All set for take-off

AS the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program gets closer to the production phase, it is clear Australian manufacturers involved in the project have risen to the occasion. And what an occasion it is, Australia’s aerospace industry stands to reap around $9bn from its involvement in the program over the next three decades. Alan Johnson reports.

AS the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program gets closer to the production phase, it is clear Australian manufacturers involved in the project have risen to the occasion. And what an occasion it is, Australia’s aerospace industry stands to reap around $9bn from its involvement in the 3000 aircraft program over the next three decades. Alan Johnson reports.

Abhay Paranjape, Lockheed’s F-35 program manager, based in Fort Worth, Texas, says from an Australian participation standpoint, things couldn’t be better.

“We are very pleased with how things are progressing.”

The Lockheed executive openly admits he was originally concerned with so many Australian manufacturers quite small compared to US companies.

“But they have all turned out to be stellar performers,” Paranjape told Manufacturers Monthly.

Australian companies have already won contracts worth over $100m in the SDD (System Development and Demonstration) phase of the program, and are earmarked to receive work worth about $5bn, not including work on the fighter’s engines.

“The new LRIP (low rate initial production) contracts are just beginning, so we have some RFP (request for proposal) contracts coming out now and Australian industry is getting involved in those efforts also.

“The companies that have won the contracts are progressing and we expect the intensity to increase as we move into higher levels of production,” he said.

For those companies who have missed out on contracts to date, Paranjape says all is not lost.

“In fact most of the companies that are now on the program have lost a few of the competitions.

“Once companies get a feel for what the private contractors are looking for, they start succeeding.

“The companies that have really succeeded are the ones who have figured out how to compete in the global marketplace; how to actually build Fifth Gen technology and still keep it affordable.”

Paranjape admits the contracts are not easy to win.

“This is a best value program and companies are competing against nine partner countries including the US.

“They are typically competing against 10 sometimes 20 companies, and the difference between winning and losing can be very small.”

According to Paranjape, the prospects for further Australian companies to get involved in the project are very strong.

“We are now moving into production with manufacturing on a much larger scale.

“We will be looking at 20 to 200 parts to manufacture, and we fully expect other Australian manufacturers to get involved. For example, we’re looking at several hundred vertical tails to be manufactured in Australia.

“We are also looking at advanced composites, manufacturing wing skins that are done with a fibre placement machine.”

Paranjape says precision machining of large components in titanium and aluminium is another area where new companies could come in.

However Paranjape points out that the Lockheed has moved from the traditional model of industrial offsets for plane orders to a system of global

competition.

“The JFS program is based on affordability. It keeps everybody on their best game.

“You cannot slack off or somebody will be right behind you that can give better value; that adds a level of quality to the effort as well as the affordability aspect.

“We are starting to engage with industry around the world, before any of these partners actually buy airplanes. And we are looking at engaging with Australian industry for the global production base (3000 aircraft) not just the 100 or so planes that Australia’s going to buy.”

Paranjape says companies already involved with the program are realising other global opportunities, “a sort of domino effect”.

“It places industry in a much better position to compete on other projects around the world,” he said.

One of the 20+ Australian companies already on the JSF project is Lovitt Technologies.

Kevin McMahon from Lovitt’s said the company had already made a significant number of parts for the aircraft involved in the SDD phase and is now moving into phases 1 to 7 of the LRIP contract.

“It starts to ramp up now, but the volumes by aircraft standards are still not large,” McMahon told Manufacturers Monthly.

“They don’t become significant until 2010/2011 and onwards. It does ramp up then, aircraft wise, quite steeply. Then after 2014 we are in full rate production phase which is really where the money is.”

McMahon said working with the JSF had not significantly altered what the company does, “or the way we do it or the machines we’ve got”.

“The machines we use to produce JSF parts are the same machines we use for work for Boeing, Airbus etc. Whilst there are differences, the whole industry is moving to tighter and tighter tolerances and with it the need for Australian industry to become world competitive, and we are doing that,” McMahon said.

For more information email Paranjape at abhay.m.paranjape@lmco.com.

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