December will see the first of Australia's F-35 fighter jets arriving on our shores, to their operational home at the RAAF Williamtown base in NSW. The jet represents the pinnacle of combat aircraft engineering, with manufacturer Lockheed Martin describing it as "a quantum leap in air dominance capability".
Here's what you need to know about the F-35 and how it will contribute to Australia's defence efforts and supporting industries.
What are the capabilities of the F-35 fighter jet?
The F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation combat jet that packs a lot of punch. The sensors onboard combine to give the F-35 a comprehensive and detailed understanding of its surroundings, the best of any fighter jet in history. What makes this jet unique is the broad scope of tasks it can be used for. Where missions involving air-to-air combat, intelligence, surveillance or electronic attack may have required many separate specialised aircraft, all of those tasks can now be performed using a squadron of F-35s.
Among its many features are a few standouts:
- Advanced electronics systems: The electronic warfare capabilities of the F-35 extend beyond that of any combat jet before it. Its systems allows pilots to track targets, jam radars and thwart attacks like never before. Advanced avionics provide pilots with 360 degree information about the battlefield, making it easier to stay on top of everything they need to.
- Best-in-class stealth: The F-35 is virtually undetectable to enemy radar, thanks mostly to its integrated airframe design and the advanced materials it's constructed from.
- Air-to-surface and air-to-air capabilities: For operations both near the ground and in the air, the F-35 proves dominant. Its very low-observable (VLO) stealth means it can fly lower in enemy territory undetected than older combat jets could and the advanced sensor capabilities means pilots can spot enemies in the air earlier than ever before.
- Interoperability: All the data the F-35 collects from its array of sensors is shared with support teams on the ground or in the air. This real-time information about the battlefield gives a valuable strategic edge.
How many F-35s is Australia getting and how will their adoption impact Australian industry?
Over the next few years, Australia will spend $17 billion on 72 of the fighters for its defence forces. The purchases are part of a plan announced in 2009 for the Australian Government to replace its aging fleet of Hornet fighter jets with F-35s.
While the benefits to the defence capabilities of the country are obvious, what might not be so is the benefits local manufacturers and suppliers gain from the new jets. More than 50 Australian companies are contributing to the production and further development of the F-35. Since the beginning of the F-35 program, these companies have been awarded more than $800 million in contracts. Every F-35 built contains some Australian-made and engineered parts and local industry has already benefited from the development that's gone into it so far.
Local industry will also benefit from the maintenance, servicing and further engineering efforts that the F-35 fleet will require over its lifetime.
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