Four of the fifth-generation fighter jets have arrived in the Top End, officially replacing the retired Classic Hornet aircraft.
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The Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) No. 75 Squadron has accepted the first tranche of F-35A Lightning II aircraft to be operated from RAAF Base Tindal.
Four jets have touched down in the Top End to replace the now retired F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet fleet, which was in service for 33 years.
Minister for Defence Peter Dutton noted the strategic importance of operating advanced stealth fighters from northern Australia as a location for national defence and regional engagement.
“The Tindal-based F-35As will assure the ADF’s ability to deter or defeat threats to Australia’s interests and strengthen our ability to project potent air power into Australia’s immediate region,” he said.
“The Morrison government is continuing to invest in RAAF Base Tindal in order to increase the reach of our Air Force capabilities in the Indo-Pacific.”
No. 75 Squadron’s F-35As are expected to support US military rotations in the Top End, helping to strengthen defence collaboration between the nations and other regional partners.
“The F-35A-equipped 75 Squadron will capitalise on frequent opportunities to bolster interoperability with US rotational aircraft deployments, and other enhanced air cooperation activities that will take place in the Top End as announced at this year’s AUSMIN,” Minister Dutton said.
In total, 16 of the 72 F-35As ordered by Defence will be based out of RAAF Base Tindal once the project achieves final operational capability (FOC), expected in December 2023.
Minister Dutton lauded the success of collaboration between Defence and industry over the course of the program.
“I congratulate Defence and our industry partners on achieving this significant milestone on schedule, while managing the complexities associated with a global pandemic,” he said.
“The F-35 Program prime contractor, Lockheed Martin is supporting aircraft maintenance at the base, and Defence are working closely with F135 engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney to ensure Tindal is effectively set up for long-term engine maintenance.”
Northern Territory-based firms Fuel Calibration Services, RGM Maintenance, and Territory Instruments have recently been confirmed as the latest additions to Lockheed Martin’s global supply chain.
“These companies will help sustain the F-35A capability for many years, creating long-term economic benefit in the Northern Territory,” Minister Dutton added.
The announcement of the arrival of the F-35As in the Top End comes just days after the Commonwealth government invested a further $140 million in maintenance and supply-chain support for the fleet.
A five-year Air Vehicle Support Services (AVSS) contract worth $80 million has been awarded to BAE Systems Australia, and an additional $60 million has been invested in the F-35A Industry Support Program.
The AVSS contract aims to bolster sovereign maintenance and supply-chain support for the F-35A fleet at RAAF Bases Williamtown in the Hunter region of NSW and RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory.
The deal is tipped to support the employment of approximately 46 BAE Systems Australia staff, tasked with providing direct, on-the-ground support to RAAF personnel sustaining the F-35.
Meanwhile, the additional $60 million invested by the Commonwealth government in the F-35A Industry Support Program is expected to bolster work opportunities for local SMEs.