has rolled out the first two Lightnings for Australia, which has immediate plans to buy 72 of the fighters.
Delivery is scheduled for this year, but at first thewill base the two aircraft, called AU-1 and AU-2, at the U.S. Luke AFB, near Phoenix. There they will join F-35s used for multinational pilot training.
Australia originally planned to buy about 100 Lightnings to completely renew its fighter force. But in 2012 it decided to retain 24Super Hornets that had been bought as interim equipment to cover a capability gap threatened by F-35 program delays. That reduced Lockheed Martin’s immediate Australian sales prospect to around 72 F-35s – or fewer, if Canberra became nervous about more delays and ordered additional Super Hornets instead.
In April the Australian government confirmed that 72 F-35s would be bought. It added 58 aircraft to the 14 that had been approved in 2009.
Any further Australian order for F-35s will probably not appear until the Super Hornets, delivered in 2010, are old enough to justify retirement.
The first two Australian F-35s were rolled out at a ceremony at Fort Worth on July 24.