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50 RAAF aircraft begin huge training exercise Arnhem Thunder

written by Adam Thorn | May 18, 2021

A RAAF F35A Lightning II aircraft touch down for the first time at RAAF base Darwin for exercise Arnhem Thunder 21.
An RAAF F35A Lightning II aircraft touches down for the first time at RAAF Base Darwin for exercise Arnhem Thunder 21 (Defence)

Fifty RAAF aircraft including the F-35, Super Hornet and Wedgetail have begun one of the largest domestic training exercises of 2021.

More than 500 personnel are now taking part in Exercise Arnhem Thunder 21 from RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal, which will also take advantage of the Mount Bundey Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range.

The exercise, which will run until 15 June 2021, will focus on ‘force generation training’, with a particular focus on high-end collective training, involving multiple Force Element Groups (FEGs).

Deployed platforms include the:

  • F-35A Lightning II;
  • F/A-18F Super Hornet;
  • EA-18G Growler;
  • F/A-18A/B Hornet;
  • Hawk 127;
  • C-130J Hercules;
  • C-17A Globemaster;
  • C-27J Spartan;
  • KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport; and
  • E-7A Wedgetail.

This will mark the first time an F-35A Lightning II operates out of RAAF Base Darwin.

According to Commander Air Combat Group, Air Commodore Tim Alsop, Arnhem Thunder would improve interoperability between Air Combat Group, Air Mobility Group, Surveillance and Response Group, and Combat Support Group in an offensive counter-air environment.

“Exposure to large-scale, multi-FEG scenarios in an away-base environment is of vital importance to the training outcomes of all elements across Air Force,” AIRCDRE Alsop said.


“Operating out of RAAF bases Darwin and Tindal in the Northern Territory, Exercise Arnhem Thunder provides an excellent venue for cross-FEG interoperability, high-end air power missions, as well as airbase activation in an austere environment.”

Exercise Arnhem Thunder is expected to kick-off with force integration training and large force employment scenarios, before the activation of a forward operating base by a contingency response squadron and other combat support elements.

“Collective training for missions such as this must be routinely practiced so that Air Force is ready to respond to the defence of Australia when required,” AIRCDRE Alsop added.


“We are all very excited about being in the Top End to carry out our training and I thank the local community for their support.”

In March, Australian Aviation reported how Australia took 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 F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – has a projected life of 30 years in service.

Comments (6)

  • TenTribes


    This is what ADF should be doing – defending continental Australia rather than expiditionary misadventures attacking mythical enemies.

    PS. Cancel the rest of the dud f 35s asap and maintain as many legacy f 18s as possible as Canada is doing.

  • Peter JACKSON


    Exercise should be operating from bare bases as Darwin and Tindal likely to be knocked out in first 30 minutes in event of war with the PRC.
    Operating even on a high tempo not a challenge with crew lining in comfort, hot showers, mess meals etc in our main bases.

    • Jim


      @Peter Jackson

      I agree. WW2 taught us that in the Pacific theatre dispersal critical. Moving forward, the USAF expects to lose most of its in-theatre aircraft on the ground in the opening hours.

      RAAF needs to practice dispersal and projection from bare bones or ad hoc basings. In this exercise Gove comes to mind. The government should consider infrastructure projects in our north with RAAF dispersal mind- extending runways under the guise of civilian narrow body jet operations at Bathurst Island, Groote and perhaps an extensions of Gove’s runway. The dilemma with dispersal hasn’t changed since the last Battle of the Pacific. B17’s parked close together at Clark to counter saboteurs versus dispersal. The PLA has over 20,0000 special forces combatants.

      Is it better to invest in more weapons platforms and dispersal versus anti-missile defence? Land based and air launched long range missiles. The first easily deplorable on C17 and the latter across more ADF platforms.

  • Peter JACKSON


    Exercise should be operating from bare bases as Darwin and Tindal likely to be knocked out in first 30 minutes in event of war with the PRC.
    Operating even on a high tempo not a challenge with crew lining in comfort, hot showers, mess meals etc in our main bases.

  • Andre Kuhr


    That’s very good news for us australia , total of what 105 F_ 35. I would to see our government Boult someore amphioxus naval vessels. We got two at the moment , I think the Canberra and the Adelaide.
    We need a Perth , Darwin , Townsville ,Brisbane , Sydney , Melbourne and last not least Hobart. That’s 7 new amphious we need
    Thank you minister SCOTT MORRISON.

  • Andre Kuhr


    And while we’re on the defense subject , we even could get a halve dozen F_35 vertical lift variant for our amphibious naval vessels that’s for each ship. And last most PROBERLY the most important defense is that we should have our own
    LASER guided arsenal . LIGHT , MEDIUM and HEAVY to project at least a 1000 miles from our shores.

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