Australia has shown how quickly it can cloak its F-35 fleet

In October, the Royal Australian Air Force executed a test phase of a provisional structure aimed at safeguarding and camouflaging aircraft from explosives and monitoring, at Williamtown Base. 

Australia has shown how rapidly it can cloak its F-35 fleet
Photo by Sergeant Craig Barrett

This test forms a constituent part of continuous endeavors to enlighten the Air Force on prospective distributed aircraft revetment resolutions, endorsing agile operation principles and applying unorthodox passive defense methods and materials. 

As stated in the recent Australian military press release, aircraft revetments serve as indispensable open-air frameworks, purposed to guard stationed planes against imminent hazards, encompassing detection, explosive, and fragmentary damage. 

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Photo by James Deboer

The capacity to assemble these formations promptly, and economically, and shift them to distinct locations swiftly furnishes an integral supplementary provision to the Air Force in protecting its supersonic jet assets and baffling potential adversaries. 

Group Captain Jason Dean, Director of Logistics Competencies at ACG, delineated the reasoning behind the testing and assessment, declaring, “The commencement and substantiation of a dispersed ACG aircraft revetment that can be replicated broadly across northern air bases – and other places – is largely driven by the Defence Strategic Review. The first iteration will probe and evaluate resolutions for taxiway surfacing, barrier creation, and camouflage and concealment. Succeeding iterations are projected to evolve these notions into an efficient and practical solution for assimilation within the broader range of airbase resilience.” 

The formation of the temporary revetment at RAAF Base Williamtown was accomplished by staff from the 65 Air Base Recovery Squadron [65ABRS]. 

Australia has shown how rapidly it can cloak its F-35 fleet
Photo credit: RAAF

This entailed a considerable degree of effort and inventive problem-solving to comply with the timeline, incorporating tasks such as erecting concrete walls, freighting containers, airfield surfacing, and alternative modes of camouflage and concealment to facilitate efficacy assessment. 

Leading the team accountable for the construction, Flight Lieutenant Paulo Cellini highlighted their novel approach, remarking, “Our squad treated this task as a chance to apply our skills in a novel way in support of Air Force modernization. During the revetment’s assembly, we garnered considerable insights, and 65ABRS will leverage these teachings to support future assignments.” 

The remit of 65ABRS extends to offering airbase recovery services in aid of contingency response operations. This ensures that whenever the Air Force necessitates the use of an airbase, it can be facilitated with the support of 65ABRS, irrespective of the timing or location. 

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Photo by Monica White Martinsen / NRK

Emphasizing the relevance of the agile operations principle, Wing Commander Paul Howell, Commanding Officer of 65ABRS, stated, “In this instance, 65ABRS aircrews cooperated with ACG to fashion concepts aimed at safeguarding supersonic jets and enabling us to persistently project air power.” 

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Photo credit: MoD of Australia

The experimentation of distributed aircraft revetments not only constitutes a vital stage in enhancing the Air Force’s capacities but also underscores the continuously advancing strategies and technologies applied within defense and security circles. Consequently, sector experts and stakeholders will be attentively tracking this development.

RAAF’s F-35 fleet reached FOC

Australia’s utilization of its F-35 stealth fighters has far surpassed projected assumptions. Previously in March, the news outlet revealed that by the conclusion of 2023, Australian F-35 fighter jets will have achieved their final operational competence, often recognized by its colloquial term “kill rate” or [FOC]. 

Moreover, the realization of this operational capability stands as an impediment to China’s ambition to secure dominance in the Indo-Pacific through potential military conflict with Taiwan. With the prospect of Australia acquiring additional F-35 fighter jets, this might constitute a twin-pronged setback to China’s aspirations. The delivery of these additional jets by the United States, if requested, is something that appears to be a certainty. 

Operating these stealth fighters, Australian pilots exhibit superior proficiency, demonstrating rapid reaction times and a high sense of responsibility. The fact remains that Canberra envisages its F-35 fleet to serve as a significant component of Australia’s defense strategy for the foreseeable future. Already on the drawing board is a plan to incorporate the F-35 with Boeing’s MQ-28 Ghost Bat drone, potentially giving rise to a jointly operated manned-unmanned fleet within the Indo-Pacific region. 

Even with the detected issues over recent years, Australia’s appreciation for the F-35 aircraft remains unscathed. Notwithstanding the escalating costs and projected future expenditures, plans to supplement the existing fleet with more F-35 Lockheed Martin stealth fighters are already under contemplation. 

Greg Ulmer, the executive vice president of Aeronautics, harbors expectations for his nation to augment its air force with further F-35s. Currently, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) operates a total of 60 F-35s, with another dozen forecasted for delivery either late this year or in the earlier part of next year. The inaugural squadron of 60 F-35s attained initial operational capability or [IOC] three years ago. The three squadrons, intended to replace the decommissioned Australian F/A-18A/B Hornets, have already recorded 23,000 flight hours. 

Reflecting the drive to procure additional F-35s, the organic growth of the fleet could result in a total of 96 F-35 jets and the establishment of a fourth squadron. This strategic choice aligns with the Government’s Defense Strategy Review report, offering a favorable outlook for the United States. 

However, the F-35’s journey in Australia is still interspersed with hurdles. Despite an increasing acceptance of the aircraft, unsettling reports related to the spending of an excess of A$14 billion on maintenance of the current F-35 fleet until 2053 continue to provoke public concern. An expansion of the fleet to 96 will predictably attract mounting expenses to be shouldered by the Australian taxpayers. 

Despite achieving FOC, Australia’s F-35s are projected to log fewer flight hours in the coming years, a predicament that stirs concern within the RAAF and stirs national conversations addressing the aircraft’s capabilities. However, these are merely projected outcomes by the Australian Department of Defense Budget Committee. Currently, bipartisan consensus supports the F-35 and its related expenditures.


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