F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (photo : Lockheed Martin)
AUSTRALIA'S first two F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft are progressing down the US production line and approaching the stage where they will be recognisably aircraft rather than a collection of components.
David Scott, Lockheed Martin's director of F-35 international customer engagement, said the two, designated AU-1 and AU-2, were on schedule for delivery in the US in 2014.
He said the wings were under construction at the Lockheed Martin plant in Forth Worth, Texas.
Forth Worth is also constructing the forward fuselage, while the centre and aft fuselages are under construction at separate Northrop Grumman and BAE plants.
"Those two airplanes will come together through the mate-and-delivery process and be delivered to the Commonwealth in the middle of next year," he said.
For JSF flight training to start, Australia will need qualified pilots and maintainers. JSF flight training is a six-month course, already under way for the first US pilots at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
JSF is an advanced stealth combat aircraft set to be the principal combat aircraft for the US, Australia and other nations out to mid-century. Australia is looking to buy up to 100 at a cost of $16 billion.
But so far the government has committed to buying just two. JSF has been repeatedly criticised for running late, costing too much and unlikely to deliver all the promised advanced capability.
Mr Scott, in Australia for talks on JSF with defence and industry, acknowledged development had taken longer and cost more than forecast in 2001.
But since the program was "re-baselined" in 2010, it had remained on or ahead of schedule.
He said the US Air Force and US Marines were buying JSF, as were five of eight JSF program partner nations including Australia, along with two others Japan and Israel.
"Even in very difficult economic times that are challenging in most countries, the commitments are being made to F-35 because it is viewed as an essential capability, a breakthrough capability and one that is rapidly maturing and will be available very soon," he said.