Australia’s coating center aims to achieve enhanced stealth for F-35

A $100 million project is underway to build an aircraft-coating facility at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Williamtown. The facility will apply a special coating to fighter jets, making them nearly invisible to radar. This is a significant development as it’s the first time this technology is used outside the US. 

Su-30 has used Khibiny EW during an interception of the Italian F-35
Photo by Todd R. McQueen

Defence Industry Minister, Pat Conroy, said the special paint used on the F-35A Lightning II jets greatly enhances their stealth capabilities by absorbing radar waves rather than reflecting them. This makes these jets one of the hardest to detect worldwide. Conroy added, “The F-35’s stealthiness and its ability to network with other aircraft makes it the world’s most advanced fighter jet.”

Paint composition is a secret

The paint’s chemical composition is confidential in the US. BAE Systems, a Williamtown-based company, will run the upcoming facility. They currently manage Australia’s 63 F-35A aircraft fleet. 

Chief Executive Ben Hudson says their relationship with the Royal Australian Air Force has been thriving for nearly 30 years. He believes this creates opportunities for young Australians to join a high-tech industry and contribute to national security.

Defense hub

Conroy suggests the increased jet activity at Williamtown will make the Hunter Valley a defense hub, supporting many jobs in the region. He also recognizes the region’s legacy in various construction projects.  

Meryl Swanson, Federal MP for Paterson, believes Williamtown’s defense role will keep growing. She considers the site as a symbol for regions and countries that respect law and democracy. Construction at the facility will begin in 2024.

The F-35 paint specifics

Stealth technology is a key feature of the F-35, and paint plays a crucial role in achieving this capability. The paint used on the F-35 is designed to absorb and scatter radar waves, making the aircraft difficult to detect on radar. This is achieved through the use of special materials in the paint that can absorb and dissipate electromagnetic energy.

Norway: We don't have enough mechanics to support the 52 F-35s
Photo by Monica White Martinsen / NRK

The paint used on the F-35 is made up of several layers, each with a specific purpose. The top layer is a radar-absorbent material that helps to scatter radar waves and reduce the aircraft’s radar signature. This layer is typically black or dark gray in color, which helps to reduce the aircraft’s visibility at night or in low-light conditions.

In addition to the top layer, the paint on the F-35 also includes a layer of conductive material that helps to dissipate any remaining electromagnetic energy. This layer is typically made of a material such as carbon fiber or aluminum, which is highly conductive and can quickly absorb and dissipate electromagnetic energy.

Australia’s affinity for the F-35s 

Australia’s performance with the F-35 stealth fighters has been impressive, potentially challenging China’s Indo-Pacific dominance goals. The Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF] might buy more F-35s, which would likely be approved by the US. 

The F-35 is set to form the backbone of Australia’s defense in the future. Plans are in motion for it to work alongside Boeing’s MQ-28 Ghost Bat drone for a manned-unmanned fleet in the Indo-Pacific region. Despite cost concerns and technical issues, Australia is considering purchasing more F-35s from Lockheed Martin. 

Greg Ulmer, Executive Vice President of Aeronautics, is optimistic about adding more F-35s to the Air Force’s collection. The RAAF currently has 60 F-35s with 12 more expected this year. The first 60 have been operational for three years, replacing retired F/A-18A/B Hornets and logging 23,000 flight hours. 

The potential demand for more F-35s could lead to a total of 96 Australian F-35s and a fourth squadron. This aligns with the government’s Defense Strategy Review report, which is a positive sign for the US.

A few concerning reports 

Australia’s F-35 journey has faced challenges, especially regarding the projected A$14 billion spent on maintaining the existing fleet by 2053. An increase in fleet size could further burden the taxpayers. Despite reaching Full Operational Capability [FOC], there are concerns as Australian F-35s are expected to spend less time airborne. This has sparked national debates about the aircraft’s capability. However, these projections are from the Ministry of Defense’s budget committee and currently, the F-35 and its associated costs have bipartisan support. 

F-35 will carry solid rocket-ramjet AARGM-ER: INS/GPS, 250km range
Photo credit: USAF

The RAAF is actively using the F-35 in international exercises. The recent joint exercise with the US Red Flag showcased the impressive combat capability of the Australian F-35. In these exercises, each RAAF F-35 took down at least 20 enemy fighters.


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