F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35 Lightning II (photo : Defense Update)
FORT WORTH, Texas -Australian government officials have begun auditing the F-35 program because of concerns that the first tranche of aircraft would not be delivered on schedule, Lockheed Martin officials confirmed.
The review, rare in Australian defense programs, could lead officials to defer the planned order for the first aircraft.
"A Scheduled Compliance Risk Assessment Methodology (SCRAM) team is here in response to the defense minister's undertaking last July to conduct a review of the Australian F-35 program," Keith Knotts, the company's F-35 business development manager for Australia and Canada, told Australian reporters at the jet's assembly plant here. "They will be here this week to assess the program's health."
It was the first public acknowledgment that the review is underway.
The SCRAM team, from the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), will report its findings to the government via the New Air Combat Capability (NACC) project office by the end of the year. It will look at the F-35 program using root-cause analysis to measure the achievements of the technical baseline review ordered by the U.S. Joint Project Office.
Australia has a requirement for up to 100 conventional takeoff and landing F-35As, and plans to sign a deal for the first tranche of 14 in 2012. Under the current plan, it wants to take delivery of the first two aircraft in 2014 for training in the United States and delivery of all 14 to Australia in 2017.
The aircraft are scheduled to come from Low-Rate Initial Production lots Six (two aircraft), Eight (four) and Nine (eight). They will allow the F/A-18A/B Hornets to retire around 2018.
The review follows Defence Minister Stephen Smith's promise to launch an "exhaustive risk assessment of the schedule" by year's end.
In July, Smith told the Australian Broadcast Corp.'s "Meet The Press" program that he has concerns about Lockheed's ability to deliver to its planned schedule and has flagged the possibility of a further purchase of Super Hornets in the interim.
"I have made it clear, both in Australia and in the United States, that the last thing I will allow to occur will be a gap in capability," he said.
Australia has 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets and must decide whether to convert a number of them to an EA-18G Growler configuration early next year.