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WASHINGTON – The official rollout of the first two F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force is a milestone in the U.S.-Australia partnership, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics said Saturday.
Frank Kendall spoke during a ceremony held on the flightline at the Lockheed Martin aviation facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We join Australia, as one of our original partners, to celebrate this delivery and the numerous Australian contributions to the joint strike fighter program,” Kendall said.
“For both our nations,” he added, “this program represents an exponential leap in capability on the cutting edge of technology, and an integral component of our ongoing joint commitment to stability and peace in the Asia-Pacific.”
The two F-35A aircraft, known as AU-1 and AU-2, are scheduled for delivery to the Australian air force later this year. They will be based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and used for Australian and partner-country pilot training beginning next year. The first F-35s to operate in Australia are expected by 2017.
The F-35 Lightning II program consists of a series of single-seat, single-engine, multirole fighters designed with stealth capability to perform ground attack, reconnaissance and air defense missions. The three variants of the F-35 include the F-35A, a conventional takeoff and landing variant; the F-35B, a short take-off and vertical-landing variant; and the F-35C, a carrier-based variant.
Joining Kendall as members of the official party were Australian Finance Minister and Senator Matthias Cormann, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, and Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson.
Kendall told an audience of about 300 that it takes a community to accomplish something as significant as the F-35.
“In this case it takes a community of nations, it takes a community of companies, it takes a community of militaries and departments within the U.S. and around the world, and all of our partners. It takes a community of industry to come together,” the undersecretary added. “This aircraft is a testimony to our ability to do that.”
Kendall described a time two decades ago when he served at the Pentagon as director of tactical warfare programs under then-Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutch.
“John got a number of us together one day,” he recalled, “and said that he’d decided [to] start a new technology program called the joint strike technology program that would lead to a common set of aircraft, of which there would be three variants: one for the Marine Corps, one for the Air Force and one for the Navy.”
Kendall said he didn’t think it would work, because the communities would never agree on what to do, or stay together on the agreement long enough to develop three such aircraft.
“Now if John had said, ‘Also, we’re going to make it a little more interesting by bringing on eight international partners at the same time,’ I would have just thrown my hands up in the air and said, ‘Forget about it.'” he added.
Admitting he was wrong, Kendall said the “fundamental reason [for the program’s success] is the capability that we’ve been able to develop and the cutting-edge capability we’re offering to all the partners, all the services, all the nations involved in the F-35.”
The program’s eight partner nations and two Foreign Military Sales countries already have announced plans to procure nearly 700 F-35s. The program of record outlines the acquisition of more than 3,000 aircraft, defense officials say.
Many partners have ordered their first aircraft, and pilots and maintainers from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have taken delivery of their first F-35 aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where they’re training with U.S. counterparts.
The communities supporting the F-35 have stayed together because of common values and shared interests, Kendall said, and because they are committed to having next-generation capability and a multirole fighter that all partners need and will be able to depend on for decades.
In his remarks, Kendall explored the nature of the F-35, which has overcome many issues since its first flight in 2006, by discussing the 1981 nonfiction book he’s reading, author
Tracy Kidder’s “The Soul of a New Machine.”
The Pulitzer Prize- and American Book Award-winning story is an account of the efforts of a team of researchers at now-defunct Data General, one of the first late-1960s microcomputer firms, to create a new 32-bit superminicomputer.
“At the time, Data General was in trouble,” Kendall said. “A company called Digital Equipment Corp. had introduced something called the VAX. They were cutting-edge in their day, and Data General had to respond to this threat, so they launched a crash program to develop a new design.”
Telling the story, Kendall explained the point in the book he considers relevant today.
“The program manager, the chief designer for Data General, realized the computer he was building was too complex to be understood by a single individual,” the undersecretary said. But the designer realized that no single person could possibly grasp all the complexity involved in the design they were creating, he added, and the designer had to trust many others to design their parts successfully and bring the machine together.
“It’s that complexity that led to a very successful product, and they were successful at the time,” Kendall said. “It’s that complexity that characterizes the product behind me,” referring to a gleaming new F-35.
During one of Kendall’s first office calls several years ago with then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, the undersecretary recalled, “[Panetta] said, ‘Frank, why can’t we make more things like the [mine resistant, ambush-protected vehicle]? Why is the F-35 taking so long and costing so much?’
“My answer was one word,” Kendall said. “Complexity.”
The undersecretary listed several of the factors that make the F-35 so complex: “Millions of lines of code, an incredibly integrated design that brings together stealth, a number of characteristics, very advanced sensors, advanced radars, advanced [infrared] sensors, incredibly capable electronic warfare capability, integration of weapons and integration across the force of multiple aircraft and multiple sensors to work together as a team.”
All of that integrated technology is unprecedented, he said. “You’re talking about something that no one has ever done before, which will put us all a decade or more ahead of anybody else out there. And [it will] keep us ahead for some time to come as we continue to upgrade the F-35,” he added.
Such complexity has led to the cost and the time it has taken to design and build the F-35, Kendall said, but also to the capability it represents. “That’s why we’re all still together,” he added. “That’s why all the communities I talked about have stayed with this aircraft.”
As he ended his remarks, Kendall asked for a round of applause for the engineers and production workers who made the F-35 possible.