Forming the backbone of Australia’s future air combat capability, the F-35 will be one of the most complex air combat systems in history. Defence Connect recently spoke with Lockheed Martin Australia about the local partnerships and technology that are shaping the maintenance and training practices for the country’s future top guns.
As the Royal Australian Air Force prepares for it's F-35s to achieve initial operating capability (IOC) in 2019, the training, sustainment and maintenance operations at RAAF Williamtown have been busily preparing for the arrival of key technologies and systems that will enable Australia to serve as a regional and world-leader in the training, support and maintenance of the world's most complex weapons system.
2018 will see a number of key milestones as Australia gears up to receive the first pair of 72 planned F-35s, including the arrival of key support, maintenance and training technologies, such as:
- Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which is a system-of-systems approach to fleet management that connects F-35 maintenance, supply chain and sustainment information into a single management tool to support all F-35 operations. ALIS turns data into actionable information for pilots, maintainers and military leaders, enabling them to make proactive decisions to increase aircraft availability and reduce operations and maintenance costs.
- Weapons Loader Trainer (WLT) and Ejection System Maintenance Trainer (ESMT), which are realistic mock-ups of an F-35 aircraft designed to enable hands-on learning for these critical tasks.
- The Aircraft Systems Maintenance Trainers (ASMTs) currently being installed will allow students to immerse themselves in all core maintenance tasks on the F-35. This training technology enables more robust, immersive maintenance training to occur without tying up aircraft to do it.
- Installation of two F-35 Full Mission Simulators (FMS) completes in late October. The F-35 FMS is a critical component to Australia’s sovereign training capability, as roughly half of the required qualification flights are conducted in the simulator.
Lockheed Martin general manager for training and logistics systems Amy Gowder said, "2018 is a landmark year standing up at Williamtown as we get the jets ready to ride by the end of the year and really start operations and to get ready for IOC next year."
Developing this capability has not been done in isolation by Lockheed Martin. Developing a highly capable domestic capacity has been at the core of delivering Australia's F-35 fleet, which has seen key strategic industry partnerships develop between Lockheed Martin and local industry leaders, including Marand, Westrac, HI Frazier, Survitec and specialised training provider Milskil Australia, which will be responsible for delivering a range of F-35 training services at the RAAF Williamtown JSF Integrated Training Centre (ITC).
Gowder said, "Lockheed Martin does full scope sustainment and we partner as part of that. As I look at our support equipment and test equipment being installed in Williamtown, we are also standing up these partners to do the maintenance and that is a really important aspect to have local content, to have their responsiveness."
While the initial placement of Lockheed Martin sustainment staff at Williamtown is generally 50 per cent expat and 50 per cent local staff. For the Williamtown stand-up, ALIS, training and support equipment account for 55 (of 67) total contracted positions, 33 of which will be staffed by Australians initially. As knowledge transfer of critical F-35 sustainment skills is achieved, there will be opportunities to further increase the work performed by Australians and expand our range of partnerships with Australian companies.
"Milskil will be recruiting about 18 new positions as we roll out and expand the training here in Australia, so I would say Lockheed Martin has strong partnerships here in Australia, and together we create sustainment solutions that the RAAF will need in order to keep the jets mission capable and cost effective as the program goes into the operational phase. So its a very exciting time," said Gowder.
The Lockheed Martin global mobile training team (GMTT) is likely to arrive in Australia in August to provide specialised training to the RAAF and Milskil, enabling success for the RAAF in their ITC stand-up. The GMTT provides worldwide on-demand site stand-up and sustainment support training for F-35 training centres and operational sites.
Australia, as a Level Three F-35 program partner (along with Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey), will enjoy extensive benefits from the project, says Andy Doyle, F-35 program manager at RAAF Williamtown.
"Australian industry has also been successful in picking up regional airframe repairs at the BAE facility at Williamtown, which will become the airframe repair depot for F-35, so that will be on behalf of Australia's F-35 with the potential for regional work," he said.
More broadly, Australian industry has been very successful in the allocation of Asia-Pacific regional repair capabilities for the F-35, many of which will be located in the Williamtown area, including an airframe repair and upgrade depot, component repair capability and regional warehouse.
Australian suppliers like Marand and Quickstep are critical to the F-35 as the manufacturers of support equipment.
To date, more than 50 Australian companies have participated in the F-35 program, with the Australian government recently convening a celebration to mark more than $1 billion in Australian industrial contribution to F-35 production.
Doyle said, "[Lockheed Martin] are really looking forward to getting in and partnering closely with the Australian Department of Defence and with our local industry partners as we bring the F-35 capability to Australia, and to seeing Australia making a strong industrial and security contribution to the region through the F-35 program."