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Australia assigns F-35As to Northern Territory base

Australia has assigned the first four of 16 F-35A fighter aircraft to its air base in Tindal, Northern Territory. (US Air Force)

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has for the first time permanently assigned Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters to RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory, on the front line of Australia's northern approaches.

Announcing the move in a 9 December statement, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton described RAAF Tindal, located 15 km south of Katherine and 320 km southeast of Darwin, as a strategically important location for national defence and a hub for regional engagement.

The four F-35As now at Tindal are the lead elements of No 75 Squadron, which is transitioning to the new aircraft following the retirement in November of the RAAF's F-18A/B Hornet multirole fighters. The squadron will have a complement of 16 F-35As by the end of 2022 and will again be Australia's forward-deployed air combat unit.

β€œThe Tindal-based F-35As will assure the Australian Defence Force's (ADF's) ability to deter or defeat threats to Australia's interests and strengthen our ability to project potent air power into Australia's immediate region,” Dutton said.

The F-35As would capitalise on frequent opportunities to bolster interoperability with US rotational aircraft deployments and other enhanced air co-operation activities announced at September's annual Australia-US Ministerial Consultations, he added.

The RAAF has taken delivery of 44 of a planned 72 F-35As, with 16 more scheduled to be delivered in 2022, eight in 2023, and the final four in 2024. Initial operational capability was declared in December 2020.

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