F-35A fighter planes of the Royal Australian Air Force achieved their Initial Operational Capability, it was announced on Monday. Photo courtesy of Austrian Defense Department
Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Australia's F-35A fighter planes achieved their Initial Operational Capability rating, the country's defense department announced on Monday.
The rating, after two years of testing, makes the Lockheed Martin-built planes fully deployable in operations.
"The Australian Defense Force now has an F-35A squadron ready to conduct technologically advanced strike and air combat roles, and another squadron dedicated to providing world-class training here in Australia," Defense Secretary Linda Reynolds said in a statement.
"While 2020 presented significant challenges to all of us, and travel restrictions made it difficult to ferry our aircraft to Australia, the huge efforts of Defense, industry and our partners in the United States made today's achievement possible," Reynolds said.
Australia is one of nine countries using the F-35, regarded as the most advanced fighter plane in the world, and is now the seventh to declare the aircraft operational.
About 600 have been built, and more than 1,200 pilots and 10,000 maintenance technicians have completed qualifications training.
There are currently 33 F-35As in the Royal Australian Air Force, with a commitment to purchase a total of 72 of the aircraft -- all of which are expected to be operational by 2023.
"This IOC ushers in a new era of Australian airpower that gives the RAAF transformational and game-changing capabilities," Joe North, Lockheed Martin Australia chief executive, said Monday in a press release.
"As the original equipment manufacturer and lead industry sustainment partner for Australia's F-35A fleet, Lockheed Martin congratulates the RAAF on achieving this milestone, and we stand ready to support the fleet with our industry partners," North said.
Over 50 Australian companies have been involved in $2 billion in contracts to develop, produce and sustain the F-35, according to Lockheed.