Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announced on 28 December that the first squadron of Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) operated by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has achieved initial operating capability (IOC).
“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,” said Minister Reynolds in a statement, noting that this milestone had been attained following two years of rigorous testing to assess aircraft and system performance.
The RAAF now operates 30 F-35A aircraft – the conventional take-off and landing variant of the F-35 JSF platform family – with No 3 Squadron and No 2 Operational Conversion Unit at RAAF Base Williamtown, while another three aircraft are awaiting to be flown across the Pacific from Luke Air Force Base in the United States.
The IOC declaration comes after the RAAF’s No 77 Squadron, also based at Williamtown, stood down its Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornet fighter aircraft in early December and will commence its conversion to the F-35A in early 2021.
The Northern Territory-based No 75 Squadron at RAAF Base Tindal is also expected to retire its Hornet aircraft by the end of 2021 and begin its conversion to the F-35A from 2022.
Australia ordered 72 F-35A aircraft under Project Air 6000 Phase 2A/2B and is considering to add up to 30 more of the type for service entry from 2030 under Project Air 6000 Phase 7.
Deliveries of the remaining F-35As will continue from 2021 to 2022 and the RAAF is expected to declare final operating capability of the aircraft by 2023.
Meanwhile, the Australia Department of Defence announced on 9 December that it had awarded Lockheed Martin Australia a A$100 million contract for F-35A training support services. The contract comprises the operation and maintenance support for six F-35A full mission simulators at Williamtown.
The DoD also revealed that there are also plans to install four more simulators at Tindal in 2021 under the same deal.
by Jr Ng