The F-35A fifth-generation fighter jets of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) have achieved initial operational capability (IOC).

“Our F-35A Lightning II fleet can now be deployed on operations, with Initial Operational Capability being officially achieved today,” the RAAF announced on Twitter. Australia thus becomes the seventh country to do so for its F-35 fleet. 

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"For the last two years, Defence has rigorously tested the F-35A fleet to assess aircraft and system performance, and declare this important milestone," said Defense Minister Linda Reynolds. The RAAF F-35As have accumulated more than 8,780 flight hours. 

One of the last important milestones for the operationality of the new entry in the RAAF arsenal was Exercise Lightning Storm. For three weeks in September 2020, the F-35A pilots were put through intensive aerial combat training over the eastern coast of Australia. 

The exercise also tested the capability of the stealth aircraft to operate along with other assets of the RAAF, including the E7-A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft, F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, and KC-30A (A330 MRTT) refuellers."The team proved that they could operate effectively from a deployed location, while also using the opportunity to identify and tweak any issues," Commander Air Combat Group Air Commodore Tim Alsop said at the time.

The RAAF currently has a fleet of 33 F-35As and expects to eventually operate 72. Full operational capacity should be reached in 2023.

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