The RAAF’s F-35A Lightning II capability has taken several advances in recent weeks, the most recent of which is the opening of the multi-national mission data reprogramming lab in Florida.
The Australia Canada UK reprogramming lab (ACURL) is located alongside the US reprogramming lab at Eglin AFB, and is tasked with producing and upgrading mission data files (MDF) for F-35 sensor performance, fusion upgrades, operational techniques, and electronic threat library refinements. While Canada is still part of the ACURL name, that country is currently self-excluded from the F-35 program while it conducts a new fighter evaluation program to the replace its CF-18A/B classic Hornets.
The opening of the ACURL follows the commencement of operations and the first official sortie in the jet on February 6 by the RAAF’s second F-35A units, No 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU) which is now tasked with training pilots and engineering support personnel on the jet.
2OCU retired the last of its F/A-18A/B classic Hornets on December 11 2019, while its first F-35As arrived in Australia on a ferry flight from Luke AFB in the US on the same day. The unit had already been conducting pilot and engineering training at Luke AFB and at RAAF Williamtown respectively.
The RAAF’s F-35A engineering training was put to the test on February 13 when maintenance crews from 3SQN, 2OCU, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Marand Engineering conducted the first engine removal of an F-35A’s P&W F135 engine at Williamtown by RAAF crews.
Just a week later, TAE Aerospace announced on February 21 that it had completed the repair of its first F135 engine fan module at its new 15,000 sqm Turbine Engine Maintenance Facility (TEMF) near Ipswich in Queensland.
Named in 2015 as the company responsible for all F135 Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade (MRO&U) depot work in the Asia-Pacific region, TAE Aerospace added the F135 to its portfolio of gas turbine engine sustainment work which includes the RAAF’s classic Hornet GE F404, Super Hornet and Growler GE F414, the Australian Army’s AGT1500 as used on the M1A1 Abrams tank, and commercial TPE331 turboprops.
“We congratulate TAE Aerospace for demonstrating the capability to repair and overhaul the F135 fan module,” Vice President, Pratt & Whitney Military Engines Sustainment Operations O Sung Kwon said in a statement. “This represents a significant sustainment milestone for the F135 program and is a testament to the hard work of the joint government and industry team that made it happen.”
TAE Aerospace CEO Andrew Sanderson added, “Completing the fan module is a great milestone and the start of a significant capability here in the Asia-Pacific region. We’re looking forward to working with Pratt & Whitney as part of the (Global Support Solution) to support the F135 engine for the Asia-Pacific’s regional F-35 fleets including those flown by Australia, South Korea, Japan and the US forces within the region. The next step is completing qualification on the F135 power module in late 2020 and getting into full production at our new facility.”
All of the above milestones are key steps on the RAAF’s path to achieving an initial operational capability (IOC) of its F-35A which is currently scheduled for December 2020.