Australia and the United Kingdom have opened an F-35 Reprogramming Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida that will provide the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) and Royal Air Force’s (RAF) burgeoning fleets of F-35 Lockheed Martin fifth-generation Lightning II F-35A Joint Strike Fighters with a threat library — known as Mission Data Files (MDF) — to facilitate the processing of data compiled by the aircraft’s sensors and other support platforms.
“The Reprogramming Laboratory produces Mission Data Files (MDFs for Australian and U.K. F-35s) which compiles information about the operating environment and assets in an area, before being loaded onto the aircraft pre-flight using a portable hard drive,” Australian Minister of Defense Linda Reynolds was quoted as saying in a February 25 statement. “Combined with the aircraft’s advance sensor suite, this provides the pilot with a clearer battlespace picture.”
Reynolds hailed the opening of the Reprogramming Laboratory as “a key milestone in the delivery of this program to the Australian Defense Force.”
Australia and the U.K. are reportedly co-funding and supporting the laboratory under a 50/50 funding arrangement. “The Reprogramming Laboratory will support Australian and U.K. F-35s by developing, verifying, validating and issuing F-35 MDFs for Australian and U.K.-fielded F-35s,” the press statement adds.
The RAAF accepted delivery of is first two F-35As at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales in December 2018 with a total of 33 aircraft delivered to the service by the end of 2020. The RAAF’s entire fleet of 72 F-35As is expected to reach full operating capability (FOC) by 2023 with initial operating capability (IOC) set for December of this year.
The F-35A is replacing the RAAF’s aging fleet of F/A-18A/B Hornets and will operate in conjunction with the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. As I wrote in December 2019, the Australian government may be mulling an expansion of its F-35 force:
There has also been speculation among defense experts that Australia will acquire the F-35B, capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings (STOVL) without requiring a catapult launcher, for the Royal Australian Navy’s two largest warships, the Canberra-class landing helicopter docks (LHD) HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide.
The Australian government, however, has rejected the proposal as too costly. Military experts have also noted that a conversion would be technically complex and dilute the Canberra–class LHDs’ amphibious warfare mission. Nonetheless, the procurement of the F-35B cannot be ruled out entirely.
The Australian Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin announced a five-year $61 million contract to streamline operational support for the RAAF’s F-35A fleet in August 2019. During the same month locally-trained pilots flew a F-35A of the RAAF for the first time.