Air Commodore Mike Kitcher & Air Vice Marshall Lee Gordon speak
The support structure for Australia’s F-35A fighter aircraft is developing rapidly to enable the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to support the planes as more are introduced over the coming years. Following the delivery of the first two Australian-based aircraft in December 2018, a new systems programme office has been stood up at Williamtown air base to support F-35A in Australia and signifies the important change from an acquisition based project towards an in-service activity.
Air Vice Marshall Lee Gordon, Head of Joint Strike Fighter Division and Capability Acquisition Group of Australian procurement group CASG told MON at the Avalon Air Show that with eight Australian F-35A aircraft alongside the US Air Force jets Australia is able to get the spare parts and technical data from Lockheed Martin to support the corrections and exercise the system.
He said that as part of the global support system, TAE Aerospace has been modifying a warehouse to become the F135 engine maintenance facility for F-35 with some maintenance scheduled to start this year. A test cell is also being created at RAAF Amberly that can test the F135 engine and also the F414 engines of the Super HORNET and GROWLER aircraft.
“We are confident that by end of 2020 will be doing end to end maintenance testing as part of global support systems,“ AVM Gordon said. In the meantime Australia has been selected to support 343 components of the F-35 in the latest rounds of assigning the work to F-35 allied nations.
The two aircraft that are based in Australia were also supported in the US first using an Australian Autonomic Logistics Information system (ALIS) on a link between Williamtown and Luke AFB with Australians operating it.
“We also started to roll out upgrades of ALIS and have been using ALIS 3 since we have been doing aircraft operations at Luke and Williamtown, but now look forward to the roll out of ALIS 3.1 which will happen in the next 6 months,” said AVM Gordon. “That will include the sovereign data gateway that is a key box put into the ALIS system to give resistance to cyber attack across the platform.”
Elsewhere the Australian, Canadian, UK Reprogramming Laboratory (ACURL) delivered its first mission data files (MDF) for F-35A at Eglin AFB, Florida and been working on tools borrowed in temporary facilities for re-programming. “The tools Australia, Canada and UK will use have been developed by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth and tested and accepted and are now shipped across to Eglin to be installed at our dedicated new ACURL building that will be commissioned and achieve an Initial Operating Capability (IOC) by the end of this year,” AVM Gordon said.
Air Commodore Mike Kitcher, Commander Air Combat Group with the RAAF said that F-35A support has worked well so far but with only two aircraft in Australia there are challenges that could arise. “A couple of concerns are spare supply, that Australia is a long way from anyway, that it would take time, but it has worked pretty well. There are spares in short supply across the enterprise are a concern for the future but so far that has been pretty good. The noise impact has been less than expected. The initial measurements from the noise consultants on the noise flight path monitoring system at Williamtown have been positive, probably at or inside the predictions.”
Other concerns include the complex Operational Mission System. “If you get it wrong the aircraft doesn’t do too much, so far we have been getting that right, the missions have been fine without too many issues. I was concerned about stuff peculiar to the 5th generation mission capability, but previous work from our predecessors at CASG has fruitful a good place to start and continue on,” he said.
AVM Gordon said: “The validation and verification (V&V) process is one of our key strategies to manage that complexity, in broad terms we want to try everything twice and we want to try it the first time early enough so that if it goes wrong we can fix it the second time. I wouldn’t want to say that F-35 IOC is in the bag, there are things we will have to work through and do the best we can to mitigate those risks.”