• USAF CAPT Andrew Olson performs aerial manoeuvres over Fort Worth, Texas.
    USAF CAPT Andrew Olson performs aerial manoeuvres over Fort Worth, Texas. USAF

It’s been six years since the ANAO had a good hard look at the JSF program. The latest report from the independent auditor landed only a week before the first two Australian jets are to land at RAAF Williamtown to begin their RAAF service.

The signature program for RAAF has been on the books since 2002 but it’s worth going through the headline numbers again as reference:

  • While the US is the primary customer and financial backer, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark have agreed to contribute US$4.375 billion toward the development costs of the program.
  • Australia is a founding partner in the international program, entitling it to preference in workshare that is competed globally (a tension within the program internationally).
  • The government has confirmed that it will purchase 72 F-35A conventional take off variants under Air 6000 for three operational squadrons at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal, and a training squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown.
  • A bridging capability of 24 Super Hornets and 12 Growlers were purchased (~$3 billion for Super Hornets and $1.5 billion for Growlers)
  • The total acquisition budget for Air 6000 Phase 2A/2B is $15.5 billion, with the government approving a further $4.6 billion in 2014 for operating and support costs until 2024–25.
  •  The program being led by the US (USAF, USMC and USN) will see the nine major partner nations (plus FMS buys from Japan, Israel, South Korea, Singapore and Belgium with other nations also looking at the F-35 in their own competitive processes) plan to acquire over 3,100 F-35s in its three variants through 2035.

The program has attracted a string of detractors in its lifetime for its contracting and engineering approaches, alongside its performance characteristics, but the in-service aircraft are beloved by those that have them.

Former US F-35 JPO executive director LTGEN Chris Bogdan remarked at an Avalon air show that this would have to be one of the most reviewed programs in the world, with both US agencies and various international agencies taking a strong and necessary interest in the multi-billion generational change program.

The ANAO report into Australia’s JSFs notes that “Defence has established effective strategic and project governance arrangements to date for the introduction of the JSF into Australian service and its sustainment” but “has not, however, provided all of the annual updates to Government that Government required in its approval.”

Overall, the program has been given a tentative ‘thumbs up’ from the ANAO - a rare thing.

“The Department of Defence’s preparations to date for the introduction and sustainment of the JSF aircraft into Australian service have been effective with the exception of arrangements for sustainment of JSF aircraft under the Global Support Solution,” the report notes. “JSF sustainment cannot be fully costed until the Global Support Solution further matures.”

The Global Support Solutions of course rests on the Autonomic Logistics Information System. Keep this factoid in mind - the JSF in the air uses about 8 million lines of code. ALIS takes about 14 million lines of code to function. ALIS development/testing/delivery is being led by the US to track and supply spares as needed in conjunction with regional warehousing. Australia is home to one such regional warehouse, which will be operated by BAE Systems.

The ANAO report is also supportive of the infrastructure program efforts that Defence has undertaken to support this capability, from sheds to training to fuel.

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