Australia has taken delivery of three new F-35A Lightning II, taking its current fleet to 33.
The aircraft travelled from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and were supported by two KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft from No. 33 Squadron and a C-17A Globemaster from No. 36 Squadron.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985.
The new aircraft will join No. 81 Wing fleet and arrived at RAAF Base Williamtown as part of Exercise Lightning Ferry 21-1, which involved a stop at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.
“The transit of the F-35A aircraft from Luke Air Force Base to RAAF Base Williamtown took three days; however, the exercise was a two-week activity requiring support from across our air forces,” Wing Commander Jordon Sander said.
“The integration of people and platforms required for the ferry of the aircraft is critical in achieving the success of the F-35A.
“We wouldn’t have been able to successfully ferry the aircraft to Australia if it wasn’t for the air-to-air refuelling and airlift capabilities of our Air Mobility Group aircraft.”
Defence also revealed that four graduate pilots from No. 76 Squadron commenced Air Force’s first F-35A operational conversion course in January and are expected to graduate in July.
The F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – will have a projected life of 30 years in service and be based at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal.
The news comes shortly after the first F-35 was inducted into BAE Systems Australia’s (BAESA) new maintenance depot at RAAF Base Williamtown last month.
The facility will perform MRO work on four of Australia’s fleet of 33 F-35s this year, with plans that it could also welcome other nations’ aircraft in future.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price, Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld and BAE Systems Australia CEO Gabby Costigan attended an event to mark the milestone.
A new $70 million training contract awarded to Lockheed Martin Australia will see more than 70 people employed at Williamtown and Tindal. The Williamtown facility, which serves as the Southern Pacific Regional F-35 Heavy Airframe Depot, is planned to support F-35s for the next 30 years.
An initial team of 32 technicians has already recruited to provide airframe maintenance and sustainment, with hopes F-35 MOR will eventually create 360 BAE jobs over the next 10 years.
Meanwhile, Australian Aviation reported in December how Australia’s F-35A Lightning II fleet passed the final regulatory hurdle required to be deployed on operations.