There has been much controversy surrounding the fifth-generation F-35 aircraft, of which Australia has ordered 72, at a cost of up to $17 billion. Head of the Australian Joint Strike Fighter program Air Vice-Marshal Leigh Gordon has gone on the record to endorse Australia’s future aircraft.
Speaking at a conference in Australia, AVM Gordon got straight to the point in his opening address when he declared “the F-35 is the right aircraft for Australia”.
AVM Gordon further added the aircraft “is a combination of stealth, designed in from day one, the sensors that it’s got on the aircraft in particular, the radar and the distributed … system, the camera … to enable the pilot to make better decisions, and the ability of the aircraft to share data with other aeroplanes are significant factors that really make it the only fifth generation aircraft ... available to fill the capability needs that we’ve got in Australia”.
Deferring from a capability and warfare perspective, AVM Gordon also emphasised the benefits the program has had on the Australian defence industry.
“The second point I’d make is around the fact that the Australian industry has benefited from the F-35 program," he said.
"Industries involved from back in 2002 when we entered [into] the first MoU, and some $800 million worth of contracts have been won by Australian industry and production, with only 200 aircraft built so far, so clearly there is an opportunity to grow the production space as we aim towards 3,100 aircraft globally.”
Despite what some critics have predicted of the Australian JSF program, AVM Gordon expressed his confidence in the program, declaring it will reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) by December 2020, and will also deliver the program on budget.
“Australia is on schedule to deliver the IOC on F-35 to budget by December 2020. Since government approved that the balance of the 72 aircraft in April '14, there has not been a delay or an increase in the real cost variation to this project in Australia, despite what people might say. We’ve continually forecast that we’ll be able to achieve the schedule within the budget,” he said.
Australia will have a total of 72 F-35A aircraft, with the full fleet in service by the end of 2023. Two, AU-001 and AU-002, have been delivered and each cost more than US$120 million.
Over 30 Australian companies have already participated in production supply chains to provide high-end solutions to the JSF capability. The current cumulative total of Australian JSF production contracts is US$681 million and is forecast to reach almost US$4 billion in 2038.
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Recently, manufacturer Quickstep Holdings has completed a $10 million capital expansion of its aerospace manufacturing facilities in Bankstown, an expansion that includes a capital investment program for ongoing JSF production.