Lockheed Martin has boosted Australian involvement in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme by signing new memoranda of understanding with two local companies.
Under an agreement signed on 4 November, Perth-based Quickstep will be responsible for the composite manufacturing of vertical tail skins and doors and panels for the F-35. Its work will be conducted in support of JSF partner company Northrop Grumman and could eventually lead to manufacturing contracts worth A$700 million ($635 million).
The agreement with Lockheed is a major coup for the small company, which offers traditional autoclave manufacture of composites, as well as a unique fluid-based curing method for producing high-strength, lightweight composite materials.
© Lockheed Martin
Australia expects to order up to 100 F-35s
Quickstep managing director Philippe Odouard says the agreement covers traditional autoclave manufacturing work, but is hopeful that its fluid-based process will also be used. The US Department of Defense is assessing the results of a successful research project conducted with US company Vector Composites.
Quickstep, Lockheed and Northrop aim to finalise a 20- to 30-year agreement by March 2010, covering the supply of more than 19,300 composite doors and access panels. The Australian company could produce up to 21 different components, including lower side skins, maintenance access panels, fuel tank covers and in-board weapons bay doors.
A separate MoU could lead to Victoria-based Marand Precision assembling the F-35's vertical tail structures as a second-source supplier to the UK's BAE Systems. Marand has already worked on the JSF programme for six years, designing and developing ground support equipment and producing tooling for the manufacture of advanced composite parts.
The Australian Department of Defence expects to by the end of this year approve the acquisition of up to 100 F-35s for the nation's air force. To date, 25 Australian companies have secured business on the programme worth more than A$200 million.