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BAE Systems landed a leading role in maintaining and supporting the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft as part of the world’s largest defence project.

Fast facts about BAE Systems:

  • Defence, security and aerospace engineering specialist
  • NSW locations: North Ryde, Sydney central business district and Williamtown
  • 83,200 employees globally, 3,200 people in Australia
  • Other key locations include the UK, the US, Saudi Arabia and India

In 2000, BAE Systems started its aircraft engineering and maintenance support services at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base in Williamtown, in the Hunter Region of New South Wales (NSW). Since winning its support role for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, the company has been growing its capability to support the F-35. This may ultimately see it add an extra 400 staff members across their aerospace maintenance operations in Australia over the next ten years.

The defence, security and aerospace engineering company won assignments to maintain the airframe on the F-35 in the South Pacific, manage the Asia-Pacific warehouse for the aircraft and to maintain key F-35 components – competing against Asia-based maintenance and support companies. With the Commonwealth Government’s acquisition of 72 F-35 aircraft from the US, it provides a much larger opportunity for BAE Systems in Williamtown (noting that over 3,000 F-35 aircraft are being produced and sold worldwide). As each aircraft arrives at the RAAF base, they will need to be maintained, overhauled, repaired and upgraded using advanced sustainment capabilities. On top of this, in 2016 BAE Systems began the project to upgrade the Royal Australian Air Force’s Hawk Mk127 fleet to make them amongst the most advanced of its type in the world.

BAE Systems

Andrew Chapman, F-35 Program Director at BAE Systems Australia, is spearheading the effort to bolster the company’s capabilities. His Williamtown team has been working with partners, including the NSW Government and Commonwealth Government, to build the systems needed to support the F-35 located in the Pacific region.

Collaborating to achieve shared outcomes

NSW is the ideal location for businesses like BAE Systems as it has the highest concentration of Defence assets of any state or territory in Australia. It also hosts many of the country’s leading tertiary research and development institutions, where work boosting defence sector capabilities, including through the Defence Innovation Network, can be carried out.

“Australia is competing with Japan and South Korea to win more work to maintain and support F-35 aircraft in the region. Aerospace sustainment providers in these countries are working closely with their governments to keep the cost of their services as low as possible.” Chapman says.

Recognising this challenge, the NSW Government has granted $11.7 million in funding to develop infrastructure and skills in the Hunter region to ensure Australia can successfully compete with other countries for future F-35 contracts, which represent true defence exports. BAE Systems is also in talks with Defence NSW and the Commonwealth Department of Defence regarding establishing a training facility for future F‑35 technicians in Williamtown.

BAE Systems

“The way the federal, state and local institutions have been working together to make sure we are putting our best foot forward and providing opportunities for people in the local region is like nothing I’ve seen before,” Chapman says. “There’s a real partnership happening here.”

Chapman believes that through close collaboration between the defence industry and government, Williamtown and the Hunter Region can continue to develop robust and competitive capabilities to support the F-35 program – and create opportunities for people in region and for Australia’s defence industry.

Choosing Williamtown

BAE Systems first established a footprint at RAAF Williamtown as a result of a merger of companies supporting the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft. Its aerospace facility was constructed in 2000 for final assembly and then through-life support of the RAAF Hawk aircraft. The facility has also been used for Hornet maintenance and support throughout phases of that aircraft’s operational life.

This footprint has allowed BAE Systems to provide through-life support to the Hawks it maintains at RAAF Williamtown and RAAF Pearce, where RAAF squadrons are located. The company also supports the RAAF at other bases in regional NSW cities such as Wagga Wagga and Nowra, and provides basic flying training for the Australian Defence Force in the northern NSW city of Tamworth.

Now the Aerospace Integrated Systems Business Unit is focusing on boosting its ability to maintain and support the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which first enters RAAF service this year. Expected to be in service in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region until at least 2070, these aircraft will have to be maintained and sustained over the long term.

“What we’re doing is setting up a capability pipeline for the next generation, to ensure that we’re using that capability and developing people and facilities in the local region,” says Chapman. “This includes over 180 local Australian businesses that already support our existing aircraft sustainment activities at Williamtown. F-35 will provide significant further opportunity for our local SMEs.”

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