In choosing the UK and Australia to be the most significant hubs for future Lockheed Marin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Maintenance Repair Overhaul and Upgrade (MRO&U) globally, the F-35 Program Office has rightly rewarded the UK, Australia together with industry players such as BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman for the broad range of well-established advanced and highly sophisticated military aircraft support skills and knowledge required.
The UK has been a Tier One partner in the F-35 Lightning ll Joint Strike Fighter military aircraft program from the start and its performance in respect of the 15% workshare on the program has been faultless. This new and very significant element of the F-35 MRO&U award recognises what the UK and in particular, BAE Systems and its partners in the program have established over the past few years. It is also recognition of success that BAE Systems has achieved delivering innovative and cost effective support based solutions and its brilliant work in military aircraft avionics.
This is a really good day for the UK in terms of gaining what is, even at this initial stage of the MRO&U award process, a very important foothold in both the medium and long term F-35 support program. For BAE Systems the news is significant for its defence activities in both the UK and Australia. Recognising that the F-35 program as a whole will stretch through at least the next forty years and maybe a lot longer still brings the importance of this tremendous award into true perspective. The UK has earned this reward and in my view it cements all the reasons behind our long term partnership involvement in the F-35 program.
As the MOD’s own statement on the F-35 MRO&U award confirms, “the work announced will not only generate hundreds of millions of pounds of revenue for the UK defence industry” and sustain and create highly skilled jobs over the years ahead, it will play a very useful long term part in the innovation and prosperity agenda.
The MOD statement adds that the “MRO&U programme has the potential to unlock more than £2 billion of future F-35 Joint Strike Fighter support revenue over the lifetime of the programme”.
So it does but make no mistake over the real importance of this MRO&U program in terms of its size, scale and the high value of the component parts awarded today against those that are yet to come.
This may be a good day for Australia and the UK but is it a particularly good day for England and Wales as well and one that as I have said will help sustain thousands of highly skilled jobs in England as well as in Wales where the Defence Electronics & Components Agency (DECA) which is based at MOD Sealand in North East Wales.
While the announcement today concerns only 65 of a planned 774 MRO&U component categories my view is that these comprise some of the most important and valuable in the F-35 global sustainment strategy. Amongst these I believe include work on maintenance and repair of avionics based systems including electronic and electrical components, fuel, mechanical and hydraulic systems and ejection seats.
Of the total of 774 component categories on which decisions covering 65 have been announced today the first 48 covering repairs of all F-35 aircraft globally during the period 2021 to 2025 have been assigned to the UK. The assignments announced so far have been time-phased on the basis of expectation that the first phase of repair capabilities will be stood up by 2021 and will serve all F-35s globally up until 2025. The Department of Defense has made clear that the reasoning behind this is because the demand for repairs from 2021 to 2025 can in its view be satisfied with a single repair source globally. However, ultimately the expectation is that demand for repairs will increase to a point where a single global repair capability will not be enough and as a result, the program will then be stood up on the basis of having stand up regional repair capabilities in both Europe and the Asia Pacific region to handle the anticipated increase in MRO&U demand.
Translated that means that two component repair assignments have been announced today, one covering global repairs for the first 65 component areas for the period 2021 to 2025 and a second, for separate regional repairs for European based F-35 users and those in the Asia Pacific region of which 64 of the total 65 categories so far confirmed will go to Australia and with just one going to South Korea. For Europe, the Department of Defense has assigned a total of 51 of the first 65 MRO&U component categories going to the UK and 14 to the Netherlands.
While BAE Systems in both the UK and Australia are the most direct beneficiaries of the initial MRO&U award in terms of scale others such as Northrop Grumman UK will also benefit. Long a principle member of the F-35 industry team in regard of ensuring weapons systems are available for tasking on F-35 and on training and with a long pedigree in platform support, upgrade and sustainment, Northrop Grumman is, along with BAE Systems and the Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA) a very important part of what has clearly been a very innovative partnership to observe. The company has played a large role in achieving the hard won success announced today. Northrop Grumman is well established in terms of the UK military aircraft support skills and capability that the company has in the UK and it is similar abilities delivering innovative support solutions to global customers.
CHW (London 7th November 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785