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RAAF Chief Rejects Claims on F-35 Availability

Media Analysis “Misleading and Simply False”

The chief of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has confirmed that the flying hours of the service’s F-35A fleet are being reduced, but denied media reports claiming this is related to the availability of the aircraft.

I reject criticisms made in The Australian article ‘Defence revises down planned availability of the F-35A jet fleet’”, wrote Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, pointing out that the RAAF has revised the expected flying hours based “on our maturing understanding of the F-35A capability requirements and our expected build-up of the capability”.

Forward estimate flying hours are based on training and capability requirements, not availability”, wrote the air marshal in a 15 February statement, adding, “To use the basic singular metric of flying hours, to suggest that the F-35A is not satisfying its operational and training requirements, is misleading and simply false”.

He added the Joint Strike Fighter programme has met all its tasking commitments, such as exercises, verification and validation activities and training requirements, with the RAAF flying more than 15,000 hours in the type. He also noted that the project is not only on budget but also on schedule, and achieved the key initial operational capability milestone of one operational F-35A squadron and training unit by December 2020. In 2021, the programme stood up a second operational squadron, while the third is set to be established in 2022.

The RAAF has already acquired at least 44 of the 72 conventional take-off and landing F-35As it has ordered so far from prime contractor Lockheed Martin. According to budget estimates from the Australian DoD, F-35A flying hours have been cut by 25% in the current FY2022, and are set to be reduced by 17% in FY2023, 14% in FY2024, and 13% in FY2025.

Gabriel Dominguez in Singapore for MON


An Australian F-35A from RAAF Base Williamtown flying off the coast of Newcastle in November 2020. (Australian DoD)

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