Lockheed Martin has met the joint government and industry delivery target for 2017, delivering the 66th F-35 aircraft for the year.
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So far, more than 265 supersonic, multi-role F-35Fs have been delivered to the US and international customers. Australia's third JSF rolled off the production line in early November, with the aircraft now undergoing several weeks of ground and flight testing at Fort Worth, Texas.
Collectively, more than 530 pilots and nearly 5,000 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 115,000 cumulative flight hours. Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 Program general manager Jeff Babione said the latest achievement presents more than a 40 per cent increase from 2016.
"Meeting our 2017 delivery commitment is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our joint government and industry team to deliver the transformational F-35 air system to the warfighter," said Babione.
"The team continues to overcome program challenges and achieving this milestone gives our customers confidence that the F-35 enterprise can deliver on the increasing production quantities year-over-year."
Lockheed Martin said the F-35 enterprise is prepared to increase production volume year-over-year to hit the full rate of approximately 160 aircraft in 2023.
As production ramps up and additional improvements are implemented, the company’s goal is to reduce the cost of an F-35A to $80 million by 2020. Since the first contract, the price of an F-35A, of which Australia has ordered 72, has come down more than 60 per cent.
More than 1,300 employees have been hired at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth facility since January 2017 to prepare for an increase in production. The program includes more than 100 international suppliers, including Australian businesses.
The F-35 project has been a lucrative venture for Australian industry, with more than $800 million in contracts from F-35 design and production work achieved so far.
Currently, Victoria is leading the way with a total of six companies contributing to the F-35 project – Marand, Lovitt, Cablex, AW Bell, RUAG and BAE Systems Australia, which has offices in both Victoria and SA.
Further opportunities for Australian industry to participate in the F-35 Program through regional assignments for the repair of the second tranche of aircraft components are expected to be announced in 2018.
Earlier this year, BAE Systems Australia was assigned the role of prime for the F-35 regional warehouse for the Asia-Pacific region. The new assignment, located at Williamtown, has an estimated value of $300 million in operations and infrastructure over the life of the F-35 program and is expected to create 10-15 jobs in Newcastle.
Australia is set to take delivery of its F-35 full mission simulator next year, after the first simulator systems were recently delivered to the Israeli, Italian, Japanese and Norwegian air forces.
The RAAF is looking to achieve initial operating capability in December 2020, with 12 aircraft in three squadrons at RAAF Williamtown plus six in a training squadron.
Full operating capability for the 72 aircraft Australia has ordered is planned for the end of 2023.
All facility works at RAAF Base Williamtown in preparation for the aircraft remain on schedule for completion prior to first aircraft arrival in December 2018.