Australia declares IOC for F-35A fleet

The Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fleet can now be deployed on operations after it achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) on December 28.

This declaration marks a significant milestone in the build up of the RAAF’s growing F-35A fleet and makes Australia the seventh nation to declare IOC for the fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter. The conventional take-off and landing (CTOL)-configured F-35A is Australia’s first fifth-generation combat aircraft and will be used to meet the nation’s requirements to combat current, emerging and evolving threats.

RAAF F-35A [Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/Cpl David Said]
The Australian government declared the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF's) Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter fleet on December 28, 2020. Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/Cpl David Said

Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said: “The fifth-generation F-35A, along with the F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, is key to our air combat capability and critical to achieving the objectives set out in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update to shape, deter and respond… For the last two years, [the Australian Department of Defence] has rigorously tested the F-35A fleet to assess aircraft and system performance and [declared] this important milestone.

“I would like to thank everyone that has worked so hard to get us to this point; to have accomplished all the required testing and materiel delivery is remarkable. The [Australian Defence Force] now has an F-35A squadron ready to conduct technologically advanced strike and air combat roles, and another squadron dedicated to providing world-class training here in Australia,” she added.

Australia inducted its first two F-35As into operational service in 2018, before the first two aircraft arrived at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales (NSW) in December that year. The nation currently operates 33 examples of the Lightning II with more than 45 pilots and 600 maintainers having been trained on the platform, which has flown over 8,780 flight hours to date. The RAAF will employ a total fleet of 72 F-35As, which are all expected to be fully operational by the end of 2023.

RAAF F-35A [Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/Sgt David Gibbs]
A pair of RAAF-operated F-35A Lightning IIs fly in formation off the coast of Newcastle, NSW, during a sortie that took place as part of Exercise Lightning Storm on August 28, 2020. Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/Sgt David Gibbs

Joe North, CEO of Lockheed Martin Australia, added: “This IOC ushers in a new era of Australian air power that gives the RAAF transformational and game-changing capabilities. As the original equipment manufacturer and lead industry sustainment partner for Australia’s F-35A fleet, Lockheed Martin congratulates the RAAF on achieving this milestone, and we stand ready to support the fleet with our industry partners.”

The air force’s entire F-35A Lightning II fleet will be based at RAAF Base Williamtown, NSW, and RAAF Base Tindal in Australia’s Northern Territory. The eventual 72-strong fleet of fifth-generation multi-role fighters will be employed by three operational squadrons at these two bases, as well as by a training unit at RAAF Base Williamtown. In RAAF service, the F-35A will replace Australia’s ageing Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornet fleet, which will be completely retired later this year.