low Observables characteristics is second-rate by design and only optimised for the frontal aspect. It is NOT stealthy in the IR spectrum. Current Russian IRST systems (also fitted with laser rangefinders) can detect all of the stealths. Bistatic and multistatic radar systems can also negate stealth technology as can L-Band radars that will be installed on production T-50s. By the time our first squadron is operational with this aircraft the technology to kill it will already be in service.

    The F-35A’s comfort zone for air-to-ground missions is above 17,000 ft. This may have been okay for fighting insurgents and terrorists but not real armies who have the way, the means, the will and the cunning to fight back.

    I think the best thing to do is to cancel the F-35 order, and replace it with a fleet of 100 cheaper Advanced Super Hornets with the GE414 EPE engines. Because the ASH mods can be backfitted to existing SHs we can also bring the existing fleet of SH’s and prospective Growlers to ASH standards. In addition to this, we should consider buying atleast 24 of the Next Generation Bombers, if and when it becomes a reality. They would prove a better more cost-effective and militarily effective strike aircraft than the F-35 and will most likely stay in service longer.

    Further more we may need to look at a proper close air support platform to support the army. The Tiger is not enough and is too vulnerable, like all helos. Perhaps a fixed-wing stable mate? Remember what happened to that abortive deep strike mission the US Army undertook in Iraq using the Longbow Apache?

  • ian

    says:

    ngatimozart what garbage you speak.

    We can’t afford any.

    This country is living so far above it’s means. Wait for this years fed budget !!!

  • B10M

    says:

    I read in the popular press reports from the PM that the JSF will be a key part of our future national security. What happens when the JSF can’t fly because the local Avgas supplies have dried up because the ships from Singapore can’t get through, and local refining has closed. It’s not that far away. That IS a national security issue.

  • michael9

    says:

    Read what I wrote , the Americans themselves have grave concerns about these aircraft, congress has had to increase funding to almost 3 times the initial forecast cost, under performance , poor system reliability, weight issues , performance issues , the list goes on and on. and your comment regarding the mystery surprise that will make them invincible, come on , lets get realistic , If Congress and the military have concerns , we should be worried.
    The scenario of the performance radius these aircraft will operate in will barely cover a few hundred kilometres from the Australian coast. don’t even think about engaging flankers , every war game scenario has shown almost total losses,
    pilotless drone are coming in the next few years , wait , buy something truly stealthy and survivable in a conflict environment , lets not waste our money on these sleds.

  • Jumbo

    says:

    Kenny,

    Your likening of the JSF payload and range to that of the F-111 would suggest the true way forward for Defence would be to purchase a bunch of B52s: lots of bombs, lots of range. Flawed.

    RE: Single engine. We’ve operated 33 single engine Hawks for the best part of 13 years and haven’t lost one? With improving technology and maintenance practices the argument against single engine is withering.

  • Dane

    says:

    Pigs will fly before the F-35B flies off the LHD in RAAF or RAN colours. Cross deck operations with the USMC and RN will hopefully be possible. You have to remember that if we ever deploy the LHD to a war zone where there is an anti-ship missile threat, I’m more than we will have the US with us to provide asset protection until the AWD comes to fruition. Considering we have a defence force, I doubt we’ll ever be in a position to need a sea launched fighter capability.

    As for opening Learmonth or Curtin to a full time capacity, forget it. The amount of money required to get them to daily use standard would far outweigh any operational advantage it might provide. Any naval OTH attack on Australian would be picked up well in advance. Even long range bombers from the Asian continent would have trouble reaching a major population centre without AAR near our coastline.

    As for the difference in range between the F-111 and F-35, modern air-to-ground munitions can fly much further than conventional gravity dumb bombs and no longer do you have fly directly over a target to prosecute it.

    The F-35 was never touted as a “stealth” fighter, it was always a low observability platform. Even the F-117 was only a low observability aircraft. No aircraft will ever be truly invisible to radar, you can only reduce its return to the point that it’s too small to show up as an aircraft.

  • Chris

    says:

    The PM and Minister for Defence Joint Press Releases today do not mention what model of F35 JSF have been approved. As the old military saying about making an AssUMe goes I am waiting to see what is actually ordered before commenting further.

    The 12 Growlers ordered and 24 Super Hornet already in RAAF service would benefit from Conformal Fuel Tanks taking internal fuel to 8 tonne. An IRST as shown at Aero India mounted where the ATARS went in front of the forward landing gear on the FA18D would be better than on the centre line external fuel tank of the ASH. 12 more Super Hornets were approved for sale to the RAAF by the USA as part of the Growler FMS request. What is happening to them? They are 1/3 the cost of the F35 figure quoted.

  • Raymond

    says:

    Go for gold Tony, you’re a winner! No doubt about it, this Government makes things happen. Just a few months into the job and we’ve had announcements to acquire the Poseidon, the Triton and now Lightnings (and this is just in Defence).

    And yes, of course we can afford these. The money has already been put aside anyway. Take a look: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-23/joint-strike-fighter-aircraft-tony-abbott-explains-funding/5406698

    As for the Phase 2C tranche, the RAN will shortly have 2 carrier type ships complete with ski ramps (the first is currently undergoing sea trials and the second is now being fitted out in Melbourne), so who knows what will happen in years to come… those 28 or so may just be the F-35B model.

  • Gerald Casimatis

    says:

    Just a few comments on the reduced number of front line fighters replacing older types in certain western countries such as Canada and UK. This phenomena is also apparent in almost every western NATO nations eg France,Germany,Italy and USA.and others such as Sweden, Poland, Russia and New Zealand etc.
    This is not the effect of some easily definable process but the result of a number of combined factors which in Australia’s case includes an uninformed media contriving a public’s perception of complexity, financial waste and the irrelevance of modern fighter aircraft in our enlightened world eg tonights Channel 9 news. Other points include;
    a. The reduced population growth or even negative growth and therefore funding in comparison to Australia of nearly all western not just European nations.
    b. The reduced need for strong Western and Eastern European air forces with the fall of the Iron Curtain.
    c. The need by larger not just European nations to project their once mainly sedentary assets and therefore spend money on large, costly offensive naval vessels and transport aircraft to help in dealing with disaster relief and in some cases the greater probability of instability in the distant Asia Pacific region.
    d. R&D cost for UAVs and the accelerating replacement of certain air assets with UAVs.
    e. The reduced funding in defense in recent years by many nations particularly in Europe and North America because of the GFC.
    Finally the reduced number of recently purchased advanced aircraft is not as apparent in Southern and Eastern Asia where growing economies and a complicated China and unstable North Korea has achieved the opposite. Look at the increasing air forces and naval air capabilities of the following nations over the past 20 years. China ,India, Japan, North and South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. Even the USA is not quickly reducing its air assets in our region unlike it’s reduced presence in many others eg. Europe and Iraq..
    It is probably apparent by the above comments that I can’t see a logical reason for Australia to reduce it’s defense expenditures. In the current climate we should not only be consolidating but also increasing our air capabilities. The opposite, for good or for bad may cause a power vacuum and this could create an arms race by our neighbors to counter China, India and be an excuse to balance Singapore’s large modern air force.

  • Brian

    says:

    How is this decision going to affect Air 5428, the PC9 replacement program?
    With funding now committed to JSF, what’s going to be left for the new trainer aircraft? Looks like it’ll be the T6 Texan as they’re a lot cheaper than the the PC21. The good old PC9 may just have to soldier on a bit longer than was planned which it can do with ease.

  • Dee

    says:

    One notable point that all seem to forget is the ability of the Australian Pilots that jockey these extremely advanced airframes. We posses the best pilots in Asia, and at the top with the rest of the world. Partnered with the F-35’s and our modern Wedgetail, A330 tankers, Over the horizon radar etc., there are very few threats that the R.A.A.F. wouldn’t be able to neutralise. Looking further North, our more modern Naval assets should be an aggressive persuader.

  • Paul Douglas

    says:

    The F16 Block 60 development funded by UAE was dubbed the poor mans JSF

    Countries like Singapore-Japan-Israel etc that operate F16 types have all opted for F35 so they clearly know something those in the public dont.

    However its not just Aircraft performance that counts its Weapons systems-SA & Tactics, as any Royal Navy pilot will tell you that operated the Sea Harrier FRS2 compared to the older version that didnt have the BVR capability when going up against Yugoslav Mig 29’s in the Balkans conflict.

    Just like the Falklands it shows that good Weapons systems & tactics employed by good PIlots has an edge.

    The Sea Harrier had Aim9L Sidewinders rushed into service which could be fired Head-on whereas Argentine Mirage’s had the AIm9G which only had a small cone of aquistion from behind to lock -on.

    F35’s Sensor fusion is great for SA
    It has the most Advanced engine made by P&W & a Weapons system to match.

    Advanced SuperH mods with EPE is looking good for the E18G… & F35B makes sense for the RAN, unless NZ buys those for a combined force mix, similar to the past Nowra agreement, with our APG68 upgraded A4 Skyhawks, before they were disbanded.

    We never lost one crossing the Tasman so yes like the BAE Hawks a modern well maintained single engine aircraft should have no issues, like Airlines going from 4 engine aircraft to twins- with 4 you have double the chance of failure. Anyway go the RAAF very lucky indded! cant wait to see one on its ferry flight via Pago pago & Auckland…

  • John N

    says:

    Gerard and Andrew,

    I was wondering if either of you or anyone else from AA attended the press conference yesterday?

    I was reading the transcript on the Defence Department website this morning and came across a couple of interesting things in the comments by the PM (link to transcript below):

    http://www.minister.defence.gov.au/2014/04/23/12760/

    The particular paragraph with the PM’s comments is below:

    “We are certainly retaining the option to purchase an additional squadron – a further 18 Joint Strike Fighters and we haven’t decided precisely what type it might be – that will be something that will be looked at in the context of the coming Defence white paper.”

    The first thing that stood out was that the option for the additional (4th) squadron is for 18 aircraft (and not the often talked about ‘up to’ 28 aircraft), I didn’t hear or see the full live press conference and only the various ’30 sec’ grabs in the news, I was wondering if the Government has now changed the amount of possible extra aircraft for the 4th squadron down from 28 to 18, or if the 18 in the transcript is in fact a ‘typo’, eg, 18 instead of 28?

    If that is true, it sounds like the commitment has been reduced from the ‘up to’ 100 down to 90 airframes eventually, I suppose that would save the Government around $1 Billion in acquisition costs and probably around another $1 Billion in lifetime operational costs too.

    The second thing was the comment that they hadn’t decided ‘precisely what type it might be’, again this is a rather odd comment in that everything has been pointing to the RAAF operating the one type, eg, the F-35A and not considering the ‘B’ for example.

    Interested in your comments and thoughts.

    Cheers,

    John N

    • australianaviation.com.au

      says:

      Gerard was there, but I also noticed the “18” number when he said it – I wonder if he just misspoke.

      The planned attrition jets were always going to be bought in the third (Phase 2C) tranche, and the number of combat aircraft required has always been stated as “up to” 100 aircraft. But if we get just 18 more to replace the 24 Super Hornets in c.2030, that gives us a very slim margin with regards to maintenance and attrition.

      Gerard and I are working up a couple of feature stories for the magazine’s June issue which should go some way towards answering some of these questions.
      Cheers
      Andrew

      • australianaviation.com.au

        says:

        I am assured the PM fluffed his maths and the Phase 2C planned buy remains 28 jets. Gerard

  • Lazybones

    says:

    We should have taken the Typhoon, faster more agile better weapons loadout and cheaper!. The F35 is hopeless, why or why are we buying this lemon!

  • John N

    says:

    Thanks Andrew and Gerard,

    Good to hear that it was a ‘maths’ error!

    Yes it was a bit of an odd one, as sometimes happens when Q&A sessions are held, especially when it comes to defence matters!

    The most recent one prior to this was earlier last year when the then Labor Def Min Smith was doing a Q&A with the UK Def Min and they were talking about the possible participation of Australia in the UK Type 26 Frigate program and when asked a question about ‘numbers’ of ships to be procured Smith said, “half a dozen, six”, up until that time the “published’ requirement to replace the ANZAC Frigates was eight (8)!!!!

    Anyway, regardless of the ‘maths’ error, still good news to hear that the Classics are being replaced by the one type and not a ‘split’ acquisition of more Super Hornets!

    Cheers,

    John N

  • Kenny

    says:

    @Jumbo.

    The more range an aircraft has, the less reliance on tankers. Also the more range and payload an aircraft has the more flexible the employment options for that aircraft in time of war. Where is the flaw? Do you think we are going to have airfields that are close to the action all the time? This is typical “colonial” warfighting mentality, that assumes we’ll always be acting as a kind of auxiliary force for the Americans to use whenever they want to stick their nose in someone’s business.

    Also I hardly think any engine can take hits from AAA, AAMs and SAMs. I don’t think our Hawks can.

  • craig simpson

    says:

    The classic hornet I saw on display at the Melbourne Grand Prix didn’t look shagged. It put on an awesome display although it did get so low on one run that for a second I thought that we might have lost a hornet.

  • James

    says:

    I think it’s a great idea that we have purchased 58 f35s but that still leaves a major gap in our airborne capabilities. Whilst the jsf can pretty much do anything, it’s still a good idea to have an aircraft of a specific role. I.e the f22 which was purely meant for air to air combat only. The super hornet is the closest thing we have but it still lacks payload range and speed. This is why the f15e is ideal for a country of our size. A mixed fleet of strike eagles, f35s, growlers would be ideal would give us the leading edge in a region.

  • Tomcat Terry

    says:

    F35B will be purchased in time once they are more affordable and tested with other forces like the RAF. No rush to acquire these platforms anyway.
    As to Learmonth and Curtin, they’ll be certainly more frequent detachments / deployments of possibly around 4-6 aircraft at a time to act as guarantees demanded by the ever expanding list of resource companies in the area. Especially the growing LNG fields and infrastructure.
    Definitely these airfields will be modified to suite the Lightning II but don’t see any permanent postings.
    I would never want to live up there permanently with my family.
    See more of a need personally for a expanded surface to air deterrent, like a ultra long range hypersonic anti aircraft missile, as opposed to a small army unit with shoulder launched StoA’s.
    Especially along our Northern approaches, especially towards North Western WA.
    Frankly, find it strange for a country big on “self Defence” not looking seriously to such burgeoning technology for stealthy, possibly hypersonic surface to air missiles.
    Even if I was in a Chinese or Russian 5th gen platform, I would think twice coming near any region of airspace with that type of defensive technology.
    Can anyone answer why Australia has gone down that path since the old Bloodhound days?

  • DT

    says:

    The Canberra Class Amphibious Assault Ship (LHD), also known as a Landing Helicopter Dock, has a ski jump bow, I wonder if the F-35B will be acquired for deployment to the two RAN ships?

  • The Road Runner

    says:

    @ Kenny … the larger an aircraft the bigger footprint it has on radar thus easier to track and get a firing solution on it. No aircraft in the world can do everything.Australia as a medium power can not have huge numbers of different types of planes.

    The Canberra LHD has a different fit out to Juan Carlos 1 LHD.(L61) The Canberra LHD’s do NOT have ” Air Traffic control” gear nor dose it have bunkerage for weapons or fuel for hungry fighter jets. Canberra is NOT an AIRCRAFT CARRIER. Its a Landing helicopter dock (LHD) its aim is a taxi to deliver goods/people to battle.

    One point that everyone should take note of is how JSF will fit into the systems/Equipment we already have.
    Our F-18’s,satellites,AWAC’s.AWD,JORN,Future Triton and P-8’s all have specific kit that enables JSF to communicate with one another.

    The RAAF has made the right decision ,anyone who thinks otherwise is just ill informed

    Cheers

  • Namrac

    says:

    Grey beards will recall how possibly the most vilified aircraft ever ordered by Australia, the F-111 Ardvark (by the Menzies Government), turned out to be the most remarkable, peerless airborne weapons/reconnaissance platforms ever to sport the RAAF roundel. One can only hope that the fortunes of the F-35 can similarly turn around. However, it remains a huge worry when some of the RAAF’s finest jet fighter jocks, now retired and able to speak their minds, express grave reservations re the comparative performance of the F-35 v. the evolving Su30MKI in service with the Indian Air Force and the equivalent with the People’s Liberation Army (Air Force). And, by the time the Lightning IIs enter service with the RAAF, those two Asian air forces will have their even more potent fifth generation stealth fighters also entering service. It does not bode well. Problematic as the relative perceived performances of the potential adversary aircraft are, it would be prudent (now that the dye has been cast) to spread the investment for the third tranche of 28 F-35s to be the B- model to operate from the decks of the bigger ships slated to enter RAN service. Of course, that will reopen the old Pandora’s box as to who operates them! Managing the defence portfolio will always be a bundle of fun.

  • J. M. Bogie

    says:

    I learned to fly in 1943 and served in WW II. Australia never bought any Lockheed F-104’s during the COLD WAR of the 1950’s; 60’s; 70’s. Canada bought 200 and in a few short years CRASHED 110 killing 37 young pilots I lost 2 friends and will never forget the suffering their young family went through. The F-104 was never in Combat in Europe NATO & USAF lost 100’s of young pilots just training flying in Europe and North America and the F-104 became known World over as the WIDOW MAKER. The accident reports said the 2 main causes of the losses were #! a very high Wing Loading and #2 a very newly developed SINGLE Engine plus others including “Spatial Disorientation” known as a “Coriolis Illusion” that is happening already with the special helmet. Compare the Specification’s of the F-104 and the F-35 it has a heavier wing loading than the F-104, a new untested engine and 3 times the Computer Codes than the only 5th Gen. fighter in use today the USAF’s F-22’s for7 years. Have a look at the USAF’s fiscal year Presidential Budgets back to 1997 and the F-22’s operating costs in Squadron use. A retired Pilot

  • Neil P

    says:

    @ John N. Interesting slip you picked up John. I know that having a mixed fleet is something that has been high on the Defence wish list for a long time. It would certainly be a logical extension of our current assets and capabilities. That particular slip has been made quite a few times over the years and the enthusiasm with which it is discounted is getting lower and lower. Definitely have to watch this space on that one.

  • Steve

    says:

    A small reflection on value for money we got out of our previous fighter fleets post WW2:
    1. Mustangs lasted only 3-4 years before we replaced them with Meteors for the Korean War in 1952.
    2. 112 CA-27 Sabres were then purchased as front line fighters between 1955-1965 (10 years)
    3. 100 Mirage 111O fighters (about $4M each) served in front line service circa 1965-1985 (20 years)
    4. 75 FA-18A/B fighters (about $30Mfly-away each) served in front line service circa 1985-2019 (34 years)
    5. 24 FA-18F fighters (about $60M fly-away each) to serve in front service circa 2009-2030 (20 years)
    5. 72 (+18?) F-35A fighters (about $100M fly-away each) to serve in front service from 2019

    In terms of value for money taking inflation and length of service into account F-35 looks about right

  • paul davis

    says:

    Kenny,what on earth are you thinking?The NGB will not be exported.They will soley be operated by the USAF.

  • Tomcat Terry

    says:

    Still no reply from anyone knowledgable in Australia’s lacking capability in surface to air defence.
    Seemingly were all obsessed with the LHDs, not having fighters on them, and as some have said above, no hope against Chinese, Russian or Indian 5th Gen fighters.
    The latter I don’t get? If the Lightning II is so bad, why did the Chinese (and most probably the Russisns as well) spend so much time, money and resources, “stealing” highly classified technical information about it to develop their own current 5th Gen platforms?
    That answer to that one is obvious.
    As for the LHD thing? Please, let it go! We’re not in the business to police the world like some of our Allies, we’re a “defence” force!
    Just because the Yanks say jump and we had too in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan doesn’t mean we will again…well, probably we will…but leave the deployment of fighter aircraft to those more powerful nations and we’ll contribute like we always have, with other more capable assets.
    As I said before, let’s focus on “defence” of Australia and for what these Lightnings have been ultimately purchased for. NOT for force projection.
    Now, can anyone let me know if Australia is looking at back up capabilities in stealthy, possibly hypersonic surface to air anti aircraft missiles. Used in conjunction with the Lightnings, even the lovers of Flankers, or the other seemingly perfect 5th Gen aircraft poised to destroy us all, would stand very little chance of even making it close to our borders or assets.

  • Grant McHerron

    says:

    Some general notes based on the comments above:

    The F18 classic may have looked good doing its handling display but the airframes are running out of fatigue life.

    The F35 not being sold as a “stealth fighter” ??? I call BS on that! LockMart are pushing its stealth every second they get.

    The F35 is designed to win air combat without dog fighting and to do “Close” Air Support from 30,000′ – if it gets into a dog fight or has to come down into the weeds, they have lost the key superior features of the aircraft (“stealth” & integrated sensors) (this from LockMart)

    The issues with the helmet have been resolved (latency, jitter, etc) and it has been used to land at night on a carrier deck (in STOVL mode). I do wonder how well it will work in a rapidly moving environment (eg: dogfighting, down & dirty, pitching deck in the C version, etc). Given the above comments about staying high & hitting first, I would like to know how it goes if forced out of that environment (no direct comments related to that as yet)

    While our LHDs have a ski ramp, that’s because it’s integral to the design and not easily removed. For our LHDs to operate the F35 they will need additional fuel & weapons storage/delivery equipment AND an upgraded deck to support the heat output of that engine.

    Just because the RAAF is pushing for the aircraft doesn’t mean it’s great. The “they know what you don’t know” *could* just be that the top guys know they have a great retirement gig with LockMart or maybe everyone’s drinking the coolaid? (How many DotCom companies have gone under with everyone still saying how good they are ‘cos they’re all blinded to reality?). Not saying this is the case but to use the “RAAF is pushing for it therefore it’s good” or “RAAF knows what Four Corners don’t” arguments is invalid.

    There is also the “Big corporate & my job” principal where disastrous projects continue despite being clearly off the rails because middle management don’t want to rock the boat (thus potentially losing their job & not being able to pay the mortgage, private school, nice car, etc) and kowtow to senior management who are driven by stock options & marketing driven targets. This may be a factor in the F35 program as it was for many major IT projects I’ve experienced.

    Another aspect to consider is “Security through obscurity is bullshit” – good security can be publicly released and still operate. Hiding information about the F35 behind the “state secret” veil just makes most people think “What’s wrong with it?” Furthermore, relying heavily on a 80’s/90’s stealth design for combat in the 20’s to 40’s does not bode well when you consider the rapid advancements being made in computer systems, sensors and so on.

    Stealth is important but it should not be the primary aspect of offense/defense in the aircraft. Dogfights will happen and getting “down & dirty” may well be required.

    As to the F-35’s project management & development plan: I suspect students of project management will be using this one as a “How not to” guide in the future. Production development occurring in parallel with testing is a proven recipe for disaster and makes me wonder what they were smoking when that proposal was approved.

    That said, I am not bagging the F35 but I am cautious about it. As an aviation tragic, I’m eager to see it up & running in RAAF colours & to see it in action. I am impressed with many facets of the F35 but I am concerned that it may be setting us up for another Vietnam where the amazing tools on hand were not the ones required for the war that actually happened. I look forward to being proven wrong but I suspect I may not be.

  • Peter

    says:

    It’s interesting reading all the comments about “an extra squadron” ( of F-35s ), and whether this squadron will be to replace the 24 Super Hornets in the 2020s, or in fact be “an extra squadron”. If it’s the latter, and presuming they are F-35As, then only an additional 18 platforms would be required, as the current total order ( 14 + 58 ) of 72 jets equates to 4 squadrons x 18 jets each. Referring to the AA article in March 2010 with AVM Harvey, F-35 squadrons will need 17 aircraft, 12 on-line, 4 in short term maintenance and 1 in long term maintenance. So acquiring 18 jets per squadron already allows 1 jet per squadron for ” attrition”.

    I really dislike this term ” attrition “, it sounds like pilot error or equipment failure is already being assumed.

    The RAAF had 75 F/A-18A/Bs delivered between 1984- 1990, and we still count 71 as remaining. The RAAF lost 4 F/A-18s during late 1980s and early 1990s, meaning they haven’t lost one at all for over 20 years. Why then the need to discuss ” attrition ” when deciding if a further order should be 18 or 28 ? Is there a suggestion that an order for 28 jets would allow for 10 of these to be “for attrition” in addition to the 1 per squadron already allowed ?

    As the father of a son currently in the RAAF pilot training program and whose direction is fast jets, you can understand my interest.

    • australianaviation.com.au

      says:

      The “extra” Phase 2C squadron has only ever been for the aircraft required to replace the Super Hornets, not for additional aircraft over and above the nominal 100 combat aircraft requirement.
      The attrition aircraft are necessary, and in no way imply any wrong-doing by pilots. But like it or not, aircraft crash or can be damaged beyond repair. We lost more than 30 of the ~130-odd Mirages we bought, and 75 Hornets were ordered as the planning at the time was for us to have lost 11 aircraft by the time of the aircraft’s half life of type, or about the year 2000. The fact we have only lost four is a result of a combination of good maintenance, good safety systems, and good luck!
      The RAAF’s standard fast jet squadron size is 15 jets on the line, not 18. Of the 72 F-35s on order, it is planned 60 should be available at all times, with the rest being in maintenance or upgrade, or available for any surges. The 28 jets planned for Phase 2C will comprise a further squadron of 15 jets, plus planned attrition of up to 13, although this number may be adjusted as operational experience with the RAAF and other air forces builds up.
      Cheers
      Andrew

  • John N

    says:

    Just to clarify those figures for the Mirage III’s a little further, of the 116 (100 single seat and 16 dual seat) aircraft purchased, more than 40 were lost in crashes or written off in some way or other, also some were withdrawn from service due to corrosion, I believe that by the time the 75 Hornets were ordered there were probably well less than 70 Mirage III’s left available for squadron service.

    ADF Serials is a pretty good source of information on individual aircraft, see below:

    http://www.adf-serials.com.au/3a3.htm

    And yes the Hornets on the other hand have managed to get to this point with the loss of only 4 aircraft, I would imagine if the attrition rate had been as high as Andrew mentioned (11 by the half life) the Government would have no doubt had to seek additional attrition replacements from the US, as was the case with the F-111’s.

    Coming back to the F-35A’s, hopefully they will follow the low rate of loss that has been achieved with the Classic Hornets, but I would prefer to see the full 100 airframes in our hands here rather than potentially having to go back to the US and either order additional new airframes (that is if the production line is still open) or trying to pick out the best of a number of ‘used’ US aircraft that may or may not potentially be available to select from.

    Better to have them here and cycle them through the 4 operational and 1 training squadrons, should help to even our the wear and tear and spread the airframe hours throughout a larger pool of available aircraft too.

    Cheers,

    John N

  • Peter

    says:

    Andrew, I appreciate your prompt response, however I have to totally disagree with your comments about accepting the high loss of Mirages, and also pre-planning to lose up to 11 Classic Hornets, and the only reasons we didn’t lose that number was down to good maintenance, good safety systems and good luck. Unfortunately you’ve totally missed the point that there has been a total turn around in the behaviour , responsibility and extremely fixed and enforced guidelines of todays fast jet pilots, in fact, all RAAF pilots, where the previous acceptance of the drinking mentality ( you had to prove to be ” one of the boys”) and the skylarking risky flying manoeuvres ( think Tom Cruise doing a flyby buzzing the tower ) and these factors were previously not just accepted, but encouraged . There’s a well documented case of an F-111 pilot ( who went on with his RAAF career to a very high level ) who pulled such an extreme turn immediately after take-off that he almost wiped out clipping a wing on the ground. He re-told the story like it was a badge of honour that he did it and survived. ! The fact that this style of flying and that the Mess drinking games behaviour are both now next to non-existent in the more recent and current pilot generations together with good maintenance etc are the real reasons of the low Hornet loss rate. It’s therefore the same reasons that we don’t need an extra 10 F-35s ( from 18 to 28 ) for “attrition”. Because safety / safety / safety is the beginning, the middle and the end of all flight ops so that these days jets don’t even launch unless the pilot is as 100% in mind and body as the platform is in hardware and software.

  • You caught it too John N. Tony Abbott appeared to open the door on possibly purchasing “B” models didn’t he? All the baloney about those new carriers the navy bought not being able to take VTOL aircraft is just that. The way I understand it, the Spanish intend to place VTOL jets on the Juan Carlos which is almost identical to the Canberra and Adelaide. Yes, they could possibly need to retrofit equipment on board but how long would that take after announcing that Australia has just purchased 24 F35B’s .

  • 1984

    says:

    I want to know more about why we would have just “thrown” away the Super Hornets once we’ve finished receieving the 70 odd F-35 we’ve purchased.

    Why would we throw away billions of dollars of hardware just to, presumably, save a bit on maintenance.

    Sure the Super Hornets aren’t as capable in the sensor department as the F-35 but surely we can find a use for them.

    Just seems like a waste is all.

  • John N

    says:

    1984,

    I think you need to go back and ‘re read’ the article.

    The RAAF is not throwing away the Super Hornets as and when you suggest, the 72 F-35A’s are to replace the remaining 71 Classic Hornets which are all going to be 30+ years old by that time.

    If and when the decision is made to proceed with the 4th Squadron of F-35A’s at a later date, the Super Hornets will be 20 years old by the time they are replaced, eg, at around 2030.

    The 12, still to be delivered, Growlers will operate well past that time, and at a guess it might be prudent to keep some of the Super Hornets that were ‘pre-wired’ for conversion to Growlers as a source of spares or attrition replacements, it may also be useful to keep some airframes for ‘buddy’ tanking roles and possible as trainers for the Growler pilots too.

    Having said that, the fate (disposal) of the Super Hornets will also be tied to whatever agreement was made with the US at the time of purchase (the US places strict conditions on what happens to weapons systems once the original user finishes with them), I’ve heard suggestions that at the end of their service life with the RAAF they will be returned to the US.

    Cheers,

    John N

  • Raymond

    says:

    I believe that when the Super Hornets are at the end of their service life with the RAAF they will be returned to the US is correct – this was specified at the time of ordering.

    • australianaviation.com.au

      says:

      It wasn’t “specified” that they’d be returned at time of ordering, it was just part of the plan of taking on a bridging capability as it was then – it was hoped the USN might take them on.
      But now that it seems likely they Supers will lead a full and productive life in RAAF service, they will be disposed of at the end of their service the same way any other US-sourced combat aircraft will…hopefully NOT in a landfill!
      Cheers
      Andrew

  • Raymond

    says:

    Okay thanks, I thought it was a contract requirement… that makes sense now that the Super Hornets have evolved into more than just a bridging air combat capability.

    Re. your mention of landfills, I assume you’re referring to the F-111’s. What was the official reason/excuse given for consigning the 23 concerned to such a fate? Wouldn’t have even scrapping them if nothing else have been a better option?

  • BobS

    says:

    My understanding is that as they were built to deliver nuclear weapons the US demanded that they be destroyed at ‘end of life’, hence their destruction as landfill.

    • australianaviation.com.au

      says:

      BobS, not really. If that were the case they wouldn’t have been allowed to release six airframes to non-Defence museums.

      The main reason they were buried was because of the high levels of asbestos and other toxic materials used in the airframes which were deemed to costly and dangerous to remove as part of the scrapping process. It was thought better to remove those components which were still useable or of interest, e.g. capsules, some avionics etc, and then bury the rest. Am not necessarily saying it was the right thing to do, just that was the rationale.

      I think the fact that about 14 of the 43 F-111s we operated have been preserved in museums or as gate guards is a pretty good ratio overall.

      Cheers
      Andrew

  • Raymond

    says:

    Thanks for the explanation Andrew.

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