A former South Australian car parts maker has won more work in Australia on the global F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program after landing a new contract with BAE Systems Australia, writes Stephen Kuper.
Axiom Precision Manufacturing currently supports BAE Systems with component machining for the Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s largest defence program. This new contract will take the value of Axiom’s work to more than $3 million a year.
The company machines seven parts in each vertical tail set produced by BAE Systems at its Edinburgh Park facilities north of Adelaide. Since starting on the program in 2015, Axiom has continued to expand its machining capabilities and won the new work after a six-month trial during 2019-20.
The new work involves machining one of the most complex parts for the F-35 vertical tail, the Leading Edge Spar, which at just under three metres is the longest titanium component in the aircraft’s vertical tail. The machining work awarded to Axiom was previously undertaken in the UK.
BAE Systems Australia managing director defence delivery Andrew Gresham said, “From the very start, Axiom has worked closely with us to understand the program and has invested significantly in new facilities and technologies to improve its capabilities as a supplier to the defence industry.”
Across its global enterprise, BAE Systems has a significant role in the advanced manufacture of F-35 aircraft. In Australia, the team produces bespoke components that are supplied to BAE Systems in the UK, which builds the aft fuselage and empennage, as well as to Victorian manufacturer Marand, which consolidates components in the vertical tail.
Production of vertical tail parts at Edinburgh Parks began in 2008 and will continue for another decade.
“By providing new opportunities for our supply chain, it puts us in a much better position to bid for and secure additional high-value advanced manufacturing and further increase Australia’s work share on the Joint Strike Fighter program,” Gresham added.
Aerospace and defence manager Axiom Precision Manufacturing Fred Hull echoed Gresham’s sentiments, saying, “The strategic alliance Axiom has with BAE Systems has assisted Axiom in maturing as a key defence contractor.
“Securing defence industry contracts has provided the critical long-term, high-value work that has allowed us to transition from the car industry by developing bespoke Australian manufacturing capabilities.”
For the RAAF, the F-35A’s combination of full-spectrum low-observable stealth coatings and materials, advanced radar-dispersing shaping, network-centric sensor and communications suites – combined with a lethal strike capability – means the aircraft will be the ultimate force-multiplying, air-combat platform.
The F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – will have a projected life of 30 years in service.
Ten nations are currently flying F-35s, including the US, UK, Italy, Norway, Israel and Japan. The first of Australia’s F-35A aircraft are now based on home soil after a period of training and development at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, plus an epic Pacific Ocean crossing in December 2018.
More than 340 F-35s are operating today with partner nations, more than 700 pilots and 6,500 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 170,000 cumulative flight hours.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985.