Next eight RAAF F-35As on track for 2018 delivery

The first two RAAF F-35As visited Australia in late February-early March. (Defence)

Australia’s next eight F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters are in production at prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth final assembly plant ahead of delivery to the Commonwealth in 2018.

Australia is acquiring 72 F-35As to replace the RAAF’s F/A-18 ‘classic’ Hornets, the first two of which, known as AU-1 and AU-2, were handed over in late 2014 and have since been based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona as part of the F-35 International Pilot Training Center – a brief visit to Australia for the Avalon Airshow earlier this year aside.

AU-1 and -2 are scheduled to be joined at Luke AFB by aircraft AU-3 through AU-10 in 2018.

“Matter of fact, talking to our program people, there is a chance we might actually deliver the first of those airplanes late this year,” Steve Over, Lockheed Martin’s director of F-35 international business development, told media in Canberra on Monday.

“The contract commitment is to do it in first quarter [of 2018].”

Then in December 2018 two F-35s are due to be delivered permanently to Australia, to begin Australian-specific operational test and evaluation.

F-35A AU-3 was inspected on the Fort Worth production line by Australian ambassador to the US Joe Hockey in May, and recently had its vertical tails installed, becoming the first Australian F-35 to feature vertical tails built by Melbourne’s Marand.

Aircraft AU-3 through -10 are eight of the 90 F-35s currently being built under low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot 10, while a further eight RAAF F-35As will be built under LRIP 11. The next F-35 production batch will be for a total 141 F-35s – Over said the term “low-rate” is now something of a “misnomer” given the quantities involved – with initial funds for LRIP 11 released under two ‘undefinitised contract actions’ signed by the JSF Program Office (JPO) with Lockheed Martin earlier in July.

When final LRIP 11 contracts are signed by the end of the year, Over said Lockheed Martin expects the unit price of an F-35A to be “significantly below” the US$94.6 million “aggregate negotiated” price for an A-model built under LRIP 10.

“The production ramp up is here,” said Over. “And that’s reflected by the production numbers in lot 10 and lot 11.”

LRIP 11 aircraft will be delivered in 2019.

Beyond that subsequent RAAF F-35As should be acquired as part of a “block buy” currently being negotiated by Lockheed Martin, the JPO and JSF partner nations.

“Instead of a single annual contract the JPO will aggregate three years’ of orders and so right now the block buy that we’re pricing for proposal submission includes a total of 440 aircraft,” Over said.

“So a tremendous quantity of aeroplanes, something that not only do we get excited about but our supply chain gets excited about, because it creates that certainty of economic orders that allows us to drive for the absolute best prices from our supply chain.

“This is the one single action that we can collaboratively work together that will drive significant cost percentage out of the price of the airplane.”

Over said the block buy will be the “enabler” that will allow Lockheed Martin to meet its goal of a US$80-84 million price tag for an F-35A by 2020.

Meanwhile, to date the RAAF’s AU-1 and -2 have flown almost 1,100 flight hours in 700 sorties, Over said.

“They’re flying at about the utilisation rate that a mature weapon system like F-16s or F-18s are returning at. So the airplanes have really been performing remarkably well.”

Four Australian pilots are now certified instructor pilots on the F-35 and two more are in training at Luke.

Overall, 235 production F-35s have now been delivered, with aircraft operating from 12 bases.

F-35 System Design and Development (SDD) is on track to be finalised by the end of the year, Over said, with a last three per cent of all SDD test points to be completed.

“Right now the development program is rapidly winding to a close. We’re within three per cent of the testing to complete the development program and we’re in the final stages of tweaking the Block 3F software that will be pushed to the field later this year,” Over said.

“The full functional capability that we’ve promised with Block 3F is actually flying in [flight test] jets right now and so it’s identifying the things that don’t work quite as the pilots would like for them to work and we’re tweaking through those last little details now.”

F-35A development aircraft AF-1 during GBU-31 JDAM load/flutter testing in September 2016. (Lockheed Martin)

Comments

  1. Derrick says

    With 1100 flight hours on AU1 and AU2, will they be due for a early retirement once the rest come online?

  2. MikeofPerth says

    Great stuff!

    The F-35 program is finally gaining some good momentum and ticking off some big milestones with more to come soon. There is also the possibility of first actual combat use soon with USMC F-35Bs deploying on the USS Essex to the Middle East region next year.

    I the biggest challenge that the F-35 program could have going forward is if the block 4 upgrades get watered down or delayed.

  3. Harry says

    I believe AU1 & AU2 will never leave US; they will stay permanently in the US as part of a training pool of planes? I could be wrong on this but as far as I understand it thats were they’ll stay, until retirement when maybe they will be brought to Australia as, like, early displays in the Australian War Memorial or something…

  4. Mick181 says

    About $100m for aircraft currently in production i believe, price expected to drop as production ramps up $92m in 2018 down to $84m by 2020.
    I was under the impression AU-1 & 2 would be given a Software upgrade to the same standard as the rest of the fleet, most likely once AU-3 & 4 are in service and will move to Australia sometime in the 2020s.

  5. John N says

    What does an F-35A cost now?

    That information is actually included in the article above (eg, US$94.6 million, including engine for the current in production LRIP 10).

    Below is some information on the various LRIP lots that I had from early this year that I posted in an AA article on 6th Feb:

    LRIP 1-8 exclude engines, LRIP 9 & 10 include engines (all figures in US$ million):

    * LRIP 1 – F-35A – $221.2
    * LRIP 2 – F-35A – $161.7 – (av cost both A&B)
    * LRIP 3 – F-35A – $128.2 – (av cost both A&B) – engine reported to be $16m
    * LRIP 4 – F-35A – $111.6
    * LRIP 5 – F-35A – $107.0
    * LRIP 6 – F-35A – $103.0
    * LRIP 7 – F-35A – $98.0
    * LRIP 8 – F-35A – $94.8
    * LRIP 9 – F-35A – $102.1 – (inc engine) – reported cost of engine $13.3m
    * LRIP 10 – F-35A – $94.6 – (inc engine) – assume possibly now around $12m?

    LRIP 9 F-35A (excl engine, $13.3) would work out at $88.8 for the airframe, LRIP 10 F-35A (excl engine, assume approx. $12m?) would work out at approx $82.6 for the airframe.

    LRIP 10 airframes will be delivered by end of 2018 (which include 8 F-35A’s for the RAAF).

    The projection for 2019, FRP 2, (and there is LRIP 11 and FRP 1 in between), the target cost of an F-35A is $83.4m (inc engine).

    Cheers,

    John N

  6. John N says

    Following on from Gary’s comment above regarding AU-1 and -2 relocating to Australia at a time to be decided.

    In general my understanding is that the process for delivery from LM to the RAAF (and to the RAAF here in Australia), is as follows:

    * two airframes (2014) – AU-1 and -2 to the training squadron in the US
    * eight airframes (2018) – six airframes to join -1 and -2 at the training Squadron, and two airframes to arrive in Australia end of 2018
    * eight airframes (2019) – Direct to Australia
    * fifteen airframes (2020) – Direct to Australia
    * fifteen airframes (2021) – Direct to Australia
    * fifteen airframes (2022) – Direct to Australia
    * nine airframes (2023) – Direct to Australia

    By end 2023 all 72 airframes will have been produced and delivered by LM to the RAAF (8 direct to the International Training Squadron in the US, and the other 64 airframes direct to Australia).

    To add to the above, all 72 airframes are planned to be in Australia by end of 2023 too, which means those eight airframes based in the US (including -1 and -2) will be here prior to the end of 2023.

    Cheers,

    John N

  7. John N says

    Paul,

    You said “So John, our airframes including engines up until the end of 2019 will cost $100 mil per jet? Thanks”.

    I assume you can understand maths as easily as I can, the figures above are rather self explanatory, are they not?

    But lets go through this once again to be very very clear (all in US$ of course too), and the dates below are ‘year of delivery dates’:

    * LRIP 6 (2014) – 2 x F-35A – $103.0m per airframe, EX engines
    * LRIP 10 (2018) – 8 x F-35A – $94.6m per airframe, INC engines
    * LRIP 11 (2019) – 8 x F-35A – Final pricing will NOT be concluded until the end of this year (2017), but is expected be less per airframe (inc engine) than LRIP 10.
    * The remaining 54 F-35A airframes for the RAAF are to be delivered in four more lots from 2020 to 2023, obviously no pricing set as yet.

    Before I go on any further, lets be clear (100% clear), the cost of F-35A aircraft for the RAAF has always been in US$ not A$.

    The simple answer to your question is that yes the cost is already below US$100m per airframe, including engines (2018 delivery). These are not numbers and figures that I’m pulling out of my Butt, they are well known and published figures too.

    But to go one step further, Defence has stated that the ‘average’ unit cost and I repeat ‘average’ unit cost of all 72 F-35A will be approx. US$90m per airframe. (This publically available information is easily found if one wants to find it, ok?), and this of course and been budgeted for too, no surprises there.

    It is more likely that the ‘average’ cost will end up well below that US$90m per airframe that Defence has budgeted for.

    Clear enough?

    Cheers,

    John N

  8. says

    Sorry John I wasn’t arguing with you.I had a blank and didn’t consider it was in $US. Sorry about the slip up. Cheers mate.

  9. Richard Price says

    We are building Em as fast as we can Y’all.
    I have been here about 5 years and I Love it.
    You see it’s my dream job.

  10. John N says

    Paul,

    No problem. It would be impractical to report the cost of the F-35A in anything but US$.

    At various times during the years ahead the many International Partners will see their cost per airframe go up or down in their own currency due to exchange rate fluctuations against the US$, simple fact of life.

    The important thing is that the cost in US$ is continuing to decrease from production lot to production lot.

    What is also important is that the Government here in Australia has made (in my opinion), a pretty good job of ensuring that the ‘budget allowance’ is more than sufficient for the F-35A project.

    The budget allowance for the approved 72 F-35A’s for the RAAF is A$17.1B (this figure also includes A$2.6B contingency funds). The above figure can be adjusted for exchange rate variations in the years ahead too.

    The remaining A$14.5B includes the cost of 72 F-35A airframes, the support systems, base and infrastructure upgrades, weapons, training, spares, (but not sustainment costs).

    Cheers,

    John N

  11. Adrian P says

    The headlines for the F35 vary with source like most other things in life.

    Lower procurement rates for the Lockheed Martin F-35 have reversed the programme’s positive gains since 2015, raising overall development and procurement costs by almost 7% through Fiscal 2044.

    https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/lower-buys-raises-overall-f-35-acquisition-costs-by-439224/

    The item finishes with “The JPO says the negotiations for Lot 11 should result in a lower price than finalised in LRIP lot 10, which resulted in a $94.6 million flyaway unit cost for the F-35A.”

    The truth is nobody knows,it is dependant on how many aircraft are sold.

  12. says

    We will see how it goes with 3F coming in.It is already in development jets at the moment,so hopefully it doesn’t get delayed.

  13. John N says

    Adrian P,

    Yes headlines do vary and also how reports are ‘interpreted’ and published too.

    Yes the Flight Global report talks about the lower US buy rate and that the overall program will extend by six years to 2044, all true, all well known.

    And it talks about the ‘maximum annual aircraft procurement rate’ being reduced from 80 F-35As per year to 60, the fact ‘today’ is that the USAF has not even got to 60 per year, all of this is well into the future too.

    But……

    In relation to the Australian, other Partner Nations and FMS customers, a large number of airframes are being produced and delivered between 2018 and 2022, for example (includes engine) in US$:

    * Lot 9 (2017) – 55 aircraft – F-35A – $102.1m
    * Lot 10 (2018) – 90 aircraft – 8 RAAF F-35A – $94.6m
    * Lot 11 (2019) – 141 aircraft – 8 RAAF F-35A – $??m – unknown as yet
    * Lot 12 (2020) – 147 aircraft – 15 RAAF F-35A
    * Lot 13 (2021) – 156 aircraft – 15 RAAF F-35A
    * Lot 14 (2022) – 154 aircraft – 15 RAAF F-35A
    * Lot 15 (2023) – ??? aircraft – 9 RAAF F-35A

    Lot 11, 8 RAAF aircraft, pricing is to be concluded by end of this year (should be lower than Lot 10). The ‘big’ one for the RAAF is Lots 12-14, 45 aircraft, these three lots are planned to be negotiated all together as a ‘block’ buy, approx. 450+ aircraft in total.

    This is where we are going to see that planned US$80-84 million price tag for an F-35A by 2020.

    Couple of links to look at:

    https://www.shephardmedia.com/news/defence-notes/future-f-35-production-numbers-released/

    And this one:

    https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&tab=core&id=f1194749331353023e45d2a0bc902d5f

    The link above, the FBO website, is a good source of info.

    You can download a PDF which show the aircraft numbers for Lots 12-14 and also shows who is purchasing aircraft from each lot (some of the info is redacted (blacked out), but it’s easy to work out who those countries are, mostly the FMS customers.

    Enjoy the reading!!

    Cheers,

    John N

  14. Gary says

    Paul – I suggest if you are after ‘non-public’ info on the F35 you might want to join the ADF. Hardly likely this will be discussed open source. Other sources you may be interested in is Air Force Times (US) and Aviation Week.

  15. John N says

    “Can anyone give us some REAL info on the F-35? Not just public stuff?”

    What? Well that’s a rather odd and strange question or statement to make, public ‘stuff’ is not real???

    That must infer that the Australian Senate report into the F-35 that was published late last year is not real, or the US Navy report on Lots 12-14 that I linked yesterday is not real either, seriously??

    The ‘stuff’ that is not public is clearly classified Government and Defence information, and its clearly not available in the public domain, for obvious reasons, and anyone who did talk about it in the public domain would end up in serious trouble to say the least too.

    Cheers,

    John N

  16. says

    Just my point. Too many pros and cons.Who do we believe? Last thing I will do is too believe APA has no idea on what they are saying.

  17. Adrian P says

    The thing about military equipment is that it does not have to work, as long as the enemy believes it will work.

    Which makes finding out if a project is value for money difficult to define publically.

    Remember Ronald Regan’s Star Wars anti ballistic program rendered ICBMs obsolete.

  18. John N says

    Paul,

    You are painting yourself into a corner over if you choose to believe (or not believe) publicly reported info about the F-35 program if it is true or not, or real or not and that the only ‘real’ info is not in the public domain.

    Does that also mean that this particular AA article is also not to believed? Not real because it is now public?

    Classified information will remain classified, until such time that some or all is released ‘publicly’, does that also mean when it becomes public that is also not real anymore??

    Yes there is a lot of information and reports in the public domain about the F-35, both positive and negative, if the positive stuff is not real, then equally the negative stuff is not real, can’t have it both ways.

    But lets look at this particular AA article for example.

    This AA report says, quoting LM sources, that less than 3% of SDD testing is yet to be completed, by the end of the year, equally that means that 97% of testing has been completed, is LM not telling the truth? Why wouldn’t they?

    It also says they are in the final stages of testing the Block 3F software, its not just in a lab environment, it’s being tested in their air with ‘real’ aircraft too, again is LM not telling the truth? Again, why wouldn’t they?

    Is AA somehow on the LM payroll to just report positive stuff? I don’t think so.

    Anyway, I could go on about other points, but what is the point?

    Cheers,

    John N

  19. says

    The second point of this John N is, no one knows how good it is.People on this forum(including Raymond and yourself) is this will even save us from an asteroid strike.Oh but the pilots say how good it is and is a game changer ra ra ra.What are the pilots going to say as soon as they step out of the jet, ah look no it’s not very good and um um no I think it’s never going to be good.Most of all the pro PR is from LockMarts own people,suppliers.Next question I know that’s on your mind, why are so many airforces buying it? It’s because it returns a lot of work back into those countries economy because of the workshare LockMart will supply them if they buy.As I said, I’m still not fully sold on this jet as they cannot still even give us an exact amount per jet we are going to buy beyond 2019 as you said John.Please I’m not having a go at you guys, just want more clarity here.