Australia's first F-35A – commonly known as the Joint Strike Fighter is on track to be operational in 2020, according to New Air Combat Capability Project Manager Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Kym Osley.
AVM Osley was at the F-35A manufacturing plant Fort Worth in Texas recently when the RAAF’s first F-35A came together. “They put the three parts of the fuselage together and installed the wings,” AVM Osley said. “We expect the first Australian F-35A to come off the production line in July 2014 and the second in August 2014.”
After production is complete, the jets will fly to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona to be used in the pilot training pool. “They will be integrated into a US Air Force squadron as part of the pilot training continuum,” AVM Osley said. “We expect our first Australian pilot to start training in early 2015. There will be more people training in the years after that and we expect our first aircraft to be in Australia in 2018.”
The first operational squadron of F-35As, which will be No. 3 Squadron, should be up and running by the end of 2020.
AVM Osley said the new F-35As came in slightly less than the expected $130 million for each aircraft and future aircraft were expected to reduce further in price. “It is pleasing to see that the program has been able to get the price of the aircraft down, with the aircraft costs in each successive annual production run coming in below the previous year, and below US Government estimated costs,” he said.
With system development and testing of the aircraft being done by the Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin in the US, the main job of the RAAF was to prepare for the integration of the F-35A into RAAF service, AVM Osley added.