As the countdown to the arrival of Australia’s first two F-35A Joint Strike Fighters gains pace, so too does the upskilling of a specialised workforce to support regional F-35 training centres and operational sites.
Key industry support partnerships between prime contractors BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin are paving the way for eight BAE Systems Australia technicians travel to the US for training to support the Royal Australian Air Force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft's arrival.
The technicians, who have transferred from the Hawk Lead-In Fighter program, will be trained by Lockheed Martin at its production facility training centre in Fort Worth, Texas. During their 13-week training program, the mechanical, avionics and structural technicians and qualified instructors from BAE Systems will work alongside Lockheed Martin F-35 subject matter experts and mentors.
BAE Systems Australia chief executive Gabby Costigan said, "This is the first step in creating a depot capability in Australia. Our mechanical, avionics and structural technicians will be trained at the facility where the F-35 is designed and built. This training will ensure they have all the necessary skills to provide the very best support for the Royal Australian Air Force."
In early 2015, the US government assigned BAE Systems Australia (Williamtown) the regional F-35 airframe depot maintenance responsibility for the south Asia-Pacific region. In August 2017, BAE Systems Australia was also assigned the regional warehouse responsibility for the Asia-Pacific region.
When all of Australia’s aircraft are delivered, BAE Systems will support up to six dedicated F-35 maintenance bays employing around 100 people.
BAE Systems Australia aerospace and integrated systems director Steve Drury said BAE is proud of its close collaboration with Lockheed Martin on the F-35 program.
"The training of our team in Fort Worth is an important milestone for our capability in Australia to support the Royal Australian Air Force and regional F-35 fleets," Drury said.
Lockheed Martin Australia Chief Executive Vince Di Pietro said industry partnerships such as these ensure the demands of the F-35 and other advanced fifth-generation technologies and platforms are met.
"Through our continuing relationship with Australian industry, Lockheed Martin Australia will be a committed partner in delivering high performing and affordable sustainment solutions for Australia for decades ahead," said Di Pietro.
"As the original equipment manufacturer, we are committed to bringing our accumulated experience to the successful establishment and through-life support of the RAAF F-35A fleet."
Australian industry regional depot maintenance responsibility for 64 of the first 65 aircraft components (Tier 1) was 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.
Australia is spending about $17 billion to buy 72 fighters of the F-35A variant, with the aircraft due to reach IOC by December 2020. Australia’s first six F-35As are currently operating at the international Pilot Training Centre at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, with four more aircraft expected to be delivered by the end of this year.
Two of Australia’s F-35A aircraft are scheduled to arrive for permanent basing at RAAF Base Williamtown near Newcastle in December this year.