The Pentagon has announced Australia and Japan as the preferred F-35 Lightning II airframe and engine maintenance and upgrade locations for the Asia-Pacific region.
The announcement was based on Australia’s and Japan’s industrial capacities to conduct work over and above their own F-35 fleet requirements, as well as considerations such as forward basing, aircraft phasing, and transportation, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
“The Department of Defense has assigned F-35 regional maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade (MRO&U) capability for airframes and engines for the Asia-Pacific region,” the US Department of Defense statement reads. “Participating nations were provided with requirements for regional MRO&U, or ‘heavy maintenance’ needs for both F-35 engine and airframe.”
To date, Australia, Japan and South Korea are the only nations in the region to have ordered the F-35, although an eventual order from Singapore is also expected. Additionally, US Marine Corps F-35Bs, Navy F-35Cs and Air Force F-35As are expected to figure prominently in the region from early next decade, and those forward deployed units will also require MRO&U support.
A Pentagon statement says Japan will provide MRO&U capabilities for the northern Pacific and Australia for the southern Pacific. Both countries are expected to be able to provide initial airframe heavy maintenance capabilities by 2018, while for F-35 heavy engine maintenance, an initial capability will be provided in Australia by early 2018 with Japan expected to follow by 2023.
“The F-35 international users will remain a vital part of the support structure of the program,” JSF Program Office Executive Lt Gen Chris Bogdan said. “Their continuing participation is critical to driving down cost and getting the best-value for the F-35 team and improving the strength of the global sustainment base for many years to come.”
A location for Australia’s F-35 heavy maintenance capability is yet to be announced but, with at least three of Australia’s four F-35 operating units to be based at RAAF Williamtown near Newcastle, that location is expected to be considered favourably. Companies such as Lockheed Martin Australia, BAE Systems Australia and Northrop Grumman Australia will likely bid for the work.
Aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin released a brief statement, saying: “Lockheed Martin congratulates Australia and Japan for their selections as the Asia-Pacific maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade heavy airframe and engine regions. These announcements point to the growing maturity of the F-35 program in this region of the world and demonstrate the continued march toward the F-35 becoming operational around the world.”
In a separate statement, engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney noted: “Pratt & Whitney would like to congratulate Australia and Japan for being selected to provide regional maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade capability for the F135 engine in the Asia Pacific region. We look forward to working with them to establish affordable, world-class F135 depot capability in the Asia Pacific region. We will continue to work with the Joint Program Office and all of our JSF customers as we stand up worldwide global sustainment capability for the F135 engine.”
The announcement of the Asia-Pacific preferred locations follows the announcement that Italy, the UK, Turkey, the Netherlands and Norway would be the preferred MRO&U locations for the European fleet of F-35s.
A December 11 statement from the Pentagon said an initial F-35 airframe MRO&U capability will be provided by Italy by 2018 with the UK to be assigned supplementary work, while the engine heavy maintenance work will initially be provided by Turkey from 2018 with Norway and the Netherlands to provide additional capability from 2020. Italy has established a final assembly and checkout (FACO) facility for its F-35s and possibly those of other European F-35 operators at Cameri Air Base near Novara.
The Pentagon said the selection of these preferred MRO&U locations “does not preclude the opportunity for other F-35 partners and FMS customers, including those assigned initial airframe and engine capabilities, to participate and be assigned additional future sustainment work, to include component and system repairs, as the fleet grows and F-35 global presence expands.”