Second strike of Joint Strike Fighters in sights for Williamtown

IN FLIGHT: The JSF aircraft.

IN FLIGHT: The JSF aircraft.

ALMOST a billion dollars will be spent at Williamtown RAAF Base after the federal government announced it would acquire an additional 58 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft.

The government made the announcement last week and said the aircraft would be purchased in addition to the 14 JSF already approved in 2009.

It is a decision which will see Williamtown RAAF Base reap much of the rewards with Paterson MP Bob Baldwin saying $986 million would be spent on infrastructure at the Port-based location for JSF-related works.

"It's great news, it's been a long time coming," Mr Baldwin said.

"Two squadrons are to be based at Williamtown . . . 48 of the aircraft.

"There will be a lot of jobs during construction and development."

The remaining aircraft will be based at Tindal.

Mr Baldwin said "if we play our cards right" Williamtown could also become the main maintenance location for all JSF.

He said this would bring significant economic benefits to the area further boosting not only the defence sector but also the associated support services.

Port Stephens Council general manager Peter Gesling said while it was hard to put a monetary amount on the impact of the announcement it would no doubt have a positive effect.

"We are excited about what the Joint Strike Fighter announcement could mean for Williamtown and the wider Port Stephens area, however it is far too early in the process to make an accurate assessment of the potential impacts," he said.

"That said, from an economic benefit perspective the announcement is expected to positively impact the region."

Defence Minister David Johnston said together with the Super Hornet and Growler electronic warfare aircraft, the F-35 would ensure Australia maintained its regional air combat edge.

"The F-35 will also provide a major boost to the ADF's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities," a statement from the minister read.

The first F-35 aircraft will arrive in Australia in 2018 and enter service with the RAAF in 2020.

The JSF will replace the F/A-18 A/B Classic Hornet aircraft which are to be withdrawn from service by 2022.

The government will also consider acquiring an additional squadron of F-35 aircraft to replace the Super Hornets in the future.