After 16 years of development, testing and considerable controversy, the first two of the Royal Australian Air Force’s F-35A Joint Strike Fighters finally touched down on home soil today RAAF Base Williamtown, north of Newcastle.
The $100 million planes – the total fleet of 72 F-35s is expected to cost taxpayers $17 billion – will be part of Number 3 Squadron in the Air Combat Group and are the first two to be permanently based in Australia after several months of testing and training with the planes at the USA’s Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
Lockheed Martin hopes to get the cost down to $80 million per plane by 2020.
The RAAF has now received nine F-35As, with the other seven still operating from the US training facility. Today’s delivery comes nearly four years to the day since the first of the Australian F35s arrived at Luke Air Force Base.
Australia is part of a consortium of nine nations, including the USA, UK, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark and Norway, in the Lockheed-Martin-built project, which has so far cost more than $US1 trillion.
Defence minister Christopher Pyne MP, was there for the arrival of the plans, which flew from Arizona at speeds of up to 1975km/h, saying the multi-role stealth fighter will dramatically Australia’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
“The Joint Strike Fighter can get closer to threats undetected; find, engage and jam electronic signals from targets; and share information with other platforms,” he said.
In an historic day in Australian aviation, the first two F-35A Joint Strike Fighters to be permanently based in Australia arrived at @AusAirForce RAAF Base Williamtown ➡️ https://t.co/vigdcieVwm #auspol #ausdef pic.twitter.com/kTJqAJ6f13
— Christopher Pyne (@cpyne) December 9, 2018
Australian businesses have also been part of the F-35A’s development, with more than 50 Australian companies directly sharing in $1.2 billion in production contracts according to Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo
“Up to 1500 contractors have worked on the construction of the facilities to accommodate the F-35A at RAAF Base Williamtown, representing approximately $1 billion of investment in the Hunter region alone,” he said.
Australia’s fifth-generation F35A planes are also the first among the program partner nations outside the US with Block 3F capability, the program’s final software system, which unlocks its full war-fighting potential.
“Unlocks its full war-fighting potential” is something even the US Navy doesn’t have. Its F-35Cs won’t complete Block 3F testing until at least late 2018.
The F-35A jets will replace the RAAF’s aging fleet of 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets.
The F-35A JSF plances will be based at RAAF Base Williamtown and at RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory.
Here’s a look at the planes before and as they arrived today.
Wing Commander Darren Clare, Commanding Officer of RAAF No. 3 Squadron, in front of an Australian F-35A aircraft on the flight line at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, USA
RAAF pilots and maintenance personnel are embedded within USAF units and partnering with Lockheed Martin as part of preparations for the F35A becoming operational in Australia
RAAF aircraft maintainer Corporal Cory Cochrane inspects the bomb bay of an Australian F-35A at Luke Air Force Base
The RAAF has now accepted delivery of nine F-35As, which have spent up to four years in the Luke Air Force Base training facility before heading to Australia.
The two F-35A aircraft flew to Australia from Arizona via Hawaii
The F-35As transited through US Hickam Air Force Base Oahu, Hawaii
The planes are costing $AU100 million each but Lockheed Martin hopes to get the cost down to $80m each by 2020
An RAAF KC-30A multi-role tanker transport aircraft helped the F-35As refuel during their journey. The planes have a mission range of around 750 nautical miles – and more than double that – 1600nm, as ferry range
F/A-18A Hornets flew alongside the F-35A that will replace them on approach to RAAF Base Williamtown
F/A-18A Hornets are around 10% faster than the F-35A at top speed, but only have another decade of operational life left before they replaced by the high-tech F35s.
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