The Australian Government has approved the third phase of Project AIR 6000 to boost the country’s air combat capability.

Under Project Air 6000 Phase 3, Australia will spend A$110m ($78.21m) on new weapons and countermeasures for the Lockheed Martin-built F-35A Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) and Boeing-made F/A-18F Super Hornets.

Australia Defence Minister Christopher Pyne noted that the investment will ensure the availability of necessary weapons and decoys as the country transitions from the ageing FA-18A/B Classic Hornet fighter to the F-35A and Super Hornet.

Pyne said: “Aircraft self-protection countermeasures and weapons are essential elements of Australia’s air combat capability.

“A range of complementary weapons and countermeasures will be acquired to provide comprehensive options for use in densely contested environments.”

“Australia will procure at least 72 F-35A conventional take-off and landing fifth-generation fighter jets under AIR6000 Phase 2A/B of the project.”

According to Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds, weapon components for the latest phase will be provided by Thales Australia while Chemring Australia will supply countermeasures.

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Reynolds further stated that investment in the JSF programme will benefit Australian companies and help sustain more jobs in the domestic defence industry.

To date, the JSF programme has generated more than 2,400 jobs. Reynolds added that the number is likely to increase to more than 5,000 jobs by 2023.

Australia will procure at least 72 F-35A conventional take-off and landing fifth-generation fighter jets under AIR6000 Phase 2A/B of the project.

Initial operational capability for the aircraft is expected to be achieved by the end of the year, while final operational capability is planned for 2023.