It is going to be a fascinating and exciting challenge to stand up Australia’s first F-35A squadron, according to its new Commanding Officer Wing Commander (WGCDR) Darren Clare.
WGCDR Clare, who is currently based at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona to train with the F-35A, returned to Australia in December to assume command of No. 3 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown.
He revealed some of his plans to stand up the squadron and also the responsibilities this first F-35A squadron would have as the trailblazers of a new Air Force and Australian Defence Force capability.
“It is going to be a fascinating and exciting challenge to stand up this new capability,” WGCDR Clare says.
“This is truly a fifth-generation aircraft. It is a challenge for Air Force, and for Air Combat Group, to learn and understand its full capabilities.
“No. 3 Squadron is currently embedded with the 61st Fighter Squadron of the United States Air Force (USAF) – we are flying two F-35A aircraft now and will have 10 by the end of 2018.
“Two aircraft will be flown to Australia at the end of 2018 and eight will remain at Luke AFB for training purposes – with both aircrew and maintainers.”
WGCDR Clare says it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for him and his team to shape the way the Air Force conducts fighter operations for the next 40 years.
“Initially operating from Luke AFB gives us the opportunity to learn from the USAF.
“We will apply and build on that knowledge within an Australian context over the next few years in the lead-up to declaring Initial Operating Capability at the end of 2020,’’ he says.
“No. 3 Squadron’s role will be to guide future squadrons as they transition to F-35A operations.
"We will drive generational change – not only for the aircrew but for maintainers and all other personnel associated with this aircraft.”
Changes will be made to workforce structures to accommodate the F-35A transition.
“We currently have a transition plan; however, the challenge will be to not only adjust the plan as we go, but to record those changes so we understand what we did and why,’’ he says.
“No. 3 Squadron is being built-up around the delivery of the F-35A.
“As we gradually build up the F-35A aircraft numbers and expand No. 3 Squadron, we will draw down the F/A18A/B Hornet fleet.
“The subject matter experts for the F-35A will comprise the current cadre training in the United States.”
WGCDR Clare says the introduction of the F/A-18F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers provided Air Force with the opportunity to understand the security requirements of this new aircraft.
“We have to learn how to operate in a high security environment as it is vital to protect this capability,” he says.
While they operate within the USAF system, the No. 3 Squadron team is taking all the opportunities they can to learn from their hosts.
"The USAF operates within a very different context to the RAAF and, because it is a large force, this is entirely understandable,” he says.
“The RAAF approach to maintaining the aircraft will be different. Our maintainers do an excellent job and US aircrew are always very happy to fly our jets.
“RAAF aircrew and maintainers, by sheer necessity due to our fewer numbers, drive efficiencies, are highly innovative and can make changes far more quickly than the Americans.
“We are a lean air force – and this makes us able to change quickly when we need to do so.’’