Australia Ups Lightning II Buy

Australia announced it will buy 58 additional F-35A Lightning IIs, boosting the Royal Australian Air Force’s planned fleet to 72 aircraft as part of an overall $12.4 billion package, officials announced. The Lightning II is slated to replace the RAAF’s legacy F-18 fighters and the government “will also consider the option of acquiring an additional squadron of F-35 aircraft to replace the Super Hornets in the future,” Australia’s defense department stated in an April 23 release. Lockheed Martin is scheduled to deliver Australia’s first two F-35s to Luke AFB, Ariz., to begin RAAF pilot training there this year. “Acquiring F-35 aircraft will reinforce the ADF’s ability to operate seamlessly with US forces and Australia’s capacity to continue supporting our shared strategic interests under the US alliance,” according to the Australian government. The F-35 development partner signed for 14 initial airframes in 2009, and plans a total buy of 100 Lightning IIs. Australia expects to welcome its first F-35 on home soil in 2018 and will stand up three operational F-35 squadrons and one training unit in 2020, according to officials. “Today’s announcement for additional aircraft will help fulfill their country’s national security needs, strengthen our long-standing relationship, and solidify the strategic role F-35s will have in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steven Warren in an April 23 release.