By Boyko Nikolov
Photo by Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T. Tamondong
Australia has exceeded all expectations regarding the use of its F-35 stealth fighters. The culmination will happen sometime this year, and at worst it will be at the end of the year. It is about reaching the final operational capability [FOC] of the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters used by the Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF].
FOC, also known by its airman jargon ‘kill rate’, is bad news for Chinese intentions to assert a dominant role in the Indo-Pacific through a war with Taiwan. It seems that the blow to Chinese wishes will be double because Australia is already talking about buying more F-35 fighter jets. If they ask for them, the US will give them, there is no doubt about that.
Australian pilots operate the F-35 extremely fully, responsibly, and quickly. What’s more, Canberra expects its F-35 fleet to become the backbone of Australia’s defense for decades to come. There are already plans for the F-35 to jointly operate in the air with Boeing’s fighter-like MQ-28 Ghost Bat drone. If this happens in the Indo-Pacific region there will be a manned-unmanned flotilla.
Despite the problems that have been discovered with the F-35 in recent years, Australia loves this aircraft. Despite the inflated costs and the unknown level of spending in the coming years, Australia is already considering buying more and more of Lockheed Martin’s stealth fighters.
Mr. Greg Ulmer, Executive Vice President of Aeronautics hopes his country will replenish the Air Force inventory with more F-35s. The RAAF currently flies 60 F-35s, with a further 12 expected to be delivered. Those 12 are expected to arrive this year. The first 60 reached initial operational capability [IOC] three years ago. Three fighter squadrons replacing retired Australian F/A-18A/B Hornets have logged 23,000 flight hours.
Photo credit: Twitter
The desire to acquire new F-35s could lead to 96 Australian F-35s and the building of a fourth squadron. The news is good for the US because this desire comes directly from the government after it published its Defense Strategy Review report.
However, the history of the F-35 in Australia is not one of the good intentions. Although the plane is starting to gain a lot of popularity in the “land of the kangaroo”, some disturbing reports remain to worry the public. Such as the government’s intention to spend over A$14 billion on servicing and maintaining the existing F-35 fleet by the end of 2053. If Canberra decides to increase its fleet to 96, the service will “gobble up more money” from the Australian taxpayer.
Despite the FOC reached, Australian F-35s are expected to spend much less time in the air in the coming years. This is also worrying news for the RAAF and has sparked a national debate about the aircraft’s capability. However, for now, these are estimated results from the budget committee at the Ministry of Defense of Australia. Currently, the F-35 and its spending enjoy bipartisan support.
Otherwise, the RAAF operates the F-35 strike. Participates in every international exercise organized by allies and partners. The last one held together with the US Red Flag even showed the strong combat capability of the Australian F-35. Every RAAF F-35 “lost/shot down” in the exercise “it took with it” at least 20 more enemy/adversary fighters.
RAAF F-35 updates
According to RAAF commanders, pilots discover new capabilities of the F-35 every day, but most of all this happens when they take part in exercises. Lockheed Martin F-35 Combat Air Australia head Chris Witherstrom even says the Australians have an aircraft that kinematically can do everything that “an old combat fighter can do, but now with the power of sensor fusion and all the onboard sensors that contribute for that, it provides that informational awareness that allows for much better tactical decision-making.”
In recent years, Australia has made many improvements to the already purchased F-35 stealth fighters. The new AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System [DAS] and cameras to provide a 360-degree view of the pilot are now integrated into the Australian “warhorses”.
Australia will continue to update its F-35 this year as well as next year. At least such are the plans that are set for implementation in the Ministry of Defense. This includes the integration of a new electronic warfare system, hardware and software solutions, and engine upgrades. Some of these updates have already started, and others are yet to be launched.
Photo: MBDA UK
This April, the Australian community is expected to receive more information about the decisions the government will make on the F-35. This was announced a few days ago by Defense Minister Mt. Richard Marles.
Courtesy: Bulgarian Military
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance.