As we hit the middle of 2019, Australia’s F-35A fleet has grown in size and capability. We have now accepted 14 aircraft, with four currently based at RAAF Base Williamtown and 10 based at the international Pilot Training Centre (PTC) at Luke Air Force Base (AFB).
Following the arrival of A35-009 and A35-010 in December 2018, No. 3 Squadron started small-scale raise, train and sustain activities. In addition, the squadron is executing phase one of the Australian Verification and Validation program to verify the suitability and effectiveness of the F-35A in the Australian operating environment.
This involves exercising the aircraft’s effectiveness in delivering air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, as well as its interoperability with other ADF platforms. Small group tests of maintenance and support training facilities at Williamtown are also underway, as Australia moves towards generating an independent sovereign training capability by the anticipated declaration of Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in December 2020.
The F-35A display was a major showcase at this year’s Australian International Airshow at Avalon in March, during which members of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Division met thousands of visitors to chat about the Australian F-35A Project. At the beginning of the airshow, I joined Commander Air Combat Group (ACG) Air Commodore Mike Kitcher to brief about 150 journalists, industry professionals and Defence personnel about the status of the Australian F-35A capability and industry participation in the global F-35 Program. It was fantastic to see the F-35A capability on the ground in Australia, as well as engage with our industry partners who are a critical part of the international F-35 supply chain and sustainment strategy.
During their visit to Avalon, then-Minister for Defence, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, and then-Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Steven Ciobo MP, announced RUAG Australia had delivered its 35,000th component part as part of the global F-35 Program. RUAG Australia is the sole global source of the F-35 Program uplock actuator system and, in achieving this milestone, confirmed its precision manufacturing and process solutions capabilities.
During the airshow, the former Ministers also announced that the Engine Test Cell facility upgrade was underway at RAAF Base Amberley. The upgraded test cell will be used to support Australia’s F-35A fleet, as well as the existing Super Hornet engines. Defence contracted with TAE Aerospace, which has now taken possession of the site and commenced work on the upgraded facility. The facility will be able to cope with the increased 43,000lb thrust of the new F135 engine from the existing 20,000lb thrust of the F414 engine, and will ensure Australia’s F-35A fleet – and the global F-35 fleet – will have a highly capable test cell facility in the Asia-Pacific region.
Nupress Tools Pty Ltd and F-35 Program Prime Contractor Pratt & Whitney have signed a seven-year multi-million dollar contract to produce precision machined small parts for the F135 engine. Nupress expects to produce 50 per cent of the global supply of five engine components for Pratt & Whitney, which is a fantastic achievement and builds on the company’s existing contribution to F-35 production with the canopy slings it supplies to Varley Group.
In another significant industry milestone, Marand Precision Engineering has delivered its 100th Engine Removal and Installation Mobility Trailer (ERIMT) to Lockheed Martin. This is a fantastic achievement, demonstrating the ingenuity of Australian defence industry. Earlier this year it was also pleasing to see No. 3 Squadron maintenance personnel using the Marand-made ERIMT on the flightline at Williamtown. Marand manufactures multiple parts for the F-35 and is the global supplier of the F-35 ERIMT.
I would like to thank the JSF Division Communications Team and the production team from No. 28 Squadron for their work on a series of industry participation videos, the last of which featured Collins Aerospace and was released in April. These videos feature Australian companies that are part of the F-35 production and supply chain and were produced to highlight the partnership between Defence and industry on the F-35 program. So far, the videos have had more than 100,000 engagements since December 2018 – thanks to the Defence community for watching, liking and sharing each video. You can re-watch the video series on Defence’s LinkedIn page and read more on the JSF Division website.
Congratulations must also be extended to Squadron Leader Kevin Le Poidevin, who played a critical role in helping to establish the F-35A capability in Australia and has been rewarded for his efforts with a US Meritorious Service Medal. Squadron Leader Le Poidevin served as the Australian Introduction to Service team leader in the US F-35 Joint Program Office from January 2015 until December 2017, contributing significantly to the establishment of Australian training and operational sites, as well as Asia-Pacific depot-level repair capability for the global F-35 fleet.
In late May, Director-General JSF Air Commodore Damien Keddie attended the US F-35 Joint Program Office-led Asia-Pacific Regional Global Sustainment Solution Summit. This meeting was a terrific opportunity to meet with F-35 Program and Japanese Air Self-Defense Force F-35 representatives, as well as Australian and Japanese industry assignees, to discuss the establishment of Asia-Pacific component Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade (MRO&U) capabilities.
We now have a better understanding of the JPO Depot Maintenance Development Plan, which provides a roadmap, processes and responsibilities of key stakeholders for MRO&U capability establishment. We also have a better understanding of lessons learnt from the Netherlands and UK MRO&U pilot programs; how industry can recover its investments; the Federal Acquisition Regulation/Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation contracting compliance requirements; and what materiel has been acquired by the enterprise reducing MRO&U establishment costs.
JSF Division and Australian industry now have a more clear and common understanding of the way forward as we work to establish the MRO&U capability in the Asia-Pacific.