Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds CSC and Defence Industry Minister, Melissa Price have announced a major milestone in the transformation of the Royal Australian Air Force declaring Australia’s F-35A Lightning II fleet can now be deployed on operations, with Initial Operational Capability being officially achieved.
It is designed to be the most lethal, technologically advanced air combat capability ever fielded by the Royal Australian Air Force.
The F-35 combines low observability, unprecedented levels of sensor fusion and computational power, and a suite of next-generation weapons to boot, but it hasn't been without its teething problems.
Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC said the F-35s are the most advanced, multi-role stealth fighter in the world.
“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,” Minister Reynolds said.
“For the last two years, Defence has rigorously tested the F-35A fleet to assess aircraft and system performance, and declare this important milestone,” Minister Reynolds added.
“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.
“While 2020 presented significant challenges to all of us, and travel restrictions made it difficult to ferry our aircraft to Australia, the huge efforts of Defence, industry and our partners in the United States made today’s achievement possible.”
Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price said cooperation with industry had set Defence up for long-term success.
“Our defence industry has played a critical role in achieving today’s milestone, which continues the success story of Australia’s involvement in the F-35 global program,” Minister Price said.
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Minister Price added, “Just last month we announced that more than 50 Australian companies have shared in $2.7 billion in contracts, demonstrating the Morrison Government’s commitment to backing Australian industry and supporting Australian jobs.
“Australia will continue to work with the United States F-35 Joint Program Office and our industry partners as more aircraft are delivered through to 2023, and a mature capability is achieved,” Minister Price said.
For the RAAF, the F-35A's combination of full-spectrum low-observable stealth coatings and materials, advanced radar-dispersing shaping, network-centric sensor and communications suites – combined with a lethal strike capability – means the aircraft will be the ultimate force-multiplying, air-combat platform.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985.