Australia’s fifth-generation strike capability has been strengthened by the arrival of new Lockheed Martin-built F-35A fighter jets.
Lockheed Martin has delivered a further two F-35A Lightning II aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), taking the total size of the fleet to 50.
The jets arrived in RAAF Base Williamtown in May, accepted by No. 3 Squadron following a successful ferry across the Pacific Ocean from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in the United States.
Before being ferried to Australia, the RAAF F-35A aircraft participated in Exercise Black Flag 22-1, engaging in integration activities with the United States Air Force’s (USAF) 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron.
“Exercise Black Flag was a large force integration activity, which enabled us to operationally test our tactics and capabilities with the United States Air Force,” Commanding Officer of No. 3 Squadron, Wing Commander Adrian Kiely said.
“Operationally representative scenarios such as Exercise Black Flag support the continuous development of our tactics, people and overall preparedness in highly demanding environments.”
Exercise Black Flag aimed to enhance interpretability between the USAF and RAAF through teaming activities against a peer adversary.
The exercise particularly focused on strengthening the integrated tactical procedures against an advanced air-to-air threat.
“As our F-35A fleet continues to increase, we’re opening the door to new opportunities such as the first ever forward area refuelling of an Australian F-35A with a United States HC-130J,” WGCDR Kiely said.
“We’ve brought back not only more aircraft to Australia, but also a more highly skilled workforce to further benefit the wider Air Force.”
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The jets were accepted by No. 77 Squadron of No. 81 Wing, led by Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Tim Ireland.
Thus far, RAAF F-35A aircraft have clocked over 15,000 flight hours.
The Joint Strike Fighter program has delivered two operational squadrons, with the third scheduled to enter service later this year.
The Commonwealth government has ordered 72 F-35A aircraft under the $16.6 billion JSF contract with Lockheed Martin.
All 72 jets are expected to be fully operational by 2023, with an option to expand the fleet to a maximum of 100 aircraft.
News Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media
Prior to joining the defence and aerospace team in 2020, Charbel was news editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business, where he covered developments in the banking and financial services sector for three years. Charbel has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in politics and journalism. Charbel has also completed internships with The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts and public relations agency Fifty Acres.