Australia’s Department of Defence (DOD) confirmed on March 1 that three more Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs had arrived in the ‘Land Down Under’, bringing the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) fleet up to 33 aircraft.
In a media release, the Australian DOD noted that this latest batch of aircraft arrived at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales on February 11. The aircraft have since been absorbed into No 81 Wing’s fleet, where they will be employed by No 2 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) to deliver F-35A training from the Australian base. These new aircraft are the first to join the RAAF’s F-35A fleet since the air arm declared initial operational capability (IOC) on the type on December 28, 2020.
The trio of fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighters arrived at the base following a three-day journey from Luke Air Force Base (AFB), Arizona, to RAAF Base Williamtown as part of Exercise Lightning Ferry 21-1. The 12,700km journey involved a stop over at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, and was supported by two RAAF-operated Airbus KC-30A multi-role tanker transports (MRTTs) and an Australian Boeing C-17A Globemaster III heavy-lift strategic transport.
Wg Cdr Jordon Sander, officer commanding 2 OCU, said: “Australia’s F-35A fleet can be deployed on operations now that we have reached IOC, so it’s important we continue the progression of the F-35A capability… Increasing our fleet size will further advance [the] air force’s proficiency in combat, strike and offensive air support, while enabling 2 OCU to deliver the first operational conversion course on the F-35A aircraft in Australia.”
The unit launched its first F-35A operational conversion course in January, with four graduate pilots from No 76 Squadron. These aircrew members are expected to graduate from the inaugural course this July.
Australia plans to acquire 72 examples of the F-35A, which is the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL)-configured variant of the Lightning II family. The RAAF anticipates that it will have received its entire complement of F-35As by the end of 2023, which will be employed by three operational units and 2 OCU. The nation’s Lightning II fleet will be operated from RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal in Australia’s Northern Territory.
The F-35A will also directly replace the RAAF’s matured fleet of Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornets in operational service. Now affectionately known as legacy Hornets, these veteran multi-role fighters will be completely retired from Australian service by the end of this year. In December 2020, No 77 Squadron became the latest RAAF unit to bid farewell to its F/A-18A/Bs as it continues its transition to the F-35A. To read more about this squadron’s move from the legacy Hornet to the Lightning II, follow the link below.