50 RAAF Aircraft Joins Exercise Arnhem Thunder 2021

Fifty RAAF aircraft including the F-35, Super Hornet and Wedgetail have begun one of the largest domestic training exercises of 2021.

More than 500 personnel are now taking part in Exercise Arnhem Thunder 21 from RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal, which will also take advantage of the Mount Bundey Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range.

The exercise, which will run until 15 June 2021, will focus on ‘force generation training’, with a particular focus on high-end collective training, involving multiple Force Element Groups (FEGs).

Deployed platforms include the:

  • F-35A Lightning II;
  • F/A-18F Super Hornet;
  • EA-18G Growler;
  • F/A-18A/B Hornet;
  • Hawk 127;
  • C-130J Hercules;
  • C-17A Globemaster;
  • C-27J Spartan;
  • KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport; and
  • E-7A Wedgetail.

This will mark the first time an F-35A Lightning II operates out of RAAF Base Darwin.

According to Commander Air Combat Group, Air Commodore Tim Alsop, Arnhem Thunder would improve interoperability between Air Combat Group, Air Mobility Group, Surveillance and Response Group, and Combat Support Group in an offensive counter-air environment.

“Exposure to large-scale, multi-FEG scenarios in an away-base environment is of vital importance to the training outcomes of all elements across Air Force,” AIRCDRE Alsop said.

“Operating out of RAAF bases Darwin and Tindal in the Northern Territory, Exercise Arnhem Thunder provides an excellent venue for cross-FEG interoperability, high-end air power missions, as well as airbase activation in an austere environment.”

Exercise Arnhem Thunder is expected to kick-off with force integration training and large force employment scenarios, before the activation of a forward operating base by a contingency response squadron and other combat support elements.

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“Collective training for missions such as this must be routinely practiced so that Air Force is ready to respond to the defence of Australia when required,” AIRCDRE Alsop added.

“We are all very excited about being in the Top End to carry out our training and I thank the local community for their support.”

In March, Australian Aviation reported how Australia took delivery of three new F-35A Lightning II, taking its current fleet to 33.

The aircraft travelled from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and were supported by two KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft from No. 33 Squadron and a C-17A Globemaster from No. 36 Squadron.

Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985.

The F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – has a projected life of 30 years in service.

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