Australia completes first major international F-35A deployment

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has marked a major milestone in its operation of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II after aircraft from No 75 Squadron departed RAAF Base Tindal in Australia’s Northern Territory to Malaysia, where it completed the fifth-generation fighter’s first international deployment (outside the US) in Australian service.

Held from November 7-18, Exercise Elangaroo 2022 provided an opportunity for F-35As from the RAAF’s No 75 Squadron to conduct air-to-air fighter integration with RMAF-operated Hawk Mk.108/208s, F/A-18D Hornets and Su-30MKMs.
Held from November 7-18, Exercise Elangaroo 2022 provided an opportunity for F-35As from the RAAF’s No 75 Squadron to conduct air-to-air fighter integration with RMAF-operated Hawk Mk.108/208s, F/A-18D Hornets and Su-30MKMs. RMAF

A total of six No 75 Squadron-operated F-35As deployed to Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Base Butterworth in Penang, Malaysia, from which the unit and its associated aircraft/crews participated in Exercise Elangaroo 2022 – held from November 7-18 – an air-to-air fighter integration training exercise that aimed to deepen relationships between the RAAF and RMAF, while enhancing overall combat readiness for both air arms. Alongside the F-35As, the RAAF also deployed a Leonardo C-27J Spartan from No 35 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland, to Malaysia, where it also participated in Elangaroo.

RMAF Base Butterworth shares a long history with not only the RAAF but with No 75 Squadron as well, given that the unit – when it was equipped with Dassault Mirage IIIs – was stationed there between 1967 and 1983, before it returned to Australia and transitioned to the Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornet. The squadron has frequently returned to Malaysia since to participate in various exercises with the RMAF and other regional allies.

Personnel from the RAAF's No 75 Squadron pose for a picture in front of two F-35As at RMAF Base Butterworth, Malaysia, during Exercise Elangaroo 2022.
Personnel from the RAAF's No 75 Squadron pose for a picture in front of two F-35As at RMAF Base Butterworth, Malaysia, during Exercise Elangaroo 2022. Australian DOD/LAC Adam Abela

Wg Cdr Martin Parker, the officer commanding No 75 Squadron RAAF, highlighted how Malaysia was a fitting location for the RAAF’s first proper international F-35A deployment. He said: “The relationships and operating knowledge have been passed down like a story, from generation to generation, so, although we’re exercising in an exotic location with a new platform, there is still a sense of familiarity and comfort. We trust our RMAF counterparts deeply and they have been brilliant hosts, operating well with us during combined missions and contributing to our F-35A security.”

He added that the RAAF learned a lot about operations, maintenance and logistics during Exercise Elangaroo 2022, adding that it has given them greater confidence in their ability to operate away from Australia. “Fighter deployments to Southeast Asia is core business for the RAAF, so deploying to Malaysia to spread our wings was the right first step for the F-35A capability in the region,” he concluded.