Putting on a good show requires a great rivalry – how about F-35 versus Growler?

Welcome to the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition edition of Australian Defence Business Review.

The scheduled arrival of Australia’s first two F-35A jets at Avalon Airport on Friday March 3 is sure to be the talk of the town.

Confirmation from the Defence Minister of the planned Australian debut of the aircraft was greeted by media reports variously describing the fifth-generation fighter using the familiar prefixes “controversial” and “troubled”.

And it certainly will be interesting to observe to what extent the visiting jets might have an effect on the public relations front.

But, importantly, the appearance of the F-35 at the airshow also foreshadows the ferry to RAAF Base Williamtown of an initial pair of aircraft for permanent basing in December 2018.

That is the target date marked on the calendar for Australian companies to make their debut as an integral part of the multinational Joint Strike Fighter program’s global sustainment system.

When it comes to support for the F-35, there is still much to be done, as Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies explained in a recent interview with sister publication Australian Aviation.

“We have got some real work to do on logistics and the sustainment aspect,” CAF said.

“It is not new for F-35. If I look back at every aircraft we have ever acquired, we had a period of not understanding the logistics and engineering sustainment aspects; F-35 will be the same.”

Intriguingly, AIRMSHL Davies said that it is the airborne electronic attack capability embodied in the EA‑18G Growler that will be the biggest game-changer for the ADF, at least in the short term, not the F-35.

“A force-level electronic warfare [capability] we have never had before, and I think we only are now beginning to understand what it might be able to do,” CAF said.

“The arrival of the F-35 is just another fighter, in some respects…the next big effect will be Growler; that will be the one that changes us the most.

“It will take time for us to understand how much F-35 will change our business.”

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is billed as the star attraction at Avalon, but Australia’s new Growler will also be on show, and it is much more than just another Boeing Super Hornet (of which it is a variant).

In this edition of Australian Defence Business Review, we assess industry’s progress as companies prepare for F-35 sustainment, and learn about opportunities to support the ADF as Australia works out how to go about introducing the Growler capability.

We take a deep dive into the air projects outlined in the Integrated Investment Program, as well as examining the future of Defence science in Australia and analysing New Zealand’s plans for the RNZAF.

While it is hard to resist the temptation to play up the rivalry between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that has been fuelled by President Trump, the intention is of course to see the F-35, Growler and Super Hornet complementing each other.

And if their potential as separate capabilities is not yet understood, the mind boggles at the thought of what they might be able to do operating together.

This editorial was first published in the March-April 2017 issue of Australian Defence Business Review.