The operational tempo of the Joint Strike Fighter Division remains high as we approach the end of what has been an incredibly busy year. I would like to thank everyone involved in the F-35 enterprise – both Defence and industry – for their efforts to ensure the Australian F-35A Project remains on schedule for First Aircraft Arrival (FAA) in December 2018 and Initial Operating Capability (IOC) by the end of 2020.
In early November I was pleased to represent the Chief of Air Force at the Dubai Airshow where I met with Ms Ellen Lord (United States [US] Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) and Ms Heidi Grant (US Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs). During these bilateral meetings I reinforced the benefits of cooperative programs like the F-35 Program, including: supporting interoperability with Partner nations; more diversity of thinking and therefore better problem solving and project outcomes; and material contributions by Partners to projects, including funding. Ms Lord recognised that cooperative programs support the three priorities of US Secretary for Defense James Mattis, specifically in the areas of delivering military capability to the warfighter, engagement and reducing cost.
During my brief visit to the Middle East I also took time to meet with Royal Australian Air Force personnel deployed to Australia’s main logistics base in the region. I passed on my thanks for their efforts in helping to sustain Australian Defence Force operations in the Middle East and answered questions about the Australian F-35A Project.
Last month our third F-35A rolled off the assembly line at Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, marking another major milestone in Australia’s F-35A Project. No. 3 Squadron markings were applied to the aircraft in early November – this was the final stage in the production process before the aircraft undergoes several weeks of ground and flight testing at Fort Worth. We are planning to accept A35-003 and our fourth aircraft, A35-004, in January and I am looking forward to this positive start to 2018. Both aircraft will join A35-001 and A35-002 in the training pool at the international F-35A Pilot Training Centre (PTC) at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. More than 270 F-35 aircraft have now been delivered to Partner Nations in the F-35 Program, operating from bases in the US, Italy, Norway, Japan and Israel. The F-35 Program is a truly global enterprise and Australia is proud to be a Partner Nation.
As part of the F-35A reprogramming solution, JSF Division is executing Project Ghosthawk. This project will upgrade the mission data capability of Defence’s Joint Electronic Warfare Operational Support to meet the requirements of modern fifth-generation combat systems. In September, SRC Australia was awarded a $17 million Defence contract to help deliver the Ghosthawk mission support system. This partnership with SRC Australia highlights the continued opportunities being presented to Australian industry as a result of the Australian F-35A Project and I look forward to developments in that important capability next year as we move towards FAA.
On the topic of FAA, there is a buzz in the air at RAAF Base Williamtown as personnel prepare for the arrival of the first two F-35A aircraft for permanent basing in Australia. During October, virtual F-35A operations were successfully tested at the recently commissioned Off-Board Information Systems Centre, while the fourth and final annual Site Activation Task Force Activity in September brought together personnel from Defence, industry, the US F-35 Joint Program Office, and Prime Contractors Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney to assess the base’s readiness to support critical F-35A air operations. Monthly reviews have now commenced in the lead-up to FAA.
Of course, none of this can happen without the commitment of our people. In November I had the pleasure of presenting a bronze commendation to the JSF Division finance team, members of which have continued to demonstrate their personal drive and resilience in an ever-changing environment. This small team actively participates in the F-35A Project’s business, while ensuring the reforms of the finance shared services arrangement are implemented. I greatly appreciate the financial support provided by Leanne Connor and her team. I was also very glad to recently approve a silver commendation for our Information Manager, Alistair Dally, who has served in the JSF Division for four years. Alistair and his team have made a significant contribution to the effectiveness of the Integrated Project Team by delivering a number of efficiency enhancements to the SharePoint system, which have saved an estimated 3,000 working hours annually. I know I can speak on behalf of all members of the Division when I say this work has been greatly appreciated.
I would also like to congratulate Flight Lieutenant Mitchel Heming on his Defence Support Services Silver Commendation, which Director-General JSF Acquisition and Sustainment (DGJAS), Air Commodore Terry Saunder, presented to him during the Site Activation Task Force Activity at Williamtown in September. Flight Lieutenant Heming was instrumental as the Facilities Support Officer during his posting to JSF Division from 2014-16, playing a key role in the design, delivery and commissioning of critical F-35A facilities at RAAF Bases Tindal and Williamtown.
We also had the pleasure of hosting the first two Australian F-35A pilots at our offices at Brindabella Park in Canberra during November. Wing Commander Andrew Jackson and Squadron Leader David Bell are based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, instructing at the international PTC. The pilots were in Australia to help members of the Air Combat Transition Office and JSF Division develop the Verification & Validation plan for when the first F-35A aircraft begin arriving at Williamtown. This is extremely important work and I thank everyone for their efforts in this process.
Last, but not least, I would like to thank the outgoing DGJAS, Air Commodore Terry Saunder, for his commitment and critical work during his three years with JSF Division. On 11 December, Terry passed the baton on to his replacement, Air Commodore Damien Keddie, and will retire from the Royal Australian Air Force at the end of February 2018 after more than 38 years of dedicated service. He achieved much success during his career and has been instrumental in driving the Australian F-35A Project forward. Terry will be sorely missed and I wish him and his family well as they enter this new stage of life. With this, I formally welcome Air Commodore Damien Keddie as the new DGJAS. Damien has a wealth of acquisition and sustainment experience and I have no doubt he will continue Terry’s efforts in ensuring the Division works hard to deliver the F-35A capability as we move towards FAA and IOC in the years to come.
It has been an incredibly busy year and next year will be no different – in fact, the tempo will only increase. I ask for the same high level of commitment displayed thus far as we work hard in the lead-up to FAA and IOC. Success will depend on the combined efforts of the entire F-35 enterprise and I look forward to continuing our work as we lead the introduction of this transformational capability on behalf of Defence.