In Focus

Profile: F-35

An Air Force F-35A Lightning II takes off with its payload of GBU-12 bombs at RAAF Base Darwin during Exercise Arnhem Thunder 21. (All pictures courtesy of Defence)

The F-35A Lightning II is a jack of all trades and a master of them all. A Swiss army knife aircraft that defines itself as a fighter but can take on almost any mission conceivable. It can – deep breaths – locate enemy forces or jam their radars to disrupt attacks; share detailed communications with air, ground, and sea assets; operate in stealth, even in unknown areas and fly at Mach 1.6, long-range, even with a full complement of weapons and fuel. In a nutshell, it’s the most technologically advanced piece of metal man has put in the air.

It comes in three variants: the F-35A – purchased by Australia – is a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) version; the F-35B is a short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, and the final F-35C is the carrier type (CV). Over the coming years, Australia will acquire 72 as part of its $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program to replace the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985. The first F-35A was delivered in December 2018 and the finished fleet will be based at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal. So far, 48 have landed on Australian soil.

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