RAAF F-35 fleet bolstered, new jets touch down
By: Charbel Kadib
A new tranche of fifth-generation fighter jets has arrived in Australia, marking the first delivery of 2022.
The Royal Australian Air Force has confirmed its receipt of four additional F-35A Lightning II aircraft, taking the total size of the fleet to 48.
The jets, which touched down in RAAF Base Williamtown late last month, travelled from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, following Exercise Cope North 22.
The jets were accepted by No. 77 Squadron of No. 81 Wing, led by Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Tim Ireland.
“The F-35A Lightning II capability is fundamental to ensuring the RAAF remains ready and able to conduct integrated high-end warfighting,” WGCDR Ireland said.
“It was useful that No. 77 Squadron accepted these aircraft during Exercise Cope North. The activity is critical in enhancing our trilateral military interoperability with the US and Japan.
“The F-35As are exceptional at multiplying the effectiveness of surrounding platforms and capabilities.”
Budget estimates documents filed by the Department of Defence revealed the expected flying hours of the aircraft have been revised down over the next four years.
Flying hours have been cut by 25 per cent in the 2021-22 financial year (FY22), and are set to be reduced by 17 per cent in FY23, 14 per cent in FY24, and 13 per cent in FY25.
Media reports suggested the revisions were a response to supposed maintenance issues associated with operating the Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs).
The federal Labor opposition also weighed in, with assistant defence spokesman Pat Conroy calling into question the government’s management of the JSF program.
However, Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld rejected such suggestions, stressing the revisions are not a reflection of the fifth-generation aircraft’s capability.
According to AIRMSHL Hupfeld, the fleet’s flying hours were reduced in line with changing operational requirements.
“The criticisms contained are completely unfounded,” he said.
He went on to describe claims the F-35A is not satisfying operational and training requirements as “misleading and simply false”.
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.