Back in 2008, before the Commonwealth doubled down on Australian Industry Capability (AIC) requirements, local companies were collaborating on sustainment for the Classic Hornets and Super Hornets.
As a result, Australian companies now stand to win business supporting overseas military equipment.
In 2015, when 40 per cent of repairs to the RAAF’s F414 Super Hornet engine were conducted locally, GE and TAE went through the engine from front to back, component by component, to assess which repairs could be carried out in country. 80-90 per cent of F414 repairs are now done in Australia along with upwards of 90per cent on the F404.
According to Jody Riggs, turbofans business manager at TAE Aerospace, Australian proven quality of build across the F404 and F414 engine space is an important factor time-on-wing results and greatly reduced unscheduled engine removals compared to other countries’ Hornet fleets.
One example is the secondary flap in the engine afterburner.
“There is a large quantity of secondary flaps per engine and they have a high wear rate. They were considered 100 per cent throwaway, and are expensive to replace,” Paul Bayly, GE’s F414/F404 project manager in Australia, said. To combat unnecessary waste, the TLS program devised a unique repair that also reduced reliance on the US supply chain and allowed valuable parts to be reused.
Bayly’s team is now investigating whether TAE can repair parts from US-based Hornets. This could bring a large volume of repairs into Australia from the US military, which flies some 546 Super Hornets with more on order from Boeing.
“It would mean increased throughput in our programs and increased labour demand. So that’s a win straightaway,” Riggs said. “But ultimately, it means that the biggest player in the world would be sending their work to us, and we could leverage that to bring in future repairs.”
Whilst it can be challenging to reach economies of scale for tooling and processes involved in repairing the diversity of parts on ADF military aircraft, RAAF Williamtown is home to businesses that repair GE avionics on Hawk 127 training jets, the C-130J Hercules, and soon on the C-27J Spartan transport aircraft.
The C-27Js will soon move to RAAF Amberley in Queensland, which means GE will see repair operations for the Dowty propellers on those aircraft move to GE Aviation’s facility at Brisbane Airport.
“It can sometimes take months, if not a year or more, for parts to come back from an overseas repair,” David Mahoney, director of military business for GE Aviation Systems South Asia/Pacific, said. “In the meantime, our military customer only keeps so many spares. So if we didn’t have the repair facility here, and all of this kit had to go offshore, the turnaround time would cause a number of aircraft to remain on the ground.
“That’s not efficient, and it’s one of the reasons why the Australian Government wants to maximise AIC.”