The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) took delivery of its first two fifth-generation Lightning II F-35A Joint Strike Fighters—the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing variant—the Australian Department of Defense announced in a statement.
The first two F-35A aircraft arrived at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales on December 10 following a cross-Pacific ferry from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and will be operated by the service’s Number 3 Squadron. The two aircraft are the first F-35As to be permanently based in Australia.
“This is the most advanced, multi-role stealth fighter in the world. It will deliver next generation capability benefits and provide a major boost to our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,” Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne said in a statement. “The Joint Strike Fighter can get closer to threats undetected; find, engage and jam electronic signals from targets; and share information with other platforms.”
The RAAF will receive a total of 72 F-35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, at a cost of around A$98 million per fighter jet beginning in 2018 with the entire F-35A fleet expected to reach full operating capability by 2023. Overall, the service has a requirement for up to 100 stealth fighter jets to replace the RAAF’s aging Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornets and a follow-up order is expected.
The Australian government is expected to invest over A$17 billion to acquire the new fleet of 72 aircraft. “The Joint Strike Fighter is the largest acquisition in the history of the Royal Australian Air Force, and is a key part of the Government’s [A]$200 billion build up in Defense capability,” Minister Pyne said. “In Australia’s immediate region, Japan and South Korea are in the process of procuring the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, and are closely aligned with Australia’s pursuit of shared strategic, security and economic interests,” he added.
Japan will purportedly acquire another 100 F-35s, in addition to the 42 F-35As already ordered. According to media reports, the order will also include the F-35s short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant, designated F-35B. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) is in the process of inducting 40 F-35A fighter jets under the U.S. Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales program. Total acquisition costs are estimated at around USD$7 billion. As I reported in December 2017, the Republic of Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration has purportedly also initiated the procurement process for an additional 20 F-35As.
Notably, the price for a F-35A as fallen below US$90 million for the first time in the F-35 program’s history this fall as a result of a new $11.5 billion contract for the production and delivery of 141 F-35 aircraft in Low-Rate Initial Production Lot 11 (LRIP 11) concluded by Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in September.