The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program has been heralding more milestones following recent concerns raised by the Pentagon's chief tester in the annual report to US Congress.
The controversial program has achieved 50,000 flight hours and an Italian built F-35A has completed the first Transatlantic ocean crossing, en route to joining its US-built counterparts as part of the training fleet.
ADM received a response from Defence in relation to questions posed on the risk delays to the Block 3F software development presented to Australia's own tranche of aircraft.
"The Australian Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program has been structured to enable the issues raised in the annual Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOTE) report to be resolved before IOC is declared in 2020," a Defence spokesperson said.
"The Australian Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program has been structured to enable the issues raised in the annual Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOTE) report to be resolved before IOC is declared in 2020."
"The schedule for completion of operational Test and Evaluation is being closely managed by the F-35 Joint Program Office in consultation with Partners and industry.
"Australia has staff embedded in the F-35 Test and Evaluation Program, who represent Australia’s interests and work as part of the broader program outcomes. This day to day engagement provides confidence and insight that enables Australia to understand the implications of issues as they arise and put them in the broader context of the Australian F-35 program.
"While the DOT&E reports on the performance of the test and evaluation program by 'exception', it does not mention the significant milestones and positive progress achieved by the Program over recent years.
"In regards to milestones specific to Australia’s program:
- Australia’s first two JSF aircraft were delivered to the international Pilot Training Centre (PTC) at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona in December 2014 and are proving to be some of the most reliable and available in the aircraft pool at the international F-35 PTC. Australia’s next eight aircraft will be delivered to the PTC in 2018.
- Australia’s first two pilots are instructing international F-35 students at the international Pilot Training Centre.
- In late 2015, the Australian KC-30A successfully completed testing for air-to-air refuelling with a United States Air Force (USAF) F-35A, which was a significant milestone in demonstrating interoperability and preparing for the ferry of Australia’s first two aircraft.
- To date, Australian industry has won more that $US550 million in production and development contracts through the program. Australia has also been assigned regional F-35 depot maintenance responsibilities for airframe and engine.
"The Australian F-35 capability is achieving positive progress and is on track towards meeting Australia’s Initial Operating Capability (IOC) requirements by the end of 2020. The first two aircraft are scheduled to arrive in Australia in late 2018.
"The program is arguably the most global, highly complex and technically advanced Defence acquisition program ever undertaken."
The spokesperson confirmed the first two Australian aircraft to arrive in country at the end of 2018 are planned to be fitted with Block 3F software, that which has been the source of contention with the DOT&E. The director, Michael Gilmore, has said the JPO’s current plan to finish work on the software — the final software block required for full warfighting capability — by July 31, 2017 was “not realistic”.
Two F-35s will feature at UK airshows this year and while the Defence spokesperson could not confirm it, there are hopes that the aircraft will be represented at Avalon 2017.
ADM Senior Correspondent Julian Kerr spoke with Program Manager JSF Division Air Vice Marshal Chris Deeble in the February Air Power issue of ADM.