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Australian F-35As fly with full weapons loadout for first time

RAAF F-35A with full weapons loadout
An F-35A Lightning II takes off with its payload of GBU-12 bombs from RAAF Base Darwin during Exercise Arnhem Thunder 21. Photo: Royal Australian Air Force

Royal Australian Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft took to the skies with a full complement of weapons for the first time.

The two fully laden F-35As last month took off from RAAF Base Darwin as part of exercise Arnhem Thunder 21.

In addition to their internal payload, the pair departed with inert GBU-12 bombs attached to their under-wing pylons.

An Australian defense ministry release did not specify what exactly the internal compartments contained during the flight, but Australia is equipping its F-35As with AIM-120 AMRAAM, and AIM-9X “Sidewinder” missiles, in addition to Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) guided bombs and laser-guided bombs, as well as an internal 25 mm GAU-22/A cannon.

Commanding Officer No. 35 Squadron Wing Commander Matthew Harper said the F-35A was the only Western fighter jet that could carry both internal and external ordnance.

“This design feature allows Australian F-35As to be adapted to suit the threat environment and operational requirements,” Wing Commander Harper said.

“This mode would most likely be used in less contested environments where rapid employment of ordnance is prioritized over maximizing the F-35A’s stealth capabilities.”

“The GBU-12 is a laser-guided munition that can be employed against a variety of different target types in combat,” Wing Commander Harper said.

As part of the training scenario, the aircraft dropped their bombs on ground-based targets at the Delamere Air Weapons Range, located about 120km south of Katherine.

The F-35As are expected to drop more than 50 inert GBU-12 bombs during exercise Arnhem Thunder 21, which marked the first time the F-35As are operating out of RAAF Base Darwin.

A total of ten F-35As from RAAF Base Williamtown are taking part in the exercise.