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Australia unveils its F-35 JSF 'Iron Bird'

April 26, 2013 at 12:05 AM   |   Comments

CANBERRA, Australia, April 26 (UPI) -- Australia will use a full-scale F-35A Joint Strike Fighter model to study the effects of electromagnetic compatibility and interference on the aircraft.

Minister for Defense Science and Personnel Warren Snowdon unveiled the JSF model at the laboratories of the Defense Science and Technology Organization, which will conduct the studies, a statement from the Australian Ministry of Defense said.

The Australian-built model -- called Iron Bird -- will be tested under simulated electromagnetic conditions during the acquisition and through-life sustainment of Lockheed Martin's JSF.

"This study is a significant part of ensuring the protection of the JSF against electromagnetic environmental effects such as lightning and static discharge, which can impair the performance and safety of aircraft," Snowdon said during a visit to DSTO laboratories in Adelaide.

Australia's first two F-35As are to be delivered to a training facility in the United States during 2014-15 when Australia starts training JSF pilots and maintenance personnel.

The fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II will replace Australia's McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighters and its retired General Dynamics F-111 bombers.

Snowdon said the JSF has sophisticated software and a structural airframe made of composite materials, a combination that exposes the aircraft to electromagnetic interference from natural phenomena and man-made sources, including telecommunication transmissions and radar.

"The impact of these interferences needs to be well understood and appropriately managed," Snowdon said.

"DSTO has developed world-class expertise in the investigation of electromagnetic radiation impact on aircraft and is engaged directly with the United States JSF Joint Project Office to undertake this study using the Iron Bird model.

"The data captured will help in providing potential reductions in the cost of owning the JSF fleet and enhancing the aircraft's capability."

Snowdon said DSTO's research will support verification for compliance and airworthiness certification for the JSF, as well as keep maintenance costs down.

The latest estimate of around $90 million per plane has raised concerns among politicians in Canberra about whether Australia can afford to buy the intended 100 F-35 aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, principal executive of the Pentagon's JSF Program Office, addressed the issue of F-35 cost overruns when he met with Australian defense officials at the Avalon air show in Melbourne in February.

Bogdan said his survey of the JSF program had uncovered "ugly" problems with the program but that his office had sought to have Lockheed Martin share the costs of fixing faults and covering delays, The Australian newspaper reported in February.

In the United States, there has been concern over estimates of the jet's weight amid continuing questions about delivery dates and final cost.

Outgoing Executive Vice President and JSF General Manager Tom Burbage was quoted in the U.S. news media as saying the manufacturer miscalculated on the aircraft's weight during its early development.

After spending 12 years fronting the Lockheed Martin F-35 program Burbage retired this month on an optimistic note but far from clear about the aircraft's ultimate cost and delivery schedule.

Burbage was named head of the F-35 program less than three weeks after the company beat Boeing to develop the aircraft. Then valued at $220 billion, the contract aims to build thousands of F-35 for the U.S. military and hundreds more for international partners, Flight International said on its website.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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