The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has declared its multi-billion-dollar fleet of Joint Strike Fighters is ready for deployment, two years after the first F-35As were delivered from the United States.
Since 2018, the controversial stealth fighters have been “rigorously tested” by the Defence Department which has now determined they have reached “initial operating capability” (IOC).
So far, Australia has accepted 30 of the Lockheed Martin designed aircraft but will eventually acquire 72 Joint Strike Fighters from the US at a cost of $17 billion.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has welcomed the IOC milestone, describing F-35A as critical to the Australian Defence Force.
“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,” Ms Reynolds said.
“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.”
Defence claims the F-35A boasts the world’s most advanced air combat technology, allowing it to gather more information and share it with other aircraft, Navy ships and Army units quicker than ever before.
The RAAF now has more than 40 qualified F-35A pilots and 220 maintainers trained on the F-35A.
Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price said 50 Australian companies had so far shared in $2.7 billion in contracts to help build the JSF for various partner nations across the globe.
“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,” Ms Price said.
Australia first signed up to the controversial JSF program in 2002, and successive federal governments have faced criticisms for delays and cost blowouts on the multi-billion-dollar project.
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