The Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews has announced the start of construction of the new air combat capability facilities at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Williamtown.

Marked by turning of the first sod, construction of the new facilities is being carried out as part of a $1.5bn project that will provide facilities for the F-35A Lightning II – Joint Strike Fighter at ten bases across the country.

Being built to support the introduction, operation and deployment of the F-35A aircraft, the RAAF Base Williamtown facilities are expected to bring $950m worth of work into the Newcastle region.

With the introduction of the Lockheed Martin-built F-35A aircraft, RAAF Base Williamtown strengthens its position of being known as the premier fighter training base for the country’s air combat pilots.

"The RAAF Base Williamtown facilities are expected to bring $950m worth of work into the Newcastle region."

Under the project, facilities will also be built at RAAF Base Tindal, RAAF Bases Townsville and Scherger, RAAF Base Darwin, RAAF Bases Curtin, Learmonth and Pearce, RAAF Base Edinburgh and Defence Establishment Myambat in NSW.

Australia had agreed to acquire a total of 72 aircraft for $12.4bn to form three operational squadrons and one training squadron. The new fifth-generation F-35 fighters are scheduled to replace the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet aircraft fleet.

The RAAF will take delivery of the first F-35 in 2018, and these new facilities will play a key role in bringing the aircraft to operational Joint Strike Fighter capability in 2020.

Under development in three versions, including a CTOL variant, a short takeoff and landing (STOVL) and a carrier version (CV), the F-35 is designed to conduct ground attack, reconnaissance and air defence missions with stealth capability.

Image: The first Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II jet. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force.