Australia has unveiled a full-scale model of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter that will be used to study electromagnetic environmental effects on the airframe.
The model is located at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation's (DSTO) laboratory in Adelaide, Australia's Department of Defence says.
"This study is a significant part of ensuring the protection of the JSF against electromagnetic environmental effects such as lightning and static discharge which can impair the performance and safety of aircraft," says Warren Snowdon, minister for defence science and personnel.
"DSTO has developed world-class expertise in the investigation of electromagnetic radiation impact on aircraft and is engaged directly with the US JSF Joint Program Office to undertake this study using the 'Iron Bird' model," he adds.
Canberra has so far ordered two F-35As, which will be delivered to a US training facility in 2014-15. This will see Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilots and maintainers commence training on the type.
It is not yet clear how many F-35As Canberra will ultimately purchase. Originally, plans had called for 100 of the stealthy type, but programme delays have forced it to look at other options. The 24 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets that entered RAAF service in 2010 were viewed as an interim replacement for the service's General Dynamics F-111s, which were originally planned to be replaced by the F-35A.
Canberra has earmarked 12 of those Super Hornets for conversion to the Boeing EA-18G Growler configuration, and in early March 2013, the Pentagon notified the US Congress of the possible sale of additional F/A-18F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers to Australia, with a deal possible by mid-year.
If this deal, which could see Canberra obtain 24 additional Super Hornets, were to take place, it could have a major impact on its eventual F-35A fleet. The RAAF may end up with a fleet divided between the F-35As, F/A-18Fs and EA-18Gs. The service also operates 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets that are due for retirement by 2020.