The first two Royal Australian Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35As to be based in Australia have departed Luke AFB in Arizona, bound for RAAF Base Williamtown.
The two aircraft, A35-009 and A35-010, are scheduled to arrive at Williamtown on Monday, December 10. The ferry flight is supported by an RAAF KC-30A MRTT and will travel via Hawaii, Guam and RAAF Base Amberley.
Reminiscent of 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 into 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 1000.
Our 1st two @thef35 Joint Strike Fighters are on their way from @LukeAFB. They'll arrive at their new home at #RAAFBaseWLM on Mon 10 Dec 18. There'll be more details soon. Wait out… More to follow.
? https://t.co/WayoME7AQI#AusAirForce #F35 #JSF #PlaneSpotter @Defence_CASG pic.twitter.com/PA6frF1GKf
— Royal Australian Air Force (@AusAirForce) December 4, 2018
The two F-35s are the first of 72 to be based in Australia with 3SQN, 2OCU and 77SQN at Williamtown, and 75SQN at RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory. (Two RAAF F-35As visited Australia briefly in late February-early March 2017 for the Avalon Airshow, before returning to Luke AFB.)
3SQN will conduct a two-year verification and 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 United States Air Force (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.
VIDEO – RAAF pilots answer some common questions about the F-35A on the Air Force’s YouTube channel published on November 27 2018.
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 stated requirement for up to 100 F-35s, with 28-30 aircraft to ostensibly planned to replace its 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.