MELBOURNE, Australia — The commander of the Royal Australian Air Force’s Air Combat Group has provided insight into his experience with the Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, during the 2019 Avalon Airshow this week.

Australia has 72 F-35As on order to replace the F/A-18A/B “Classic” Hornet fleet, as it’s known Down Under; the country has received 10 aircraft to date. Two aircraft were delivered to RAAF Base Williamtown, north of Sydney, in December 2018, and a further eight are based in the United States at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, in support of international F-35 pilot training with the U.S. Air Force’s 61st Fighter Squadron.

Air Commodore Mike Kitcher said two more aircraft will be delivered to Australia in early April and eight will have arrived by the end of 2019.

“Those two jets at Williamtown are flying five to six sorties a week, largely for aircrew training at the moment. We’ll add another two aircraft to that fleet in early April, and we’ll have another four by the end of this year and eight aircraft in Australia by the end of the year,” he said.

Kitcher also described a sortie he flew in the Red Flag 19-1 exercise held in Nevada in February, in which RAAF Hornets flew with U.S. Air Force F-35As as part of an international strike package.

“One of the key strike missions I did that day was to watch an eight-ship [formation] of F-35s kick open a door, which was a fairly hard door to open. Some F-22s came in after that to hold the door open, and the F-35s went back and picked up a strike train that consisted of [RAAF] Hornets, Super Hornets from the U.S. Navy, Typhoons from the [British] Royal Air Force and U.S. Air Force F-16s, supported by U.S. Navy [EA-18G] Growlers and U.S. Air Force F-16s,” Kitcher said.

“That was the first time I’ve been in a high-end exercise, involving a significant air threat, a significant surface-to-air threat and even a cyberthreat. You could see the way the F-35 was working with Classic Hornets, Super Hornets, Typhoons and Growlers to solve a very difficult problem. I’m confident that we’ll be doing that in Australia with our F-35s and our Super Hornets and Growlers within the next couple of years.”

Two RAAF F-35As from No. 3 Squadron were present at Avalon, and one of them participated in the daily flying display.

Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.

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