The Royal Australian Air Force’s third F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) A35-003 is making progress along the production line at the Lockheed Martin headquarters in the US.
Head Joint Strike Fighter Air Vice-Marshal Leigh Gordon said the A35-003 was the first of the next batch of eight Australian F-35s currently in production in Fort Worth to begin the “mate” process, where major components of the aircraft were joined together to form the aircraft structure.
"The aircraft will then make its way down the assembly line and through its check flights in preparation for delivery in early 2018," AVM Gordon said.
Former MP and current Australian ambassador to the US Joe Hockey paid a visit to the Fort Worth facilities where the F-35A Joint Strike Fighters are being assembled.
Hockey met with Lockheed Martin representatives and JSF Division US embedded staff and was briefed on the achievements of the F-35 Program. Hockey signed the bulkhead of the aircraft as it made its way down the assembly line at the Fort Worth facility.
A35-003 is the first F-35 to be assembled for Australia since the delivery of the first two RAAF F-35A’s in 2014.
"Like its two RAAF F-35A stablemates, A35-003 will be delivered to Luke Air Force Base Arizona in early 2018, where it will be used for F-35 pilot and maintainer training until permanently re-locating to Australia in 2020," said AVM Gordon.
AVM Gordon said as Australia was a strategic partner in the global F-35 Program it was delivering significant benefits to Australian industry.
"As with every F-35 being produced, A35-003 includes components made by Australian companies, with more than $800 million in production contracts so far," he said.
"More than 50 Australian companies have directly shared in production work to date, with hundreds more Australian companies who are indirectly benefiting through supply chain work.
"Australian industry will also be closely involved in sustaining the RAAF F-35As and providing through-life support services for the global fleet."
Defence estimates industry involvement in F-35 production is expected to reach $2 billion by 2023.
Earlier this year, aircraft maintenance company Rockwell Collins Australia marked a significant achievement in its work on the global F-35 JSF program, celebrating the assembly of the 100th Optical Assembly for the F-35 electro-optic distributed aperture system (DAS) at its Sydney facilities.
Rockwell Collins Australia is set to produce more than 7,000 of these assemblies across the life of the F-35 program, representing at least 40 per cent of global production.
Representatives from the Australian company said they are expecting to eventually represent 50 per cent of global production, with the other 50 per cent to be represented by their sister company in the US.
Just last month, the Department of Defence’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group released a request for information (RFI) relating to F-35A JSF components. The RFI was an "invitation to register to establish 18 prequalified lists for each repair technology group to provide maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade services for F-35 Air Vehicle Components".