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U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, work together with Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aviators with RAAF No. 3 Squadron, at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales, Australia, June-July, 2023. This is part of unit-level and bilateral training events designed to enhance U.S.-Australian relationships and further develop and sustain capabilities in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Photo by Sgt Joshua Brittenham

Unprecedented Interchangeability: U.S. Marines and Aussie Aviators Fly, Maintain and Operate Joint Strike Fighters Together

12 Jul 2023 | 2nd Lt. Madison Walls 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

U.S. Marines and Marine Corps F-35C Lightning II aircraft from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, have been training with Allies at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Williamtown, New South Wales, Australia for three weeks. Upon arrival following their trans-Pacific flights, and after a year in the making, these Marines, also known as the “Black Knights,” and RAAF aviators with RAAF No. 3 Squadron (3SQN) began a series of unit-level and bilateral training events designed to sustain and enhance aviation capabilities in the Indo-Pacific Region.

This is not the squadrons’ first time working together, but it has been an extraordinary step in their working relationship.

“Over the past year, No. 3 Squadron has operated with VMFA-314, aiming to deepen operational and maintenance interoperability,” said Wing Commander Adrian Kiely, Commanding Officer of RAAF No. 3 Squadron. “In 2023 specifically, we are seeking to test and prove interchangeability, with a specific focus on our maintenance and logistics workforces.”

The scheduled training events have included launching, refueling, catching, and maintaining each squadron’s respective joint strike fighter variant, U.S. Marine Corps F-35C Lightning II and RAAF F-35A Lightning II.

 A landmark event for both RAAF and USMC took place when RAAF aviators pulled a 270-volt battery, the main power support system that provides electrical power for each component of the jet, from a RAAF F-35A and placed it in a USMC F-35C. This success not only demonstrates enhanced fluency between the two teams and their aircraft variants, but also takes the RAAF-USMC relationship from interoperable to interchangeable.

“The significance of us being able to use components from one F-35 model to another, from two independent units, is monumental for our ability to accomplish the mission safely and efficiently, even when faced with global supply chain constraints,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Mann, Maintenance Control Chief for VMFA-314. “During my six years in the field, and experience with multiple platforms, I have not witnessed such a capability.”

Additionally, the units conducted pre-load inspections, proficiency loading and downloading of ordnance, including AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-To-Air Missiles and Captive Air Training Missiles. Airmen and Marines utilized these training events to create completely mixed ordnance teams, pulling from a pool of assets and allowing for a faster, more efficient loading and downloading process. This training proves the two to be a combined operating force with a “fight together” mindset.

“In the air, we have focused on the same integration and interchangeability, with both Australian and USMC fighters flying tactically within the same formation,” said Lt. Col. Michael J. “Snooki” O'Brien, Commanding Officer of VMFA-314. “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.”

The ability of the sister squadrons to successfully execute a multitude of combined operations across logistics, ordnance, maintenance, and flight operations is a testament to the strong relationships individual Marines and aviators are building on and off the flightline. Such capabilities, combined with deep-rooted military ties between the two nations, provide enduring warfighting readiness and regional security within the Indo-Pacific region.   

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