F-35As to transform Australia's air combat capability
24 April 2014
Australia will acquire another 58 F-35A Lightning II aircraft in a major boost to the nation’s air combat capability, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced in Canberra on April 23.
The additional aircraft will lift the total number of F-35As Australia will acquire to 72, after a previous decision to purchase 14.
This will create a total of three operational squadrons – two at RAAF Base Williamtown and one at RAAF Base Tindal – and a training squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown
The F-35A will replace the Royal Australian Air Force’s fleet of F/A-18A/B Hornets.
The first aircraft will arrive in Australia in 2018, with Number 3 Squadron operational by 2021. All 72 aircraft are expected to be operational by 2023.
The total cost will be $12.4 billion including about $1.6 billion for new facilities at RAAF Bases Williamtown and Tindal.
The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, is enthusiastic about the F-35’s stealth capabilities.
He said the jump between a fourth- and fifth-generation fighter was dramatic.
“It’s the difference between being in a biplane against a monoplane pre-World War II, the difference between a piston engine and a jet – it’s one of those game-changing events,” he said.
Air Marshal Brown said the announcement of an additional 58 Joint Strike Fighters allowed Air Force to plan for the full withdrawal of the 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets.
“The Hornet’s been the mainstay of our air combat fleet for nearly 30 years. To be signed up to the future means we can go forward and plan how we’re going to transition,” he said.
“The transition will be quite a difficult thing to do because we need to move people from that era of technology into a completely different generation.”
Air Marshal Brown said the F-35As would need upgrades to maintain their combat edge but the Joint Strike Fighter program was designed for easier improvements than the F/A-18s.
He said the F-35As would be complemented by the RAAF’s 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets and 12 EA-18G Growlers.