An Update on the RAAF F-35: November 2018


We have written a good deal about the coming of the F-35 to the Royal Australian Air Force.

Most recently, we visited Williamtown earlier this year and discussed the preparation for the arrival of the F-35 at that key airbase with the Air Combat Commander.

Air Commodore Kitcher highlighted the way ahead during our interview and our visit.

The RAAF  has an aggressive schedule with regard to F-35A transition.

They are transitioning from four Hornet to four F-35A squadrons in just four years.

“That is a more rapid change, and a more aggressive schedule than any other F-35 user is on track to do.”

And in that transition, a key objective is establishing a “healthy training system in Australia.”

And this training system will be supporting F-35As at Tindal Airbase in the Northern Territory as well.

That base is undergoing a significant infrastructure rebuild as it will receive F-35As early next decade as well.

Incorporating the F-35A, the Super Hornets, the Wedgetails and the Growlers into an integrated air combat force is the broader transition facing the RAAF. 

The challenge, which is a good one to have from the standpoint of Air Commodore Kitcher, is to learn how to fight effectively with a fifth generation enabled force.

“Learning to fly the F-35A is not the hard part.

“Working the mission command piece is a key driver of change for sure.

Recent articles on Defence Connect, the well-respected Australian website on defense and industry, has highlighted some key elements of the standup process for the RAAF’s F-35.

These articles are marking the arrival of the F-35 on December 10, 2018 to Australia with a countdown series which is well worth following.

Deployable Cabins

One countdown article highlights the standup of deployable cabins to support F-35 operations.

The Commonwealth’s formal acceptance of the first of 15 deployable cabins, delivered by defence prime Lockheed Martin Australia and fabrication experts Varley Group, marked a major milestone for the full operation of the Air Force’s F-35A aircraft.

“The deployable cabins are a critical part of operating and maintaining the Air As part of their role, the specialised ICT facilities will also serve as a housing for a portable Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), enabling a connection to the ALIS network anywhere in the world. homes at RAAF Bases Williamtown and Tindal,” Minister Pyne explained.

All 15 of the deployable cabins will provide transportable, secure work spaces for Australian Defence Force personnel to support the operations and maintenance activities for the F-35 as part of the future, networked ADF.

The Role of Australian Industry

A second countdown article highlighted the role of Australian industry in the coming of the F-35 to Australia.

Joining the F-35 program in 2010, Heat Treatment Australia (HTA) has provided support and services to both the global project as a whole and other Australian companies supporting the F-35’s immense supply chain.

For Australian partner companies like RUAG, AW Bell, Lovitt Technologies, Marand Precision Engineering, Ferra Engineering and Levett Engineering, HTA has supported Australian industry participation through supporting the production of high quality products, significantly contributing to Australia’s industrial success in the F-35 program.

HTA’s involvement in the F-35 program provided certainty, enabling the company to undertake sustained research and development of innovative technologies and processes for the Australian market, enhancing the capability and competitiveness of Australia’s defence industrial base.

Dr Karen Stanton, director – corporate and strategy, HTA Group, said, “Over the past 10 years HTA has undertaken seen significant investment in infrastructure, equipment, people and processes. Expansion of facilities and processes at HTA are a direct result of involvement in the aerospace and defence programs, especially the F-35 program.”

HTA’s expansion and growth at facilities in both Brisbane and Melbourne came on the back of additional investment in aerospace and defence projects, which has translated into the introduction of new equipment, expanded facilities, improved quality control systems, increased employment opportunities and improving the skills base of the company’s workforce.

The sustained success of the company’s engagement with the F-35 program served as the basis for growing success in additional aerospace and defence platforms and projects, separate to the F-35, and an international expansion, with the company establishing a specialised heat-treatment facility based in California, conducting aluminium vacuum brazing (AVB) projects, which included new projects in non-defence and new advanced technology sectors.

“One of the biggest achievements for HTA was the establishment of a new manufacturing facility in Los Angeles, California. Our expansion journey began at the start of the F-35 program and we will be forever grateful to be given such an opportunity,” Dr Stanton said.


A third countdown article focused on the training aspect.

Virtual reality (VR) is now reshaping the training environment for Australia’s F-35, enabling improved aircraft familiarisation and task training for Air Force ground crews prior to the wide-spread roll out of the fifth-generation platform.

KBRwyle has developed training programs for pilots and maintainers for the F-35 Program as part of the Northrop Grumman-managed global training and courseware development capability since 2005.

Since its inception, the courseware and training program included six organisations, of which KBRwyle was the only one outside the US. As the F-35 program has matured and the number of organisations providing these services has reduced, KBRwyle has continued to provide training and courseware services for the program.

“Leveraging over a decade’s experience developing F-35 courseware, for the international JSF community, KBRwyle has created virtual reality demonstrators for the platform. These include a ‘familiarisation’ component, that could be used for those working ‘around’ the F-35. It helps to understand scale, size and the features of the aircraft,” Michael Hardy, general manager – modelling, simulation and training at KBRwyle, explained.

Advanced Manufacturing

A fourth countdown article highlighted the impact of the F-35 on Australia’s development of advanced manufacturing, a key objective for develop of core capabilities within Australia.

As production for the F-35 continues to ramp up, the advanced materials that give the fifth-generation fighter its stealth capabilities are serving as a major industrial driver for Australian industry leaders, like Sydney-based Quickstep Holdings.

First established in 2001 as a research and development company, Quickstep Holdings was entering a highly competitive and secretive world of advanced manufacturing. But just 17 years later, the company has established itself as one of the world’s leading advanced materials and manufacturing companies, buoyed by the growing success of the global F-35 program.

However, it wasn’t until 2011 that the company became involved with global giant Northrop Grumman and its long-term agreement to support the F-35 project that it would begin to transform itself from a small research and development focused technology company into a world-leader.


A fifth countdown article highlighted the role of BAE Systems Australia within the sustainment approach to the F-35 in Australia.

As part of the global supply chain, BAE Systems Australia is playing a key role in keeping Australia’s F-35s operational and in the air. This industrial capability developing at Williamtown is helping to develop unique sovereign industrial sustainment and maintenance capabilities.

Australia’s selection as a maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade hub for F-35 avionics and aircraft components is seeing the rapid transformation of the aerospace precinct at Williamtown as both the national and regional hub supporting all of the fifth-generation aircraft operating throughout the region.

BAE Systems Australia director aerospace and integrated systems Steve Drury said, “We are excited to support the Australian and regional JSF program with the most advanced sustainment services available, ensuring the F-35 is prepared and ready to be deployed anytime, anywhere.”

Regional Maintenance Hub

A sixth countdown article highlighted the key role of building a regional maintenance hub for the F-35.

Australia’s participation with the global F-35 program has seen Queensland-based TAE Aerospace establish itself as the regional hub for complex engine maintenance on Australian and allied F-35s supporting the development of sovereign industry capability.

As part of the broader national preparation for the Australian operation of the fifth-generation F-35, TAE Aerospace has established itself as a leader in the engine and turbine maintenance ecosystem.

The company’s new Turbine Engine Maintenance Facility (TEMF) in Bundamba, south-east Queensland will enable deeper-level maintenance, where the F135 engine modules for the F-35 are disassembled, repaired and reassembled for testing.

“This is an exciting opportunity for TAE to design and build a speciality maintenance and manufacturing facility, with two areas of focus, one dedicated to F135 engine maintenance in partnership with CASG and Pratt & Whitney, and the second focusing on maintenance of existing engines from the Hornet, Super Hornet, Growler and Abrams platforms,” Andrew Sanderson, chief executive and managing director of TAE Aerospace said.

A seventh article focused on the weaponization aspect of the F-35, which is driven by the common software for the F-35 as a global fleet.

BAE Systems Australia and partners Kongsberg Defence have developed key technology to support the integration and export possibilities of the Joint Strike Missile as part of the global F-35 project.

Since the retirement of the F-111 in 2010, Australia has been without a credible long-range aerial strike platform. In response, Australia, in collaboration with Norway, signed on to help finance and develop an air launched variant of the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM).

Like F-35, the JSM is a fifth-generation platform providing the F-35 with a long-range anti-ship and land attack capability. The JSM is designed with a stand-off range to protect the launch platform from being detected and engaged by enemy air defence systems…..

According to Kongsberg, a number of F-35 partner nations are showing strong interest in the JSM and mechanical fit checks has been performed on several types of fourth-generation aircraft like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, F-16, Eurofighter in addition to all three versions of the F-35.

There has also been strong interest in introducing the JSM into maritime patrol aircraft (MPAs) like Boeing P-8A Poseidon for internal weapons bay carriage as well as on the wing stations. An acquisition of the F-35 along with the JSM, will strengthen any nation’s threshold, and serve wider coalition interests.

We encourage our readers to keep track of the Defence Connect countdown series and to read this website on a regular basis as well.

The featured photo shows Wing Commander Darren Clare, Commanding Officer of Royal Australian Air Force No. 3 Squadron, in front of an Australian F-35A aircraft on the flight line at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, USA.

Royal Australian Air Force pilots and maintenance personnel are embedded within United States Air Force units and partnering with Lockheed Martin to prepare for the introduction of Australia’s first fifth-generation air combat capability.

They will bring home Australia’s first two F-35As in December 2018.