Peter La Franchi / Canberra

Australia is pushing for a JSF regional support centre

As with the Netherlands government, Australia's administration is clear about what it wants from participation in the JSF programme. Twice in the past month it has used high-level talks with the USA to press its case for a JSF regional support centre on Australian soil.

In late October, Australian prime minister John Howard raised the matter with US president George Bush in Canberra, and earlier this month, Australian defence minister Robert Hill made the point again while in the USA.

Australia sees the centre as a means of overturning initial disappointment at its lack of success in the JSF systems development and demonstration (SDD) phase.

In June, senior government officials involved in shaping Australia's SDD participation admitted there had been a "crisis of confidence" in the international workshare programme in the preceding two months because of a lack of contracts.

That crisis saw Hill summon Lockheed Martin JSF programme head Tom Burbage to Canberra to explain why Australian firms were failing to win work. Lockheed Martin officials say that Hill was sceptical when told the responses from Australian companies were below standard - particularly on price.

Burbage arranged for Lockheed Martin's JSF International programmes director Mike Cosentino to return to Australia in late June with hard evidence to prove the point. Cosentino says Hill has since challenged Lockheed Martin to provide evidence that Australian industry is gaining high-tech skills by participating in the programme.

"Their concern was that US disclosure policy precludes international industry from participating in certain technologies, of which software is one," says Cosentino. "Everyone connotes technology with software. But there is more technology that Australia is getting from learning how to machine some of these very strong lightweight doors that they've never done, or making these composite parts that they've never made, versus some 24-year-old kid banging out software code."

Acquisition deal

Australia was the last nation to join SDD, signing up as a Level 3 participant on 30 October last year with an investment of $150 million. As with the Netherlands, Australia has selected the JSF as preferred future fighter to replace Boeing AF-18s and General Dynamics F-111s. An acquisition decision is due in 2006-7 for around 75aircraft in a deal expected to be worth at least $5 billion.

Initial Australian industry expectations for the SDD phase ran high. It was not until March, however, that the first Australian companies gained global authorisation approvals allowing them to start bidding on work. There was also a delay in locking down the preferred national approach to pursuing opportunities, which was not finalised until midway through this year.

Until August, only six companies had won contracts through best-value competitions, but Hill says more orders are on the way. Australian-based GKN Aerospace Services holds contracts from Northrop Grumman to design and manufacture a range of composite and metal centre fuselage components. Sister company GKN Engage Australia is also under contract to the same company to provide engineering support services, while Australian Boeing subsidiary Hawker de Havilland is supplying design services to Lockheed Martin.

Melbourne-based Marand Precision Engineering is under contract to Lockheed Martin to design and manufacture engine removal cradles. That deal alone, says Lockheed Martin, could recoup Australia's SDD investment.

Production Parts is contracted to General Electric Aircraft Engines to build components for the F136 alternative engine. Ferra Engineering is supplying alternative mission equipment weapon adaptors for the SDD and low-rate initial production phases under a $20 million subcontract to the US-based Marvin Engineering. Hill says this deal could be worth $177 million in the production phase.

Perth-based micro-company Calytrix has received a small three-month contract from Lockheed Martin to lead a multi-company study of potential simulation technologies that could be applied as part of the JSF training architecture.

The Australian strategy is built around Team Australia Industry Capability Teams, formed late in 2002 and early this year. They are intended to target work in the areas of simulation and training; mission systems and electronic warfare; airframes, vehicle systems and propulsion systems; prognostic systems; information systems; logistics engineering; and interoperability.

The initial disappointment coming out of the JSF programme may well prove one of the more salutary culture shocks for Australian industry. In June, as the national JSF engagement strategy was being released, Ken Peacock, chairman of the Australian government-funded JSF Industry Advisory Council told media that the initial three months of JSF bidding were a wake-up call.

Australian companies, he said, had just been "mugged by reality. We had to go through this learning experience, and I think that some companies will find it too tough. It will require a long-term commitment and investment by companies before we get to the F-35 production phase."

Many Australian companies had been slow "to adapt to what we call the new business paradigm of competing on a best-value basis", Peacock added. "They were thinking in terms of offsets and Australian industry involvement. They were waiting for government to negotiate a workshare arrangement. I think they realise that that is not going to happen: they have to compete."

Additional reporting by Stephen Trimble and Emma Kelly

Source: Flight International