The Australian Government has authorised the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to acquire an additional 58 F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft.
To be acquired for $12.4bn, the new fifth-generation fighters will provide the RAAF with a total of 72 aircraft to form three operational squadrons and one training squadron.
Around $1.6bn of the total capital cost is expected to be invested on construction of new facilities and infrastructure, including at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales, and RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory.
The RAAF received approval from the government to purchase a total of 14 F-35 aircraft in 2009.
Built by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 JSF is expected to provide a major boost to the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, while ensuring that the country maintains a regional air combat edge, along with the Super Hornet and Growler electronic warfare aircraft.
In addition, the aircraft will enhance the ADF’s ability to seamlessly operate with US forces and Australia’s capacity to continue supporting the shared strategic interests under the US alliance.
The acquisition is claimed to generate significant economic benefits for Australia, including in regional areas and for the domestic defence industry by creating additional jobs and production for many locally based skilled and technical manufacturers.
The F-35 fighters are scheduled to replace the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet aircraft fleet, which served as the backbone of Australia’s air combat capability over the last 30 years, and will be retired from service by 2022.
The RAAF will take delivery of the first F-35 in 2018, whereas the service entry is scheduled to take place in 2020.
Meanwhile, the government had also announced plans to consider the option of purchasing an additional squadron of F-35 aircraft to replace the Super Hornets in the future.
Australia has been supporting the US in development of F-35 fighters since 2002.
Image: An F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter on display at Laverton, Western Australia. Photo: courtesy of Scott Sandars.