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Australia to Expand Hunter Valley Facilities as Key Hub for F-35 Operations in Asia-Pacific

The contract is part of Australia's initiative to establish Hunter Valley as a primary support and sustainment hub for F-35 fighter aircraft used by Australia and other Asia-Pacific nations.

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(DEFENCE SECURITY ASIA) — Australia has awarded a contract worth US$75.3 million (RM346 million) to BAE Systems to expand support facilities for fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets at Newcastle Airport in the Hunter Valley region.

The contract is part of Australia’s initiative to establish Hunter Valley as a primary support and sustainment hub for F-35 fighter aircraft used by Australia and other Asia-Pacific nations.

Apart from Australia, other Asia-Pacific countries utilizing F-35 fighter jets include Japan and South Korea, with Singapore set to receive these fifth-generation aircraft in 2026.

South Korea already possesses 40 F-35A fighter jets and plans to acquire an additional 20, while Japan has 147 F-35 fighter jets, comprising 105 F-35A variants and 42 F-35B variants (Vertical Short Take-off Landing – VSTOL).

Singapore is also slated to have 12 F-35B VSTOL fighter jets.

The United States deploys its F-35 fighter jets at bases in Japan and South Korea, with aircraft carriers operating in the waters of the Asia-Pacific region.

F-35A
RAAF’s F-35

 

The recently awarded US$75.3 million contract to BAE Systems by Australia follows a previous contract of US$68.4 million (RM314 million) to the same company in November of the previous year.

Under the new contract, seven additional maintenance bays will be constructed, bringing the total maintenance bays in the South Hangar for F-35 fighter jets to 13.

The Australian Department of Defence stated that the contract for building more maintenance bays solidifies Hunter Valley’s position as the primary support center for F-35 fighter jets for Australia and other Asia-Pacific nations.

The construction of the additional maintenance bays is expected to be completed by 2026.

As of now, Australia has received 63 out of the 72 F-35 fighter jets it ordered from Lockheed Martin, stationed at Tindal and Williamstown, with maintenance carried out in Hunter Valley.

Australia anticipates an increase in the operational fleet of F-35 fighter jets to 3,000 in the future, compared to the current 1,000 aircrafts.

F-35

Despite acquiring 72 F-35A fighter jets, some critics within the country consider it a significant mistake due to issues related to excessive costs, capabilities, and the readiness level of the aircraft in service with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

 The Australian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade Committee were informed that the government is expected to spend US$10.87 billion (RM43.48 billion) to operate all the aircraft throughout their service life until 2053.

The budget estimate presented by the Australian Department of Defence indicates that the country’s F-35 aircraft is expected to spend less time in the air over the next four years due to ongoing maintenance issues.

The report highlights concerns about the limited flying time of Australia’s fifth-generation aircraft, primarily attributed to persistent maintenance issues.

Australia joined the F-35 program as an Industrial Partner Level 3 in 2002 and committed to acquiring 72 aircraft at a cost of US$16 billion (RM64 billion).

Elangaroo

Additionally, there are claims regarding the limited capabilities of the F-35 aircraft, prompting military observers in Australia to question the government’s decision to allocate substantial funds for its procurement.

As reported by Australian media, the operational radius of the F-35A is approximately 1,000 km, and with aerial refueling assistance, the operational range extends to about 1,500 km.

The F-35A is also alleged to be incapable of reaching the South China Sea without tanker aircraft support, raising questions about its operational effectiveness in conflict zones or contested airspace where tanker aircraft may be limited. — DSA

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