AVALON NEWS: Australian F-35 Fleet to Reach Major Milestones in 2023
Lockheed Martin photo
GEELONG, Australia — Despite recent hiccups with the production of the F-35 joint strike fighter in the United States, the Royal Australian Air Force is expected to finish building out its fleet and declaring full operational capability by the end of the calendar year, a Lockheed Martin executive said March 2.
The RAAF has taken delivery of 60 F-35A models so far and should receive its final lot of 12 by the end of the calendar year, Steve Over, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 business development director, told National Defense on the sidelines of Avalon — The Australian Air Show.
However, “their focus — and our focus — is achieving a milestone that they call full operational capability, which they would like to achieve by the end of the calendar year,” Over said.
Vibration issues in the Pratt & Whitney manufactured engines had resulted in a two-month delay in deliveries. Over said that did not stop the production line from moving and the company put the finished aircraft in hangars to wait for the fix — Pratt & Whitney announced Feb. 28 it had determined the cause of the problem and developed a solution, according to media reports. The delay will not have an impact on the Australian deliveries, Over said.
“I don’t want to minimize the impact of it, but it’s a few months impact on our ability to deliver,” he said.
In its early days, the program of record called for 100 aircraft, but that was later reduced. The Australian Defence Force is on the cusp of releasing its Defence Strategic Review, and officials have been tight-lipped about its conclusions.
Over said he had no knowledge whether the document would call for a boost in F-35 numbers.
As of January, the Australian F-35A fleet had logged more than 23,650 flight hours and carried out 16,890 sorties, a government fact sheet stated. The total cost of the program is expected to be 16.2 billion Australian dollars — nearly $11 billion — with 2.7 billion in contingency funds.
Over said Lockheed Martin had delivered on its promise to reduce the per-aircraft price. When the RAAF took its first delivery in 2014, the cost was $120 million in U.S. dollars. The company has that currently down to $77.9 million, he said.
Helping to reduce the per-aircraft price tag are Australian companies, who must compete to supply parts for the program, Over said. About 75 percent of the cost of the aircraft is derived from the sub-suppliers, he said. Australia is part of an industrial memorandum of agreement that allows local companies to compete for contracts to supply parts or services. Seventy-five Australian vendors are part of the global supply chain, Over said. To date, their goods have totaled 3 billion Australian dollars — equivalent to about $2 billion — he added, citing Australian government figures.
“We want them to be successful, but they have to do their part, and I tell you, they are embracing this,” he said of the goal to reduce the cost per-aircraft.
Extrapolating that out, if the program reaches the anticipated 4,000 total aircraft, that 3 billion figure could end up being triple that number, Over said.
There are hundreds of machined parts made in Australia, and about two-dozen companies were at the Lockheed Martin tent displaying their wares. One of the major local suppliers is Marand, a Victoria-based vendor, which has produced one-third of the F-35 vertical tails and also designed and manufactures the F135 engine removal and installation trailer.
Other items produced in Australia from other vendors include flares, printed circuit boards, radar components and a backup oxygen system.
Australia is also sustaining its aircraft and all repairs are now done indigenously, he said. The first end-to-end repair and test of an F135 engine took place in 2022, and initial depot capability was declared in April of that year, the fact sheet said.
The program supports some 3,000 jobs in Australia, Over said, citing government figures.