The introduction of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter into service with the Royal Australian Air Force is on track to achieve initial operational capability (IOC) in December 2020, despite the recent unexplained crash of a Japanese aircraft.
An F-35A from the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) crashed into the sea about 137 kilometres east of its base at Misawa in northern Japan on April 9, while engaged in an air-combat sortie with three other aircraft. Despite a major air and sea search by Japanese authorities, in partnership with the US Navy, only small pieces of wreckage have been recovered and both the main aircraft structure and the pilot are still missing.
With no clues as to the cause of the crash, the RAAF continues to fly its F-35As both at home and in the US. Four aircraft have now been delivered to RAAF Base Williamtown, near Newcastle, from the US and two further pairs of jets will arrive in August and December. By the end of the year, 10 Australian jets will also be based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, flying with the F-35 International Training Centre.
Australia has 72 F-35As on order and by the end of April, RAAF jets had flown in excess of 2900 hours and 1750 sorties, since the first aircraft took to the skies in 2014.
The first two aircraft arrived at Williamtown in December 2018 and early this year they commenced a two-year verification and validation (V & V) trial, designed to evaluate the F-35A within Australia’s unique operating environment in the lead up to IOC.
The commanding officer of No 3 Squadron, the RAAF’s first operational F-35A unit, Wing Commander Darren Clare says testing is currently on track, with the initial two jets flying five or six sorties a week. (end of excerpt)
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