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Payne says US showing confidence in F-35

AAP logoAAP 3/08/2016 By Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

Defence Minister Marise Payne has welcomed the US Air Force declaration that its first squadron of F-35A Lightning aircraft is ready for war.

She said this gave confidence for Australia's acquisition of these advanced aircraft.

Senator Payne said the US Air Force move meant the F-35A could now conduct basic close air support, interdiction and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defences in contested environment.

The USAF declared on Wednesday its first squadron of 12 F-35 aircraft had achieved initial operational capability.

The minister said this significant milestone was a sign of maturity in F-35A capability.

"USAF IOC provides confidence for the Australian F-35 Program which will invest in 72 F-35A aircraft," she said in a statement.

Australia may eventually acquire as many as 100. The first two Australian F-35s remain in the training pool in the US where the first RAAF instructors and pilots have undergone flight training.

Australia's first F-35s will arrive in Australia in December 2018 with the RAAF aiming to have two squadrons ready for combat operations by 2020.

After a troubled development with cost overruns and a succession of technical problems, the F-35 is now performing well, though significant development remains ahead.

The aircraft's enormously complex computer software has been developed in different blocks, each adding to capability.

For US Air Force IOC, F-35 was equipped with what's termed software Block 3i which is now being rolled out to all international F-35s including Australia's two aircraft.

But the planned full range of war fighting capabilities won't come until Block 3F, with final software testing not now expected until early 2018.

Senator Payne said Australia's two F-35A aircraft had now flown around 700 hours.

"More than 150 F-35 aircraft have now flown more than 65,000 hours and three Australian pilots are among more than 300 international pilots who have now qualified," she said.

Australia's next eight aircraft will be delivered in 2018, initially to the pool of aircraft at the F-35 Pilot Training Centre at Luke Air Force Base.

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