BAE Systems Australia’s (BAESA) Williamtown facility has inducted the first F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft into a local maintenance programme.

The aircraft’s induction marks a major milestone in the $65bn defence programme.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price, Air Force Chief air marshal Mel Hupfeld and BAE Systems Australia chief executive officer Gabby Costigan attended an event to officially welcome the fifth-generation fighter jet.

Morrison said: “This is about protecting and securing Australia’s interests but it’s also creating jobs and driving investment right here in the Hunter and across the country too. This induction demonstrates the world-leading capability of our local defence industry here in Australia.

“We want to give as many opportunities to Australian companies as possible, which is why there’s already more than 50 local companies sharing in $2.7bn worth of contracts as part of the F-35 programme.

“As we recover from the Covid-19 recession a key plank of our Economic Recovery Plan is our $270bn investment in Defence capability over the next decade and our $65bn commitment in air capabilities which includes the Joint Strike Fighter Program.

“This investment is keeping Australians safe and secure while creating more jobs and more opportunities for businesses.”

BAESA’s Williamtown facility was selected to support the aircraft for the next 30 years. As the Southern Pacific Regional F-35 Heavy Airframe Depot, it will initially start providing airframe maintenance and sustainment with a team of 32 F-35 technicians.

In the next decade, BAE Systems expects to generate 360 new direct jobs and a supply chain of 76 small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Australia has planned to acquire 72 F-35A aircraft. The first JSF arrived in 2018.