Together with our Defence partner, Joint Strike Fighter Branch, we were delighted to win the 2021 Essington Lewis award for ‘Major Acquisition – over $50m’. We also received the ‘Outstanding Prime’ award for the F-35 Regional Engine Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade (MRO&U) Program. Both awards recognise five years of collaboration to stand up the first MRO&U capability for the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine outside of the US.
As with many success stories, the transformation of an abandoned Masters warehouse into a Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Defence Propulsion MRO was predicated on foresight.
In 2015, Australia was selected as the Asia-Pacific regional MRO&U provider for the F135 engine that powers the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. A short time later, TAE Aerospace was chosen as one of four global Product Support Providers. A new depot was required to meet stringent F135 Facility Capability requirements, however, and there was no room to expand our existing premises at RAAF Base Amberley.
Taking a big picture perspective, we proposed to co-invest with the Commonwealth to build a new, cross-platform Turbine Engine Maintenance Facility. Our current Defence engine MRO activities would relocate there, including the GE F414 engine in the Super Hornet and Growler aircraft, and the Honeywell AGT1500 engine in the Abrams tank. With the right design and floor plan, it could serve as a propulsion MRO ‘hub’ where teams could work and train on multiple land and air platforms now and into the future.
When plans to purchase and build on a greenfield site eventually became unworkable, and with timing to stand up F135 capability becoming increasingly tight, the Commonwealth needed an enterprising solution that could be executed quickly. Our team saw potential in an unoccupied former Masters warehouse near Ipswich. It turned out to be an ideal foundation for the new facility, saving months of build time.
With flexibility on both sides, our team and the Commonwealth were able to re-tender, negotiate, contract, fund and purchase the original building, and design a 50% increase in size, within five months. Work on the F135 area commenced immediately. By April 2019, we had achieved authorisation for F135 initial depot activation. Our first production F135 engine module for the F-35 Global Support System was completed in January 2020, and Initial Depot Capability was achieved in July this year. Completed in stages and now fully operational, our cross-platform facility is designed to expand capacity and capability in line with Australia’s needs.
As a Defence Centre of Excellence, we aim to excel in three main areas. The first is in world-leading engine performance outcomes achieved through best-practice engine repair and build programs. The second is in training and supporting teams to work and create efficiencies across multiple platforms. The third is to bring work into Australia that was previously performed overseas. This can occur by developing our own IP or by demonstrating an efficiency and quality advantage. Maintaining this focus has allowed us to lower sustainment costs for Defence on existing platforms, while also preparing to scale up capacity and take on new work. In this way, we are working to ensure Defence has timely and sustained access to mission critical capability in an increasingly uncertain future.