Lockheed Martin has rolled out the first two F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), in Texas, US.

Australia will acquire 72 F-35A conventional take-off and landing aircraft at a cost of more than $12bn to replace RAAF’s F/A-18A/B Hornet fleet.

Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who attended the event on behalf of Defence Minister David Johnston, said the F-35A aircraft will provide ‘leading edge’ air combat capabilities for the Australian Defence Force for several decades.

Lockheed Martin chairman, president and CEO Marillyn Hewson said: "The F-35 Lightning II will lay the foundation for the next century of Australia’s military air power."

US Acquisition, Technology & Logistics under secretary of Defense Frank Kendall said: "For both our nations, this programme represents an exponential leap in capability on the cutting edge of technology — and an integral component of our ongoing joint commitment to stability and peace in the Asia-Pacific."

Designated AU-1 and AU-2, the aircraft are scheduled to undergo functional fuel system checks, and ground and flight tests in the coming months before their delivery to RAAF later this year.

"The aircraft will be deployed at the Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, US, for use in Australian and partner country pilot training."

The aircraft will be deployed at the Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, US, for use in Australian and partner country pilot training programmes.

The Australian aerospace industry is expected to benefit from the F-35 programme with more than $412m already contracted and up to $6bn expected in manufacturing orders.

The programme will provide business to local industry. Contracts for works such as production of 722 sets of vertical tails for F-35, composite panels for the fuselage, weapons carriers, decoy flares and other components are in the offing.

Cormann said: "Some 30 Australian companies have been directly involved in the F-35 programme to date, and more than $412m in production orders have been won with only about 3% of aircraft production completed to date."

Initial RAAF pilot training in the US is scheduled to start early next year, while F-35 ferry flights to Australia will commence in 2018.

Image: Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann speaks at the roll-out of the first F-35 aircraft. Photo: courtesy of Lockheed Martin Photo by Beth Groom.

Defence Technology