Kym Bergmann / Canberra
Speaking to the media on August 23 August in Canberra, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program manager Tom Burbage explained that once Australia’s F-35s are delivered they will never have to return to the US for maintenance.
He seemed surprised that the media was surprised by the information, but this appears to be the first time that the matter of in-country support had been clarified so emphatically.
The F-35 has a vast number of design parameters, including many that are aimed at reducing the cost of maintenance and support. As well as an array of self-diagnostic systems, the aircraft takes advantage of the digital revolution – for example, once installed the radar is designed never to be removed. It can be accessed, but the assumption is that because it has no moving parts – unlike mechanically scanned arrays – it can remain in place for the design life of the aircraft and can be updated through software changes and processing improvements.
Another case is the extensive use of electrically driven actuators rather than hydraulics to perform activities such as aileron and rudder control. Small electric motors are more reliable and far easier to maintain – or replace – than large numbers of hydraulic lines full of fluid dependant on a large number of pumps.
However, even though the aircraft is unlikely to be as maintenance-intensive as those it replaces, work will still need to be done. Until now, many observers of the project had assumed that the Australian aircraft would have to be returned to the US at some point for deeper level work.
Not so, according to Mr Burbage. He was definite that once in Australia, they will be supported here for their lifetimes – though individual components might need to be returned to their manufacturer, depending on the circumstances.
He and his colleagues were complimentary of the up-front work that the RAAF has required from Lockheed Martin to define what will be needed for in-country support and he indicated that Australia is more advanced than other F-35 customers in this regard. Exactly how support activities will be arranged is a question for the future. The RAAF itself is likely to do some of it.
However, it seems highly probable that Lockheed Martin will lead a team of local companies – probably based near RAAF Williamtown outside Newcastle – to also take on a percentage of the work….
From our partner Asian-Pacific Defence Reporter.