The United States Marine Corps (USMC) Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 (VMFA-314) ‘Black Knights’ have made RAAF Base Williamtown their home from June 20 to July 17.
With a focus on integrating maintenance, armaments and aviation processes, RAAF 3 Squadron worked closely with the Americans to build working relationships, and gain cross-platform experience on the “A” and “C” variants of F-35s.
Compared to the “A” variant, which is the sole variant in the RAAF inventory, the “C” variant is designed specifically for Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) operations on aircraft carriers. It therefore has larger wings with foldable wingtip sections for embarked manoeuvring and storage, larger control surfaces for improved low-speed control and stronger landing gear for the stresses of carrier-arrested landings, a twin-wheel nose gear, and a stronger tailhook for use with carrier arrestor cables.
Commanding Officer VMFA-314 Lieutenant Colonel Michael J. O’Brien said the goal of the visit was building efficiencies and interchangeability between the squadrons to increase their warfighting capacity.
“Both variants of F-35 have significant commonalities but more importantly, our maintainers are capable of working on both the F-35C and F-35A with minimal crossover training,” Lieutenant Colonel O’Brien said.
“The already strong relationships at the section level between the RAAF and USMC are now being taken to the next level as we have gained significant sustainment efficiencies by working on each other’s aircraft.”
Pilots from each squadron also had the opportunity to fly in mixed formations for a range of missions. Commanding Officer of 3 Squadron, Wing Commander Adrian Kiely, said the USMC visit strengthened the integration of the F-35A and F-35C pilots.
“We have increased our combined readiness and our confidence in being able to make future flexible employment decisions from a greater pilot and aircraft resource pool, all of whom are working to a common operating standard,” Wing Commander Kiely said.
“We’ve increased our assurance that, in a contingency, the Joint Force Commander would be enabled to make flexible employment decisions from a combined F-35 resource pool without being constrained by configuration or workforce.”
While the Black Knights’ visit built on many US-based integration activities with RAAF assets, Lieutenant Colonel O’Brien said the squadron was excited to have brought their fifth generation stealth fighter all the way from California to Australia.
“We have a long history of security cooperation and we are now focused on strengthening our relationship while integrating our most capable, cutting-edge platforms as well,” he said.
This visit comes just prior to Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023, scheduled to begin across northern Australia on July 22.