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Australia Set to Have First All 5th Generation Air Force by 2025

Australian F-35A.

Australia aims to be the first all fifth generation air force, integrating the network capabilities of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter with its land and sea components, as well as its allies’ and partners’ forces, its air marshal said Thursday in Washington.

Air Marshal Leo Davies added in his address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank, that Australia will “have no legacy aircraft after 2025” under its current defense spending guidance.

The Royal Australian Air Force is set to acquire 72 F-35A variants.

Because Canberra is “a committed high-tech ally” of the United States, “we can prosecute our shared integration together” through the F-35. He said he views the introduction of the Joint Strike Fighter as working in a formation with F-35s from Australia, the United States Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and its introduction “has forced us to think together.” He called this “a whole of force concept” that “we want to explore with you,” including design and development.

“We can prosecute our shared interests together.”

The challenge for the future is “taking advantage of these assets [such as the F-35] … and use them in a modern way,” he said in answer to a later question. Davies described this as a complex matrix of operating with nations having F-35s and legacy aircraft that are networked with other aircraft, naval and land forces as well as operating with nations having only older aircraft that are not as linked together.

“How do we plug it all in?” he asked rhetorically.

The F-35 is “nationally agnostic … even our logistical support” is interoperable. The key from the start was the F-35 was built with integration in mind, he added. The same process should be used in the future, he added in answer to a question because it “makes the outcome much simpler.”

To protect sovereignty and secrets, he said Australia allows foreign nationals to sit at Australian terminals “with access to 90 percent of what we do.” It also encourages “air riders” to fly board its P-3s and new P-8A Poseidons on maritime patrols.

Davies said Australia sees itself as “strategic technical bridge for our neighbors,” some very advanced such as Japan and others less mature such as Malaysia. This also works for the United States because “we have the insight of a neighbor” in dealing with others such as India.

Later in answer to a question, he said, “We can go faster together than [we can] on our own.” He added later he has seen no changes in military-to-military cooperation between Australia and the United States since the change of administrations and joint exercises are continuing.

Canberra “should [also] be a bridge for regional security,” stressing the freedom of overflight and navigation. Davies noted that Australia like the United States has no territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Canberra wants “to claim free access to trade” throughout the Pacific “then Australia is happy.”

The goal is to maintain “as rules-based global order.”

Davies said cyber and space “are critical to the air domain,” and they “will be increasingly congested and contested.” Addressing cyber in a question, “it’s about knowing where that data came from,” say on an aircraft part, the fidelity of that data and knowing what can be shared with others that is important.

On North Korea, the threat is “not something that we discovered yesterday and will be on us tomorrow.” Davies said Australia is committed to ensuring resilience in its long-range strike capabilities as spelled out in defense white papers.

  • SpudmanWP

    um… What about the F-18s? Will they replace them by 2025?

    • Cocidius

      Last I heard they intend to fly the standard F/A-18F block II aircraft until at least 2030 alongside the F-35’s.

      No word on how long they intend to fly their 12 new build EA-18G Growlers.

      • SpudmanWP

        I was giving them the benefit of the doubt for the Growlers and was only counting the fighters.

      • El_Sid

        Yep, I thought it was weird for him to say “no legacy aircraft after 2025”, given that the formal position as of last year’s White Paper is the F/A-18Fs go on until at least 2030. Either he was thinking of the pre-White Paper position on the Supers, he thinks of Classics as “legacy” but not Supers, or they’re upgrading all the Supers to Growlers and then reclassifying them as support aircraft.

        I guess option 2 is the most likely – a fifth generation airforce doesn’t have to only have 5th-gen aircraft, if you look at it more in terms of networking etc. Of course the first air arm to only have 5th-gen frontline jets will be Britain’s FAA from 2023 (albeit from a base of zero…)

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    Are the Shornets about to disappear?

    • CharleyA


  • B.J. Blazkowicz

    So they have ceded their Air Space to China. May as well bring out the Red Carpet for that new Carrier.

  • Curtis Conway

    The F/A-18Fs with EA-18A Growler wiring are not going away. In fact the Electronic Attack element is THE ingredient that makes this equation so powerful.

  • Adrian Ah

    I’m not the only person to note the most recent F-18’s will be flying into the 2030’s. Also they could have clarified the title to say strike aircraft, since they have P-8’s flying, which are capable of firing missiles as well.

    Still, since Australia will be the first to have all F-35’s it will be interesting to see what pros and cons they discover fielding 72 of them.. It’s always possible the F-35 will perform as advertised and hopefully the 25 year old proposed capabilities will not be overtaken by 2025 level military tech by then. If so, I admit I’ll be happy to be told I was wrong, though I still think the amount of money spent could have been used on so many other things, like reopening the F-22 line, fixing some USA infrastructure, better maintaining the USN and F-18’s.

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      The Lightning is objectively more advanced than the Raptor….. so why on the one hand worry about the Lightning being redundant yet pine for the Raptor?

  • Jeff

    Their fighter force might (and I stress might) be “all-5th-generation” by then, but pray tell, which of their other aircraft are 5th-generation? The KC-30s? The C-130Js? The MH-60Rs? The Chinooks? Those are not 5th-generation, at least not as Lockheed Martin defines it (and since they created the term, they probably copyrighted, trademarked, patented, and gold-plated it, too).
    And even if just the fighter force is to be “all-5th-generation”, are they really going to dispose of their EA-18Gs? The USN says it needs Growlers to help F-35Cs get to the fight and get home. Has Australia found a way around that need? Or maybe they don’t agree with the USN?