Australia MoD declared Initial Operational Capability for F-35A fighter aircraft

According to a press release published on December 28, 2020, Australian Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon. Linda Reynolds, CSC, and Minister for Defence Industry, Melissa Price MP, December 28, 2020, declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for Australia's F-35As, making Australia the seventh country to declare IOC for its F-35 fleet. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) will sustain the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) F-35A fleet, which will play a crucial role in defending Australia's national interests.

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Australia MoD declared Initial Operational Capability for F 35A fighter aircraft 925 001 The Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft off the east coast near RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales. (Picture source Australian Air Force)

"This IOC ushers in a new era of Australian air power that gives the RAAF transformational and game-changing capabilities," said Joe North, Lockheed Martin Australia chief executive. "As the Original Equipment Manufacturer and lead industry sustainment partner for Australia's F-35A fleet, Lockheed Martin congratulates the RAAF on achieving this milestone, and we stand ready to support the fleet with our industry partners."

Bill Brotherton, acting F-35 vice president and general manager, acknowledged the unwavering dedication of the joint government and industry team who contributed to this milestone. "This team's focus on delivering the most effective, survivable and connected fighter in the world ensures the sovereign protection of Australia and strengthens the future of the F-35 coalition," Brotherton said.

Australia has committed to 72 F-35A aircraft for three operational squadrons at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal, and a training squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown. The first F-35A aircraft was accepted into Australian service in 2018, with the first arriving in country in December that year. The first F-35A squadron, No. 3 Squadron, will be operational in 2021. All 72 aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2023.

The F-35A Lightning II is the Australian Defence Force’s first fifth-generation air combat capability. It is a highly advanced multi-role, supersonic, stealth fighter which will meet Australia’s requirements to defeat current and emerging threats.

The F-35 Lightning II is an American-made family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin as the main contractor in collaboration with  Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. The fighter aircraft has three main variants including the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A (CTOL), the short take-off and vertical-landing F-35B (STOVL), and the carrier-based F-35C (CV/CATOBAR).

Stealth is a key aspect of the F-35's design, and radar cross-section (RCS) is minimized through careful shaping of the airframe and the use of radar-absorbent materials (RAM); visible measures to reduce RCS include alignment of edges, serration of skin panels, and the masking of the engine face and turbine. 

The F-35 has two internal weapons bays with four weapons stations. It can also use six external weapons stations for missions that do not require stealth. The internal bays can be armed with weapons up to 1,100 kg including different types of bombs as well as air-to-air missiles. The wing weapon pylons can be fitted with air-to-air missiles, bombs, and air to surface weapons.