This article appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of ADBR.
The first F-35As to be based in Australia have arrived at RAAF Williamtown
Australian airpower entered a new generation on Monday December 10 with the arrival of the first two Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters at RAAF Base Williamtown.
The two jets, serials A35-009 and -010, touched down at Williamtown around 10:20am from RAAF Base Amberley, where they had quietly landed on December 5 after ferrying across the Pacific from Luke AFB in Arizona via Hawaii.
“How do you make a Chief happy?” quipped Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies, pointing to the two F-35s behind him during the official welcome ceremony shortly after the aircraft shut down in their new ‘carports’ on the Williamtown flightline.
“Today marks a very important day for the Australian Defence Force, but particularly for the Royal Australian Air Force. Welcome to the latest chapter of the F-35 story, the most significant Royal Australian Air Force acquisition in our 97-year history.”
The once-in-a-generation delivery event came 16 years after Australia first committed to the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program as a development partner nation in 2002, and 33 years after the first delivery of the aircraft the F-35A will succeed, the F/A-18 Hornet in May 1985.
Perhaps befitting the significance of the generational change, the official party to welcome the aircraft to Williamtown included Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Chief of Defence Force GEN Angus Campbell, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne, Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo, Lockheed Martin chairman, president and CEO Marillyn Hewson, and head of the F-35 JSF Project Office (JPO) US Navy VAdm Mat Winter.
“As our previous Chief has said, the JSF replaces nothing but changes everything,” AIRMSHL Davies said, referencing the aircraft’s ability to network with and be a force-multiplier to other ADF capabilities.
“The F-35A is not just a 5th generation fighter with speed, agility and advanced information systems, it is a catalyst to transforming the Royal Australian Air Force into a 5th generation fighting force.
“Super Hornets, Wedgetail, Growlers, P-8s, KC-30s and C-17s are already leading edge, but when used in an integrated way they change the options the Air Force has,” AIRMSHL Davies said.
“The ability to share the operational picture between systems will ensure that commanders have the best possible information when making decisions about which capability to use and when. For example, a Hornet could use an F-35A-derived track to engage a target. Development of similar systems on ships and ground-based systems is also underway.
“An integrated Australian Defence Force is greater than the sum of its parts, and acquisition of the F-35 has been a catalyst for this change in thinking.”
The F-35s touched down at Williamtown after arriving overhead the base in formation with four F/A-18 classic Hornets, with 3SQN commanding officer WGCDR Darren Clare and A flight commander SQNLDR Ed Borrman at the controls. 3SQN will now use the aircraft for a two-year validation and verification (V&V) of the jet in the Australian operating environment, a process which commenced on January 19.
“It’s a pretty special feeling,” WGCDR Clare said of flying the aircraft into its new home base. “Coming down here today was (the result of) a big team effort, and I couldn’t have had a better team than the 3SQN maintenance support and logistics team – they’ve just been phenomenal in the last couple of days to get these jets ready for today.”
While A35-009 and -010 are the first F-35As to be based in Australia, they are not the first RAAF F-35As to visit Australia. In February 2017, A35‑001 and -002 visited briefly to appear at the Avalon Airshow, but after the airshow returned to the multi-national Integrated Training Centre (ITC) which is operated by the USAF’s 61st Fighter Squadron (FS) at Luke AFB in Arizona to continue the RAAF’s commitment to the international training effort.
A35-009 and -010 had been handed over to the RAAF in August and September and were the first to be accepted directly into an Australian operational unit under an RAAF airworthiness authority, with the previous eight being placed onto the USAF’s and Lockheed Martin’s system via a Chief of Air Force directive.
The first eight RAAF F-35s will remain at the ITC at Luke and a further eight F-35s will be delivered to 3SQN and to the ITC at Luke during 2019. The next unit to equip with the F-35 will be 2OCU which will relinquish its classic Hornets at the end of this year before receiving its first F-35s at Luke in early 2020.
3SQN is scheduled to achieve an initial operational capability (IOC) with the F-35 and 2OCU will return to Williamtown by December 2020, and the RAAF will withdraw from the Luke AFB ITC in 2021 as 77SQN and then 75SQN swap their F/A-18s for F-35s.
By early December, eight Australian pilots and 27 maintainers have been qualified on the F-35, while the 10 Australian jets have now flown nearly 2,000 flight hours. The government estimates the total F-35 acquisition budget of 72 aircraft and associated sustainment, training systems and facilities at $17 billion dollars, while the average unit price of Australia’s F-35As across the total buy is expected to be about US$90 million each (currently around A$115 million).
Lockheed Martin has delivered over 340 F-35s, with the jet operating from 15 different locations in the US plus Italy, Norway, Israel, Japan, the UK, and now Australia.
And 50 Australian companies have so far secured contracts worth a total of $1.2 billion to supply components, accessories, software and training courseware for the F-35 program.
Shortly after the arrival of 3SQN at Williamtown, the Commonwealth signed a Heads of Agreement for Australian Sovereign Sustainment Contracts for the F-35 program with Lockheed Martin.
Signed on December 12 by JSF Division head AVM Leigh Gordon, Chief Executive of Lockheed Martin Australia & New Zealand, Vince Di Pietro, and Vice President F-35 Customer Programs Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Doug Wilhelm, the heads of agreement establishes the Intellectual Property (IP), Technical Data (TD) and software arrangements for Australia’s direct sovereign sustainment contracts with LMA and LMC for the F-35’s life of type.
“While Australia’s fundamental strategy is to leverage off the global support solution and the joint program for our sustainment, there are a number of elements of sustainment where we’re keen to have the ability to contract for it ourselves at some point in the future,” AVM Gordon told ADBR.
“The heads of agreement establishes a framework between the Commonwealth, Lockheed Martin Corporation and Lockheed Martin Australia to recognise that, if we enter any contracts into the future we need to identify and collect the intellectual property and data developed under those contracts and the F-35 program, as appropriate” he said. “And that really gives us the freedom to undertake the work in a way that the Commonwealth may want to undertake it at some point in the future.”
AVM Gordon used training as an example of how this may be executed in future. “Right at the moment, we’re leveraging off the international enterprise to support us in training in Australia,” he explained. “Through that process, the JPO has contracted with Lockheed Martin, who have flowed contracts down to a number of Australian companies including Lockheed Martin Australia and a couple of others, to support that training.”
“We think that at some point in the future, we probably want to be able to contract for that training ourselves, and to create the environment to do that; this heads of agreement allows us to recognise and then seek the data that we’ll need through the JPO and/or Lockheed Martin.”
AVM Gordon used the example of the Newcastle-based Milskil which provides pilot training services to the RAAF. While Milskil is sub-contracted directly (via Raytheon) by the Commonwealth for its classic and Super Hornet training services, the company is currently a sub-contractor to the F-35 sustainment arrangement the RAAF currently has in place with the JPO.
Examples of the kind of data that may be in play includes training courseware, software and aircraft performance data to support training.
“There would also be operational procedures that are developed to allow us to actually manage ALIS (the F-35’s autonomic logistics information system) that we would want to have the ability to be able to identify and use, as well as contract to somebody else to get the work done,” said AVM Gordon.
AVM Gordon added that the agreement signed with Lockheed Martin may be a model for future sustainment agreements for other advanced data-reliant capabilities and systems. “You need to understand the subtleties of the support arrangement that are in place for each system,” he said.
“But on the face of it, I would think this would be a useful approach to establishing some principles up front that then can guide future contracting activities.”