RAAF’s First F-35s Prepare to Leave Luke AFB for Williamtown Air Base, Australia
Royal Australian Air Force personnel deployed to Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, USA prepare the aircraft they will bring home in December 2018. Royal Australian Air Force pilots and maintenance personnel are embedded within United States Air Force units and partnering with Lockheed Martin to prepare for the introduction of Australia’s first fifth-generation air combat capability.1
With the arrival of Australia’s first two F-35s a little under a week away, the sun is setting on Australia’s legacy fleet of legacy F/A-18 Hornets, with the F-35 marking the beginning of Australia’s technological and capability transformation to a fifth generation air force.
For the Air Force, the F-35’s combination of full-spectrum low observability, from stealth coatings and materials, advanced radar dispersing shaping, network centric sensor and communications suites, combined with a lethal strike capability means the aircraft is the ultimate force multiplying, air combat platform with a projected life of 30 years.
Commander, Air Combat Group Air Commodore Mike Kitcher describes the F-35 as providing a “quantum leap” in capability for the Air Force requiring both the RAAF and the broader ADF to rewrite the operational, tactical and strategic doctrines which have held true for the better part of the last seventy-five years.
“F-35 presents a quantum leap, not only in terms of operational realities, but also technologically. For Air Force in particular, but again also for the wider ADF, F-35 is a catalyst for developing a truly fifth generation force,” Air Commodore Kitcher said…..
Air Force expects that Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the F-35 to be delivered by 2020, which will see Australia operating two F-35 squadrons, No. 3 Squadron and No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) both of which will be based at RAAF Base Williamtown.
Air Commodore Kitcher said, “While both squadrons will be operations capable, No. 3 Squadron will be Australia’s first full, F-35 squadron that is combat capable by the end of 2020. 2OCU will be focused on the technical and material training for RAAF aircrew and for the training or all technicians and support personnel for the F-35.”
Building on this, Kitcher said, it is expected that by end 2020, Australia will have between thirty and thirty-three F-35s in country. Despite the challenges faced by the F-35 throughout the development process and into the early manufacturing stages, Kitcher remained upbeat about the nation’s transfer from legacy air frames.
“The best way to define the transition from Hornet to F-35 is like the Air Force’s transition from the old propeller driven Mustangs to the early jet powered aircraft in the Meteor. I am sure we will find some lessons and some challenges, people forget that is to be expected in the roll out and acceptance of any new technology, not least of all an aircraft as advanced and complex as the F-35,” Kitcher explained.2
And in an article by the same author, Stephen Kuper, published on Defence. Connect on December 6, 2018, the author marked the countdown.
In just four days, Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown will receive Australia’s first two F-35A Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) and the atmosphere is electric ahead of their arrival.
Williamtown will eventually be home to 56 JSFs, and the RAAF has been working feverishly ahead of the arrival of the first pair.
The F-35A Operational Precinct has been developed specifically to house Australia’s new jets, and at the current time is “more than capable” of receiving the first two JSFs.
Part of that project involved the extension of the runway from 8,000 feet to 10,000 feet, which not only allows extra safety for the pilots but will help reduce noise due to the jets using their afterburners less.
There will also be a combined 3 and 77 Squadron Headquarters, which will help “exercise effective command and control of F-35A operations and to prepare for exercises and deployments”.
Security for the base has also received a huge facelift, worth nearly a billion dollars.
Greater security measures have been introduced, including upgrades to the perimeter of the base as well as individual facilities.
At one point there were over 900 contractors working on-site, although that number dropped after the main exterior buildings were completed.
As it stands, the facilities are still yet to be fully completed, but are capable of holding the aircraft due to be delivered by the end of 2019.
Group Captain Peter Cluff, Base Commander at Williamtown, estimated that by the end of 2019, the upgrades at the base would be completed entirely.3
- Australian Department of Defence, December 4, 2018.
- Stephen Kuper, December 4, 2018.https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/strike-air-combat/3251-f-35-countdown-changing-the-way-the-air-force-flies-fights-and-wins
- Stephen Kuper, December 6, 2018. https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/strike-air-combat/3269-f-35-countdown-raaf-base-williamtown-buzzing-ahead-of-arrival