Over the next decades with the F-35 Lightning II as Australia’s frontline combat aircraft, long-term sustainment costs are estimated to exceed $40 billion and that means plenty of work for Australian industry.
With the RAAF’s first two F-35 aircraft set to make their Australian debut at Avalon on Friday, BAE Systems Australia has launched a new website to showcase the sustainment task and what it will bring for local industry and jobs.
The website, titled Flightpath, can be visited at www.flightpath.net.au.
In February 2015, BAE Systems Australia was assigned responsibility for F-35 airframe maintenance, repair and overhaul for the South Pacific Region.
In November, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne successfully lobbied the US for Australia to become a regional hub for JSF component maintenance.
That followed a “Team Australia” approach, with defence companies opting for a collaborative rather than a competitive approach, considering the main competitors were really Japan and South Korea.
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said Flightpath was designed to profile how Australia will support RAAF F-35A aircraft as well as other F-35 aircraft in the Asia Pacific region as part of the F-35 Global Support System.
“Australian Government and industry are working together to promote the significant and niche defence capabilities we can provide global supply chains,” he said.
The Minister said becoming a regional hub significantly increased the market for the Australian industry base sustaining the F-35, far more than just maintaining Australia’s 72 F-35A aircraft.
“With more than 3,100 F-35 aircraft worldwide, Australia will maintain regional volumes as a key supplier in the F-35 Global Support Solution,” he said.
F-35 sustainment work will centre on the BAE Systems facility at RAAF Williamtown, outside Newcastle. There the company supports the RAAF’s F/A-18 classic Hornets and Hawk lead-in fighters.
F-35 support will be performed in the hangar currently used for Hawk sustainment, which will be relocated to a nearby enlarged hangar facility.
When the sustainment program is mature in 2025, BAE Systems will have some 200 people working on F-35, most at Williamtown.
“That’s 200 new jobs,” says Andrew Gresham, BAE Systems Australia F-35 program director.
BAE will need to build its skilled workforce at the same time construction of new submarines and warships gets under way.
“We are over-recruiting on projects. We have always had a long apprentice program but we are stepping that up,” he said.
“In a few months people will be getting jobs now for work on aircraft which won’t arrive until the end of next year, with full numbers not until more than five years away.”