Royal Australian Air Force’s New F-35 Fighter Soars Over Top End

The RAAF's new F-35A Lightning II have taken part in training exercises in the Northern Territory.

DARWIN, Australia — The Australian Defense Force’s new Joint Strike Fighter has hit the skies above the Northern Territory for the first large-scale air combat training exercise since the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an American family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multi-role combat aircraft that is intended to perform both air superiority and strike missions. It is also able to provide electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.

About a dozen Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II fighters made the trek to the Top End, along with 40 other aircraft and over 500 Defense personnel, for the month-long exercise.

“Exercise Arnhem Thunder 21 marks the first opportunity the F-35 has had to deploy domestically inside Australia,” No. 3 Squadron Commanding Officer Matthew Harper informed reporters on May 18.

Australian Defense Force personnel prepare the RAAF’s new F-35A Lightning II for Exercise Arnhem Thunder 21 large-scale air combat training exercise in the Northern Territory, RAAF Base Darwin, in Darwin, May 18, 2021. (Aaron Bunch/AAP Image)

“It’s also the first opportunity we’ve had to drop numerous bombs from that aircraft.”

Wing Commander Harper said the Northern Territory was a perfect location for the exercise and would give various Royal Australian Air Force squadrons the opportunity to work together to plan missions and execute them.

“It’s overland, the airspace is really large and an amazing opportunity to spread and practice our operations in a contested environment,” he said.

“It also has some fantastic range facilities, which Defense has spent a lot of money improving over the last few years.”

Wing Commander Harper, who is the commanding officer of Australia’s first F-35A squadron, said the supersonic fighter was an amazing aircraft.

The aircraft has some fantastic range facilities, which Defense has spent a lot of money improving over the last few years. (Aaron Bunch/AAP Image)

“Firstly, it’s a stealth platform which makes it quite difficult for the adversary systems to detect us,” he said.

“Secondly, it has some amazing avionics, which when integrated together provide a remarkable picture for the pilots to use when fighting and share across the battlespace.”

Other aircraft deployed to the exercise include the F/A-18F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, F/A-18A/B Hornet, Hawk 127, C-130J Hercules, C-17A Globemaster, C-27J Spartan, KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport, and E-7A Wedgetail.

No. 3 Squadron is normally headquartered at Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown, near Newcastle in New South Wales. The military airbase located 8 nautical miles north of the coastal city of Newcastle in the local government area of Port Stephens, in New South Wales, Australia.

It’s the first of four F-35A squadrons expected to be flying in the skies above Australia by 2023.

Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal’s No. 75 Squadron will retire its F/A-18A Hornets at the end of 2021 and these will be replaced with the F-35A.

(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Ritaban Misra)



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