With the delivery of the 9th and 10th F-35A fighter aircraft to Australia in December 2018, the first two based in-country the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is pushing ahead towards its initial operating capability (IOC) due at the end of 2020.
A validation and verification (V&V) stage is underway that will see the ramp up of training over the next year that will introduce more Australian-based capability to support future aircraft as they arrive. This will allow more air combat squadrons to move from the existing classic F/A-18A/B HORNET and F/A-18F Super HORNET variants over to the F-35A.
Air Commodore Mike Kitcher, Commander Air Combat Group with the RAAF told MON at the Avalon Air Show: “We are conducting a V&V programme as well as aircrew and technician training throughout 2019-2020. We have started out first technician and technical person training at 2 OCU at Williamtown and will finish in about 3-4 months.”
2 Operational Conversion Unit is the RAAFs fighter training squadron and its training on the classic F/A-18 HORNET will cease at the end of 2019. In 2020, 2 OCU convert to F-35 and also commerce technical training.
“Next month [March] we will start the first aircrew training at 2 OCU for 3 Sqn using experienced aircrew that have time on the classic or Super Hornet they’ll be our Australian training trial,” Cmdre Kitcher said. “The training piece is part of our V&V activities and it will ramp up between now and 2020 such that in January 2021 we should have first men and women in 76 sqn straight out of the HAWK and trained on the F-35 in Australia. It’ll be a key part of our IOC capability to be able to train ab initio technicians and aircrew – from my perspective that is the most important part of our IOC capability.”
By end 2020 IOC will consist of 3 Sqn that can do combat tasks with 2 OCU doing technical and aircrew training with about 30 aircraft in country. In 2021 with 77 Sqn will convert to F-35 and in 2022 75 Sqn at RAAF Tindall will convert to F-35 as well. A$1 billion of facilities at 75 Sqn are also being built for completion by IOC with similar infrastructure at Tindall.
Cmdre Kitcher said that Australian pilots have been flying F-35A since 2014-15 and maintainers and technicians working on the aircraft since 2016. Eight Australian F-35A are based in the US at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Phoenix, Arizona with the US Air Force 61st Fighter Squadron.
With the latest two aircraft arriving at Williamtown last year the 10 jets have flown a total of 2,600 hours and 75 sorties. “The Williamtown jets are flying 5-6 sorties a week for aircrew training with two more aircraft due to be delivered by April and four more by the end of the year,” Cmdre Kitcher said giving eight jets and 15 pilots in Australia overall. These planes will have the 3F software for IOC.
The eight aircraft in the US have 10 Australian students and instructors flying as part of 61st and a further two aircraft will be delivered there to provide a full complement of 10 aircraft by the end of 2019. Full Operational Capability (FOC) is expected at the end of 2023 with all 72 F-35A in Australia. 2OCU will take the aircraft from Luke AFB by this time and eventually use a new Integrated Training Centre complete with simulation systems, flight line and hangar for seven aircraft.
Other work under the V&V activities over the next two years includes proving of the global support system, “getting parts to Williamtown might prove more difficult than getting parts to Phoenix, Arizona but so far they are doing pretty well,” Cmdre Kitcher said.
Trials of weapons from F-35 on the training ranges at Woomera and Delamere in Australia’s Northern Territory, maturing the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) capability and developing tactics were also included as part of V&V.
“The most important part of V&V training is to work with our Super HORNETs, our GROWLERs our E-7C, the navy’s Warfare Destroyers and P-8As, integrating F-35 capability with other capabilities are a key part that will continue past IOC past next year. We are already starting to do that with F-35 and classic/ Super HORNET work as part of V&V,” Cmdre Kitcher said.