Royal Australian Air Force Declares F-35A Initial Operational Capability

The Royal Australian Air Force announced today that it had officially achieved Initial Operational Capability for its F-35A Lightning IIs. The announcement means that the RAAF’s F-35s can now be deployed on operations.

F-35 Lightning IIs from RAAF Base Williamtown fly off the coast of Newcastle with C-27J Spartan A34-007 on 23 November 2020.

In a joint media release, Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC described the F-35 as the “most advanced, multi-role stealth fighter in the world”, saying:

The fifth-generation F-35A, along with the F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, is key to our air combat capability and critical to achieving the objectives set out in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update to Shape, Deter and Respond.

For the last two years, Defence has rigorously tested the F-35A fleet to assess aircraft and system performance, and declare this important milestone.

I would like to thank everyone that has worked so hard to get us to this point; to have accomplished all the required testing and materiel delivery is remarkable.

The Australian Defence Force now has an F-35A squadron ready to conduct technologically advanced strike and air combat roles, and another squadron dedicated to providing world-class training here in Australia.

While 2020 presented significant challenges to all of us, and travel restrictions made it difficult to ferry our aircraft to Australia, the huge efforts of Defence, industry and our partners in the United States made today’s achievement possible.

RAAF photo of an F-35 Full Mission Simulator at RAAF Base Williamtown. The four Full Mission Simulators at RAAF Base Williamtown have been successfully upgraded by a local team.

Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price said cooperation with industry had set Defence up for long-term success, continuing:

Our defence industry has played a critical role in achieving today’s milestone, which continues the success story of Australia’s involvement in the F-35 global program.

Just last month we announced that more than 50 Australian companies have shared in $2.7 billion in contracts, demonstrating the Morrison Government’s commitment to backing Australian industry and supporting Australian jobs.

Australia will continue to work with the United States F-35 Joint Program Office and our industry partners as more aircraft are delivered through to 2023, and a mature capability is achieved.

The announcement of Initial Operational Capability comes two years after the first F-35As arrived in Australia, and a year after the No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit transitioned to the F-35A after graduating its final batch of F/A-18A and B Classic Hornet pilots.

Two U.S. Air Force and two Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II’s assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, fly in formation over Luke AFB during a commemoration flight Oct. 8, 2020. The event celebrated the partnership between the RAAF and U.S. Air Force in their joint efforts in training the world’s most capable fighter pilots at Luke AFB. The flight marked the final sortie between the two nations before Luke AFB’s Australian partners depart. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander Cook)

The RAAF currently plans to operate a total of 72 F-35As under its AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program, which intends to totally replace the Classic Hornets with F-35As. The F-35A is a keystone of the RAAF’s Plan Jericho, which pursues the development of “augmented intelligence” to augment human capabilities, such as the autonomous Loyal Wingman UCAV.