The RAAF has taken delivery of four more F-35A Lighting IIs, taking its current fleet to 54.
The fighter jets flew from Luke Air Force Base, Arizona and landed at RAAF Base Williamtown in NSW with the aid of a KC-30A refuelling aircraft.
The F-35 is the country’s newest fighter, purchased to replace the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that were in service since 1985 and retired in late 2021.
Over the coming years, Australia will buy 72 as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program, with all expected to be fully operational by 2023.
Thus far, the fighters have clocked in excess of 15,000 flight hours and have already achieved initial operational capability, making it combat-ready.
The aircraft 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).
The arrival of four more aircraft comes after the platform took part in their very first Exercise Pitch Black last month.
The three-week training program in the Northern Territory was conducted at Bases Darwin and Tindal, with Base Amberley in Queensland also included. It included counterparts from 15 countries.
“Exercise Pitch Black is the largest Australian-based international exercise 81 Wing has participated in since transitioning to the F-35A and we’re excited by the opportunity to integrate the jet’s advanced capabilities with so many of our international partners,” Commanding Officer of No. 3 Squadron, Wing Commander Adrian Kiely said in August.
“Across the exercise, we aim to improve our collective air combat capabilities in a complex and contested environment.
“Our focus for Pitch Black is on strengthened international integration, which is paramount to further improving our ability to come together as a highly effective and interoperable force.”
In June 2021, Australian Aviation reported how two F-35s took to the skies with a full complement of weapons for the first time.
The landmark moment came as the pair were taking part in Exercise Arnhem Thunder 21 from RAAF Base Darwin.
In addition to their internal payload, the F-35s departed with laser-guided GBU-12 bombs attached to their under-wing pylons.
The bombs were dropped on ground-based targets at the Delamere Air Weapons Range, located about 120 kilometres south of Katherine.