On 23 April 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Senator David Johnston, Minister for Defence, announced the approval of an additional 58 F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft. The approval encompassed the infrastructure, training and support systems necessary to sustain the full JSF capability.
Including the 14 previously approved aircraft, Australia’s JSF program has a total approved budget of $15.5 billion and is the nation’s biggest approved defence project.
The announcement came as Australia’s first two JSFs approached completion on the production line at the Lockheed Martin facility in Fort Worth, Texas. After final acceptance, the aircraft will be ferried to the F-35 international pilot training centre at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where Australian pilot training will begin in 2015.
The commencement of pilot training will be an important milestone in delivering a JSF initial operating capability in 2020. The operations and training in the United States will allow the RAAF and the DMO to gain an understanding of the activities required to introduce the JSF into service in Australia.
During 2013–14, the JSF program delivered the necessary ground-based information systems to Luke Air Force Base and negotiated agreements with the United States and other nations necessary for pooled training.
As aircraft deliveries commence and training begins to ramp up in the United States, the F-35 JSF Facilities Program is also moving ahead on the Australia-based elements of the program. During 2013–14, the program completed the business case for its $1.5 billion worth of infrastructure. Works are planned to commence in 2015, when the program will begin to deliver significant economic benefit through construction, particularly in the Katherine (Northern Territory) and Newcastle (New South Wales) areas.
The overall JSF program has also delivered significant benefits to the Australian aerospace industry. To date, Australian industry has won contracts worth US$412 million in support of the JSF’s development and production. There is an Australian-made part in every JSF in service. Through the production phase, Australian industry is expected to secure work to the value of at least US$1.5 billion, and many more opportunities are expected in sustainment.
Setting up the Australian JSF sustainment solution will be one of the biggest challenges and one of the highest priorities for the program office over the next few years. Effectively operating and maintaining the JSF, with its unparalleled sensors, network and stealth technologies, will be a significant challenge that will demand new thinking from the Air Force, the DMO and Australian industry.