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Australian F-35A flying hours cut but not because of problems, RAAF chief says

Since 2018, the RAAF's F-35As have clocked more than 15,000 flight hours. (US Air Force)

The expected flight hours of the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF's) fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) have been cut by 25% in the current financial year, according to budget estimates filed by the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) on 12 February.

Rejecting media speculation that the planned reductions were because of maintenance issues, RAAF chief Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld said that the revised figures were based on the RAAF's maturing understanding of the F-35A capability requirements and the buildup of the capability.

To date, Australia's F-35A programme has delivered 44 of a contracted 72 aircraft and two operational squadrons, with the third scheduled to enter service later this year.

β€œForward estimate flying hours are based on training and capability requirements, not availability,” Air Mshl Hupfeld said in a media statement. β€œTo use the basic singular metric of flying hours, to suggest that the F-35A is not satisfying its operational and training requirement is misleading and simply false.”

β€œI can confirm the JSF programme has met all of its tasking commitments such as exercises, verification and validation activities, and training requirements,” he added.

As set out in DoD budget estimates for 2021–22, F-35A flying hours – originally projected at 11,823 – have been reduced to an anticipated 8,773. Since 2018, the RAAF's F-35As have clocked more than 15,000 flight hours.

DoD comments accompanying the 2021–22 revised estimate refer to fleet availability issues, various roles undertaken by EA-18G electronic attack aircraft, and (the) ramp-up hours curve from introduction to service.

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