The defence industry has welcomed the arrival of Australia’s first two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Williamtown, which is estimated to bring $6-9 billion of production and sustainment work to the sector over the next three decades.
The arrival of the nation's first two fifth-generation fighter aircraft is a significant milestone for Australia's defence industry, with many involved in the manufacturing, training, maintenance and sustainment life cycle of the F-35 preparing to support the Air Force and the super jet.
Gabby Costigan, chief executive of BAE Systems Australia, which was selected to establish the regional F-35 depot for the south Asia-Pacific region at RAAF Base Williamtown, said, "It’s an incredible milestone in this amazing global program and we are proud to be a tier one program partner.
"BAE Systems has been at the heart of the design and development of the F-35 from the beginning; and we will use this expertise to support its entry in to service with the Royal Australian Air Force."
The Australian industry regional depot maintenance has responsibility for 64 of the first 65 aircraft components (Tier 1), assigned by the US government to BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Northrop Grumman and RUAG in November 2016.
Regional assignments for the next tranche (Tier 2) of about 400 aircraft components are expected to occur in the latter part of 2018.
Costigan said that BAE expects about 400 jobs to be created in the next 10 years for sustainment activities at Williamtown, with a requirement for this level of employment over the 30+ years of the contract.
"Sustainment activities will also create opportunities for our Australian partners and supply chain," Costigan said.
"BAE Systems is proud of its long heritage as a major industry partner to the RAAF. We are committed to continuing to empower it into the future with the best equipment and support, and ensuring it can use these new aircraft to their full capability."
For original equipment manufacturer Lockheed Martin, Monday's arrival has been the culmination of nearly two decades of work leading up to the manufacturing and successful delivery of the first of the RAAF's fighter aircraft.
But the successful delivery of the F-35s is not just a triumph for Lockheed Martin, as the prime has continuously engaged with Australian industry to support and nurture the integration of key industrial partners and capabilities within the Australian economy.
Lockheed Martin Australia chief executive Vince Di Pietro told Defence Connect, "We at Lockheed Martin are dedicated to continuing engagement with our Australian industry partners. We realised that we couldn’t do it by ourselves. It is great to see that so many Australian companies are now benefiting from the genuine opportunities created by the global partnership to create high-end industry skills across the country."
Early commitment to the global co-operative F-35 program has secured Australia as a key strategic partner and enabled Australian industry access to global supply chains.
"The aircraft represents a transformational opportunity for Australia, not only for the Air Force, but also for Australian industry. Every F-35 rolling off the production line in Fort Worth has Australian components. Who makes these components? It is small and medium-sized companies that proudly contribute best-of-breed components, made in Australia."
Sydney-based advanced materials manufacturer Quickstep Holdings also welcomed the arrival of the two aircraft and congratulated the federal government, the Royal Australian Air Force and Lockheed Martin on the arrival of the F-35s.
"Quickstep is extremely proud to be one of more than 50 Australian companies supplying parts to the F-35 platform. The advanced composite components and assemblies manufactured by Quickstep at our Bankstown facility in NSW are fitted onto every F-35 aircraft produced globally. We currently build 35 separate parts for the F-35, including doors, panels, hatches, external fuselage skins and vertical tail components, and we will soon be adding countermeasure flare housings to our F-35 product portfolio," said managing director and CEO Mark Burgess.
"Our production volumes for the F-35 program are growing substantially, in line with the increasing build-plans by Lockheed Martin and its major F-35 partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, to support orders from the US government and its international F-35 partners. Today there are 340 F-35 aircraft in operation around the global and this will likely increase to more than 3,000 over the life of the program."
Australian industry participation in the F-35 program has seen more than 50 Australian companies participate in various stages of the F-35 program to date, across manufacturing, training, maintenance and sustainment.
This has already contributed significantly to Australia’s economy, with Australian industry having secured over $1.3 billion in production contracts to date through the global F-35 program, with additional work expected as the production rate ramps up over the next three years.