a little-known fact, Australia is moving faster than any other nation to replace its legacy combat aircraft with 4.5++ and 5th generation systems. The final ‘Classic’ Hornet F-18A/B flight took place on 4 December, marking 30 years of service and after a total of 408,000 flying hours. The aircraft was flown by the Commanding Officer of No. 75 Squadron Wing Commander Leon Cossins, touching down at RAAF Base Williamtown.

As replacements, the RAAF is on track to have receive all 72 F-35s by the end of 2023. This means that Australia already has the most modern fleet of combat aircraft in the Asia-Pacific, if not the world, with the balance made up of 36 Super Hornets and Growlers. While not a combat aircraft, many believe that the forthcoming six or seven MQ-4C Triton jet-powered high altitude long endurance (HALE) surveillance drones are also 5th generation assets. Other modern platforms include 12 P8-A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and six AEW&C Wedgetails.

The last few months have been busy with an initial four F-35s with No. 75 Squadron deployed to Tindal on December 9 for the first time now that the base has been upgraded for their use and will be their permanent home. On the industry side, BAE Systems Australia signed an $80 million, five year Air Vehicle Support Services contract with Defence. Their Managing Director, Defence Delivery, Andrew Gresham, saying:

“We are delighted to build on the contribution we make to the global F-35 program with this additional support for the RAAF. We will be leveraging our years of experience in fast jet sustainment working side by side with the RAAF to deliver aircraft availability and capability requirements.”

Mr Gresham explained to APDR that in addition to Australian F-35 aircraft, the company’s regional depot needs to be equipped and ready to support aircraft from other regional partners, for example:

The US Marine Corps, South Korea, and potentially Singapore. This equates to having a capability (skilled people in jobs) and capacity (the infrastructure and facilities) to support up to 100 additional F-35 aircraft across the Indo-Pacific. Work is underway to both modify and extend current facilities and build new ones at Williamtown to support this growth.

He said that a detailed requirements definition and design study is being developed with Defence to establish scope and timing.

This is an excerpt from APDR. To read the full story, click here.

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Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.



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