Avalon Airshow 2019: The Role of Victorian Industry in the F-35


Victorian industry in Australia is playing a key role in the Australian F-35 program, both in supporting their own jets and the global enterprise.

In  recent Defence Connect article by Stephen Kuper, January 10, 2019, its role was highlighted.

Minister Pakula said, “The Australian International Airshow at Avalon is one of the premier events on our major events calendar and an incredible opportunity for Victorian businesses to showcase their skills and capabilities to the world.”

Victoria’s defence sector is an important part of the state’s economy, contributing up to $8 billion annually. The sector employs more than 20,000 people and has more than 400 businesses making equipment and providing services for defence activities.

To support this growing industry, the Victorian government has launched a campaign to profile the skills and capabilities of Victoria’s defence industry to help secure more supply chain opportunities for Victorian businesses.

“Victoria’s aerospace and defence sectors are world class and it’s great to see Victorian companies like Marand recognised by winning a contract to supply to a massive international defence program,” Minister Pakula added. 

Victorian businesses are already making a significant contribution to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project, with 65 per cent of the Australian content being sourced from Victorian defence suppliers.

During a 2015 visit to Australia, we had a chance to talk with one key Australian contributor to the F-35, Marand and this future was already anticipated.

In that article, we interviewed the managing director of Marand about their role.

That article as published in 2014 follows:

The classic fighter import program for a country the size of Australia is to build for the domestic customer, the program ends, you do a little bit of sustainment work and then move on.

With the F-35 as a global program, a domestic supplier can position itself for global opportunities, and by so doing bringing core competitive competencies to the program itself.  Investments up front are paid for downstream as the program continues to produce planes and generates demand for parts for a global fleet.

It is about getting the opportunity and then positioning to provide globally competitive value to the program itself.

For Marand, an Australian solutions provider, the F-35 program has provided a venue to shape new global relationships, which complement their Australian business.

According to the company’s website:

Marand is a leading global supplier of precision-engineered solutions to a range of industries including Aerospace, Defence, Rail, Automotive and Mining.

Marand’s customer base is predominately Blue chip organizations including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Ford, BHP, Rio Tinto and Holden for which it designs and manufactures complex innovative equipment

During my visit to Australia in March 2014, I had a chance to talk with David Ellul, Managing Director of Marand about the company and their involvement in the F-35 program.

The intersection between the evolution of the company’s capabilities and their engagement in the program, a two-way street approach, was highlighted throughout the interview.

Ellul indicated that Marand started as a firm supporting the automobile industry in Australia and over time has transitioned  into the aerospace and rail businesses.  In fact, they have migrated over the past decade from having approximately 90% of their business in the automotive sector, to now less than 1% in automotive as the company has migrated to work in the other sectors in its portfolio.

Within aerospace, prior to F-35, their main client was Hawker deHaviland (now Boeing Aerostructures  Australia) for whom they designed and manufactured Aerospace Tooling

The initial engagement of Marand in the F-35 program was designing and building a unique trailer for installing the F-135engine into the F-35.  The trailer also removes the engine.

According to Ellul:

The requirement is quite complex.  It has to remove and replace the engine within a tight time frame in all of the environments where engines are changed.  From the production line to ship board and land based sustainment.  It has to do it for all three variants of the plane.

It has been a design and manufacturing job from the beginning. It is a clever piece of equipment that solves the customer’s requirements.   We are very proud of our design and engineering capability. 

Prior to the F-35 program engagement, Marand has not been a global exporter.  This has changed with the F-35 program. 

The company has added five clients through the F-35 program, which has allowed it to grow its export business.

Question: Why Australia?  Why Marand?

According to Ellul:

Australia has a tradition of innovation and although we are not a large company – we have 250 employees – we have diversified design and manufacturing experience and expertise and are able to solve complex problems and deliver good value, as we have done with the F-35 engine trailer.   

The second part of our F-35 work is in design and manufacture of complex Aerospace tooling. 

We have used our design and engineering capability to develop production tooling that makes our customers more productive. 

Over 1200 tools to all corners of the F-35 world. And the quality of our work has been recognized by Lockheed Martin as well. 

 In 2009, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, Bob Stevens, visited our company and gave us an award recognizing our role as a leading tooling company in the program.

The performance on the engine trailer and tooling provided the opportunity to be considered by Lockheed and their partner BAE Syestms to provide Vertical Tails for the F-35 program.

According to Ellul:

We recently had a ceremony to celebrate the delivery of the first Australian vertical tail set for the F-35. Next year we will deliver 4-6 tail sets and by 2019 we will be delivering around 70 per year for the program. As the second source, we will do around 30% of the total production of vertical tail sets. 

Once production ramps up, we’ll be looking for other opportunities on Aerospace structural work.  Five years ago, there’s no way we would have proved that we had the capability.  F-35 has done that for us.

But, with the ongoing help and support of  Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems, we’ve created a whole new capability in Australia

And without them giving us the opportunity and trusting us and working with us and training us, okay, it wouldn’t have happened.