RAAF Base Williamtown will be the scene of national defence force history when the first two of 72 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) arrive on Australian soil for permanent residency on Monday, December 10.
Not without controversy following claims of time delays and budget blow-outs, the aircraft will be operated by Number 3 Squadron to be commanded by Wing Commander Darren Clare.
A Defence spokesperson said that work on the infrastructure required for the RAAF Base at Williamtown to house the JSFs was ongoing “however the necessary components for the arrival of the first two aircraft are complete”.
“The JSF will be phased into service to replace the F/A18-A/B Classic Hornet fleet, with the final operating capability of the Hornet expected to be in 2023,” the spokesperson said.
“An arrival event at Williamtown is in the planning stages.”
In response to noise concerns, the spokesperson said that there were different noise profiles between the old and the new.
“The F-35A is a single engine aircraft, while the F/A18 is a twin engine aircraft. An updated Australian Noise Exposure Forecast will be implemented at RAAF Base Williamtown to accommodate the different noise profiles.”
A website detailing access approval conditions for flying operations of the JSF can be found at at defence.gov.au/AirCraftNoise.
It has not been all smooth flying for consecutive federal governments since the initial announcement in 2012 that it would be spending $17 billion on 72 new aircraft, with delays caused by technical glitches and cost blow-outs.
RAAF pilots and maintenance personnel have been embedded within United States Air Force units and partnering with Lockheed Martin in preparation for the December 10 arrival.
Pilot training is planned to commence at Williamtown in early 2019 with the aircraft expected to enter service in 2020.
The JSF is the most advanced, affordable fifth generation multi-role stealth fighter to meet Australia’s need to defeat emerging threats well into the future.
It is next generation due to its stealth capability, advanced sensors, data fusion and its ability to share information with other aircraft, Army units and Navy ships.
The “backbone” of the JSF air system is the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which provides the essential off-board information system infrastructure – hardware, software and data – that performs maintenance management, fault diagnostics, supply support, mission planning and training management across the F-35 weapon system.
On flying the aircraft for the first time, RAAF Squadron Leader Andrew Jackson said that the fifth generation F-35A capabilities represent a quantum shift over legacy fighters.
“This aircraft will give fighter pilots a level of situational awareness that far exceeds legacy platforms,” Squadron Leader Jackson said. “Experiencing this level of capability first hand is something every pilot dreams of.”
The Defence spokesperson said that by operating the same aircraft as allies in the Asia-Pacific and around the world, the RAAF will take advantage of the JSF’s powerful sensors to share data to an unprecedented level of interoperability.
“The global fleet of F-35s will also give Australia advantages in economies of scale on production and sustainment for decades to come,” the spokesperson said.