The F-35A aircraft will replace Australia’s F/A-18A/B Hornet aircraft with a fifth-generation fighter aircraft designed to meet Australia’s future air combat needs. The first F-35A aircraft is planned to arrive in Australia at RAAF Base Williamtown in late 2018. Air Force plans to base the F-35A aircraft at RAAF Base Williamtown (NSW) and RAAF Base Tindal (NT).
The F-35A aircraft will be based permanently at two main operating bases (MOBs), RAAF Base Williamtown (New South Wales) and RAAF Base Tindal (Northern Territory). RAAF Base Williamtown will host two operational squadrons and one training squadron and will operate F-35A aircraft for up to 240 days a year. RAAF Base Tindal will host one operational squadron and will operate F-35A aircraft for approximately 155 days per year. RAAF Base Tindal will also be used for exercises from two to four weeks per year by visiting squadrons.
Salt Ash Air Weapons Range (SAAWR) is the main air weapons range for the F-35A aircraft due to its close proximity to RAAF Base Williamtown. SAAWR is approved for use by a diverse range of military aircraft, and therefore represents the most efficient and cost effective option for the F-35A aircraft training out of RAAF Base Williamtown. Training operations for the F-35A aircraft are also likely to include air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons firing activities at a number of other air weapons ranges and exercise areas within Australia.
The forward operating bases (FOBs) that will support occasional and short-term proposed flying operations of the F-35A aircraft (such as military training exercises) include RAAF Base Darwin (Northern Territory) and RAAF Base Townsville (Queensland). Other FOBs located near populated areas, which will support short term flying operations of the F-35A aircraft but will be used less frequently; include RAAF Base Amberley (Queensland), RAAF Base Edinburgh (South Australia), and RAAF Base Pearce (Western Australia).
The MOBs and the FOBs were chosen due to their geographical location and existing infrastructure which will support F-35A aircraft squadron training and conversion training. RAAF Base Williamtown will support both types of training while RAAF Base Tindal and the FOBs will predominately focus on squadron flying activities.
The proposed flying operations of the F-35A aircraft are similar to the existing flying operations of the F/A-18A/B Hornet aircraft that have been developed over time in response to Defence preparedness requirements and commitment to reduce the potential impact of aircraft operations on communities and civilians.