Australia will order 58 more Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighters for $12.4 billion, the government said on April 23. Including jets the country has already ordered, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will be able to field three squadrons of the fifth-generation fighter.
The government expects the first F-35 will arrive in Australia in 2018, with the first RAAF squadron beginning operations in 2020. In recent months, Australia has also announced that it will acquire eight Boeing P-8A maritime patrol aircraft and an expected seven Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned surveillance aircraft. Last year, the government committed to buying 12 new Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.
The F-35 acquisition, one of the country’s largest defense buys, could provide Australian industry with $1.5 billion worth of production work, as well as more work for F-35 support over the life of the program, the government said. “As a result of the far-sighted decision” of former Prime Minister John Howard’s government to join the F-35 program during its development phase, the industry thus far has been awarded $355 million in work. With the latest order, the government said it will erect $1.6 billion in new facilities at RAAF Bases Williamtown in New South Wales and Tindal in the Northern Territory.
The 58 new F-35s will supplement 14 the Australian government ordered in 2009. F-35s will replace the RAAF’s older F/A-18A/B Hornets, which the air force plans to withdraw from service by 2022. Australia will consider acquiring another squadron of F-35s to replace its 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets in the future. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and defense minister David Johnston made the announcement in Canberra.
“Together with the Super Hornet and Growler electronic warfare aircraft, the F-35 will ensure Australia maintains a regional air combat edge,” the government said. “It will allow the RAAF to conduct decisive, long-range strikes while remaining hidden from adversaries. The F-35 will also provide a major boost to the Australian Defense Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.”
In a statement following the announcement, Lockheed Martin said it “appreciates the confidence the Australian government has demonstrated in the F-35 by its decision today…We are committed to ensuring Australian companies remain a vital part of the F-35 global supply chain for both production and sustainment for many years to come.”