The four F-35A Full Mission Simulators (FMSims) currently operational at RAAF Base Williamtown have been successfully upgraded by local experts. The move supports the continued build-up of pilot training at No. 3 Squadron and No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit.
Headed up by Lockheed Martin Australia (LMA), the software in the FMSims was upgraded to align with the latest Operational Flight Program (OFP) installed in the aircraft. Ten F-35A FMSims will eventually be installed – six at Williamtown and four at RAAF Base Tindal – supporting sovereign F-35A pilot training for the over the program's life cycle.
Training systems manager at the Air Combat Systems Program Office (ACSPO), Harley Doughty, said that it was important to ensure FMSims were upgraded in order to ensure the training devices and aircraft operating systems remain interoperable.
"Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) in the US was planning to send an installation team to all sites around the world with fielded FMSims to complete the upgrade," said Doughty.
"The upgrade team would have comprised at least three US personnel, including a test pilot. The capability of local simulator technicians from LMA has been growing since 2018, when the F-35A precinct opened at Williamtown and the first FMSims pair was installed and declared ready for training in early 2019."
He added that the capabilities of the local team enabled the successful completion of the software installation without the physical presence of the American team, with reach-back support provided by the US over a two-week period in May.
"All four F-35A FMSims have now been returned to operational service," Doughty said.
"With the freeze on international travel, had a local support option not been available, our FMSims would have been out of alignment with the software configuration of the aircraft. This would have been further compounded when subsequent OFP software upgrades were released."
He said the successful local upgrade set a precedent for future upgrades and could potentially save Australia hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel and support costs over the life of the program.
Officer Commanding ACSPO, Group Captain Al Wherrett, said Defence had developed a strategy to ensure a safe and effective transition of F-35A training from the US to Australia.
"The F-35 Program has been conducting F-35 training in the US for more than six years," GPCAPT Wherrett said.
"Australia has leveraged the knowledge from the US experience to establish and grow the sovereign Australian F-35A training system over the past two-to-three years. Simulation plays a key role in F-35A training and Defence is working closely with the F-35 JPO, LM and LMA to ensure training and courseware delivery meets our capability and schedule requirements."