Four F-35A Lightning II aircraft touched down at RAAF Base Williamtown between August 30 and September 2. It brings the total of F-35As based in Australia to 54 of the total planned fleet of 72 aircraft. The newest aircraft to join the fleet were accepted by No. 77 Squadron on behalf of No. 81 Wing in Air Combat Group. The latest aircraft were ferried across the Pacific Ocean as part of Exercise Lightning Ferry 22-3 – the third delivery task of this year. The four F-35As made the journey from United States Luke Air Force Base in Arizona with trans-Pacific stops made at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii and Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. They were supported by Air Mobility Group elements including a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport from No. 33 Squadron and a C-17A Globemaster from No. 36 Squadron.
Commanding Officer No. 77 Squadron, Wing Commander Tim Ireland, said,”It was another important step forward for Australia’s F-35A combat capability. These new jets represent a 10 per cent increase in training and combat capacity for our growing F-35A fighting wing. The success of Exercise Lightning Ferry was the result of detailed planning and coordination across Air Force. These four aircraft represent a quarter of a fighter squadron in capability. All ferries are complex events requiring synchronisation and flexibility from across Air Combat Group, Air Mobility Group, Air Combat Systems program office, Aerospace Combat Systems branch and the Air Operations Centre No. 77 Squadron celebrated 80 years of service this year. We all feel very honoured to be rapidly advancing our 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. Its development is principally funded by the United States, with additional funding from program partner countries from NATO and close U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Italy, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and formerly Turkey.
Australia’s first F-35, designated A35-001, was manufactured in 2014, with flight training provided through international Pilot Training Centre (PTC) at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. The first two F-35s were unveiled to the Australian public on 3 March 2017 at the Avalon Airshow. By 2021, the Royal Australian Air Force had accepted 26 F-35As, with nine in the US and 17 operating at No 3 Squadron and No 2 Operational Conversion Unit at RAAF Base Williamtown. With 41 trained RAAF pilots and 225 trained technicians for maintenance, the fleet was declared ready to deploy on operations. It is expected that Australia will receive all 72 F-35s by 2023. Norway and Australia are funding an adaptation of the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) for the F-35; designated Joint Strike Missile (JSM), two missiles can be carried internally with an additional four externally.