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SOURCE: IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly

Australia has received a further batch of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs), and the first to be fitted with the latest ‘full combat’ software.

Three conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35As (AU-3 to AU-5) were delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to add to the two already delivered, the Australian defence minister, Christopher Pyne, announced on 9 April.

While the two aircraft already delivered were fitted with the Block 3i (initial combat capability), these latest three aircraft have the Block 3F (full combat capability) software package. Indeed, Australia is the first international partner to receive aircraft to this standard (Israel, which is a customer of the F-35 rather than a partner, is understood to already have its aircraft at this standard).

All five F-35As are currently located with the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) 61st Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona, where they serve as part of the international training fleet. With five more RAAF F-35As set to join them at this location before the end of the year, the first aircraft will arrive at RAAF Williamtown in New South Wales shortly after.

The F-35A will enter Australian service from late 2018, replacing the RAAF’s ageing Boeing FA-18A/B ‘legacy’ Hornets and augmenting the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. Full operating capability for the type in RAAF service is scheduled for 2023.

The F-35 is the central tenet in the RAAF’s ambition to build itself up as the world’s first fully networked ‘fifth-generation’ air force, with an ambitious procurement programme including the Super Hornet combat aircraft and Growler electronic attack aircraft; the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platform; up to five Gulfstream 550 intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare (ISREW) aircraft; seven Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft systems; and an armed medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), such as the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-9 Reaper.