The four F-35A Full Mission Simulators (FMSims) currently operational at RAAF Base Williamtown have been successfully upgraded by local experts to support the continued build-up of pilot training at No. 3 Squadron and No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit.
Led by Defence’s F-35A industry partner Lockheed Martin Australia (LMA), the software in the FMSims was upgraded to align with the latest Operational Flight Program (OFP) installed in the aircraft.
Training Systems Manager at the Air Combat Systems Program Office (ACSPO), Harley Doughty, said this was an important step because it was critical the training devices and aircraft operating systems remain aligned.
"Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) in the US was planning to send an installation team to all sites around the world with fielded FMSims to complete the upgrade," Mr Doughty said.
"The upgrade team would have comprised at least three US personnel, including a test pilot. The capability of local simulator technicians from LMA has been growing since 2018, when the F-35A precinct opened at Williamtown and the first FMSims pair was installed and declared ready for training in early 2019."
Mr Doughty said the capabilities of the local team enabled the successful completion of the software installation without the physical presence of the American team, with reach-back support provided by the US, over a two-week period in May.
"All four F-35A FMSims have now been returned to operational service," Mr Doughty said.
"With the freeze on international travel, had a local support option not been available, our FMSims would have been out of alignment with the software configuration of the aircraft. This would have been further compounded when subsequent OFP software upgrades were released."
He said the successful local upgrade was a precedent for future upgrades and could potentially save Australia hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel and support costs over the life of the program.
Officer Commanding ACSPO, Group Captain Al Wherrett, said Defence had developed a strategy to ensure a safe and effective transition of F-35A training from the US to Australia.
"The F-35 Program has been conducting F-35 training in the US for more than six years," Group Captain Wherrett said.
"Australia has leveraged the knowledge from the US experience to establish and grow the sovereign Australian F-35A training system over the past two-to-three years. Simulation plays a key role in F-35A training and Defence is working closely with the F-35 JPO, LM and LMA to ensure training and courseware delivery meets our capability and schedule requirements."
LMA’s Australian F-35 In-Country Lead, Andy Doyle, said LMA had been growing Australian industry expertise in F-35A training support roles at Williamtown since 2018, including pilot and maintenance instructors, courseware developers, simulator technicians and information systems support.
"The software upgrade to the simulators provided a great opportunity for our team to apply their knowledge and skills, and has ensured that the FMSims continue to match the F-35A aircraft software and provide maximum training benefit to the RAAF," Mr Doyle said.
Ten F-35A FMSims will eventually be installed – six at Williamtown and four at RAAF Base Tindal – supporting sovereign F-35A pilot training for the life of the capability.