Australia’s F-35A Lightning II capability has taken a step forward with the opening of the Australian and UK F-35 Reprogramming Laboratory.
Located at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the Reprogramming Laboratory is a joint partnership between Australia and the UK. Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said this new capability will enable the F-35 to be a "smart" aircraft.
"The Reprogramming Laboratory produces Mission Data Files (MDFs for Australian and UK F-35s) which compiles information about the operating environment and assets in an area, before being loaded onto the aircraft pre-flight using a portable hard drive," Minister Reynolds explained.
The Reprogramming Laboratory will support Australian and UK F-35s by developing, verifying, validating and issuing F-35 MDFs for Australian and UK-fielded F-35s.
"Combined with the aircraft’s advance sensor suite, this provides the pilot with a clearer battlespace picture. The F-35A is a key part of the government’s $200 billion investment in Defence capability," Minister Reynolds added.
Both countries are co-funding and supporting the capability under a 50/50 funding arrangement. The F-35A is expected to achieve initial operating capability in December 2020, and final operating capability in late 2023.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the Royal Australian Air Force since 1985.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is billed as a catalyst for the fifth-generation revolution, changing the face and capability of the RAAF and the wider Australian Defence Force.
For the RAAF, the F-35A's combination of full-spectrum low-observable stealth coatings and materials, advanced radar-dispersing shaping, network-centric sensor and communications suites – combined with a lethal strike capability – means the aircraft will be the ultimate force multiplying, air-combat platform.
The F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – will have with a projected life of 30 years in service.
Ten nations are currently flying F-35s, including the US, UK, Italy, Norway, Israel and Japan. The first of Australia’s F-35A aircraft are now based on home soil after a period of training and development at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, plus an epic Pacific Ocean crossing in December 2018.
More than 340 F-35s are operating today with partner nations, more than 700 pilots and 6,500 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 170,000 cumulative flight hours.