[Avionics Magazine 11-11-2016] The U.S. Department of Defense assigned F-35 Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade (MRO&U) responsibilities to the first component repair assignments outside of the United States. According to the U.K.’s Defense Electronics & Components Agency (DECA), the DOD has chosen the U.K. to provide MRO for F-35 avionics. Avionics Magazine caught up with several aerospace and defense industry experts to discover details about how European F-35 avionics will be maintained going forward.
An F-35C Lightning II comes in for a landing on USS George Washington (CVN-73) during F-35C Development Test III. Photo: Lockheed Martin, Michael D. Jackson.
According to an announcement on the assignments released by Lockheed Martin, there are 774 components that DECA will repair on the F-35. These components are broken into 18 different categories such as avionics, life support and canopy systems, among others. The announcement last week by the F-35 Joint Program Office states that this current assignment is for 65 of these 774 parts, with assignment of the remaining parts to occur over the next two to three years. Eventually, the F-35 program intends to have regional repair capability in Europe and the Pacific for all 774 components.
The Pentagon divided the global repair assignments into time-based segments spanning several years, with the first 48 of the first 65 components assigned to the U.K., from 2021 to 2025.
DECA reports that the company will maintain F-35 avionics, electronic and electrical components, fuel, mechanical and hydraulic systems, and ejection seats in North Wales. The agency estimates the work will generate multimillion dollars in revenue for the U.K. aerospace and defense industry with the potential to unlock more than 2 billion pounds in future F-35 support revenue over the lifetime of the program.
“The F-35 logistic support concept is based on centralized support centers for different regions. The additional jobs (referenced by DECA) would be associated with the ramp up in trained specialist personnel required to support the expected avionics repair throughput associated with the 380-plus aircraft that will be delivered over the next 10 years to European forces,” Scott Clark, vice president of consulting for the U.K.-based aerospace and defense division of Frost & Sullivan, told Avionics Magazine.
The UK currently plans to take delivery of 138 F-35 fighter jets.
Technicians at North Wales and other locations will be responsible for maintaining and repairing the Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) system, which Northrop Grumman calls the “most advanced integrated avionics system ever engineered.” The F-35’s CNI features Software-Defined Radio (SDR) technology, Identification Friend-or-Foe (IFF) transponder, Link 16, Joint Precision and Approach Landing System (JPALS), wireless communications and a Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL).
“The highest value items will be the avionics. This is partly a U.S. government provision, which limits maintenance work on some of the avionics to government workers as a condition of sales to other countries,” said Wayne Plucker, director of aerospace and defense consulting at Frost & Sullivan’s San Antonio, Texas headquarters.
DECA technicians will perform the work at the company’s facility at the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s Sealand site, which will be fully operational to support the F-35 by 2018.
“We project the fleet of F-35s to be 843 in 2021, growing to 1,384 by 2024. That fleet of aircraft will generate $248 million of component repair in 2021 and $434 million by 2024. Dissecting that spend a bit more, if we look at just electrical components, flight deck avionics and mission avionics, the global fleet will generate $115 million of repair in 2021 and that will grow to $200 million by 2024,” Hal Chrisman, vice president of airlines, aerospace and MRO at ICF International told Avionics Magazine.
Lockheed has already discovered some peeling and crumbling issues with F-35 Lightning II fighter jets avionics cooling lines, which recently moved the U.S. Air Force to pull 13 F-35s from flight operations.
“This is a great situation for U.K. industry and it positions them well for the future competitions. The sustainment ‘tail’ generates much more spending over the life of an aircraft program than the initial acquisition cost, so participating in the aftermarket support is an annuity. That said, the F-35 program is committed to minimizing sustainment costs, so performance — both in terms of turn-around-time and cost — will be critical to ensure the companies keep the work in the long run,” said Chrisman.