Royal Australian Air Force has now received 44 of the planned 72 F-35A Lightning II aircraft after three more aircraft touched down at RAAF Base Williamtown on November 20. The newest aircraft to join the fleet have been accepted by No. 77 Squadron, which transited the three F-35As from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, United States, through Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to Australia as part of Exercise Lightning Ferry 21-4. Before the transit to Australia, No. 77 Squadron participated in Exercise Lighting Spear 21 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, from November 1 to 5. The latest aircraft ferried across the Pacific as part of Exercise Lightning Ferry 21-4 was the final delivery task of 2021.
Commanding Officer No. 77 Squadron Wing Commander Tim Ireland said,”It was an important step for the squadron’s growth after re-equipping with F 35A aircraft this year. Our focus in 2021 has been to stand-up an F-35A combat ready team. The additional aircraft will help us generate a ready force able to integrate into a high-end all domain fight. Lightning Spear was an operational test activity for No. 81 Wing aimed to verify weapons integration. The consecutive activities of Lightning Spear and Lightning Ferry demonstrates No. 77 Squadron’s agility and maturity at operating with our latest F-35A capability.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an American family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft that is intended to perform both air superiority and strike missions. It is also able to provide electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. Lockheed Martin is the prime F-35 contractor, with principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. The aircraft has three main variants: the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A, the short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) F-35B, and the carrier-based (CV/CATOBAR) F-35C.
Australia is participating in the F-35’s development, and expects that overall, 72 or more F-35As will be ordered to replace the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) F/A-18 Hornet aircraft.Australia’s first F-35A, designated AU-1 by Lockheed and A35-001 by the RAAF, made its first flight on 29 September 2014 at the company’s Fort Worth, Texas facility, flying for two hours. AU-1 and AU-2 will be transferred to the USAF training school at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona in early 2015. RAAF F-35s will remain at Luke AFB until 2018, when they will be delivered to Australia for national-specific operational test and evaluation work. Australia started an A$950 million program in 2015 to provide better security for its F-35 bases.