Quickstep wins large F-35 composites contract

The memorandum of understanding, which could lead to a long-term agreement next year, involves Quickstep's manufacture of several composite parts and structures for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

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Australian advanced composites company Quickstep Holdings Ltd. (North Coogee, Australia) announced on Nov. 4 that it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with global aerospace corporations Lockheed Martin Corp. (Bethesda, Md., USA) and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. (Los Angeles, Calif.) intended to secure in excess of $700 million worth of potential contracts to manufacture components for the new multi-nation F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

The JSF is an advanced composite 5th generation fighter jet. The Australian Federal Government is planning to acquire up to 100 of the aircraft and has been highly instrumental in generating this opportunity for Australian industry. The MOU signed by Quickstep, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman follows extensive discussions between the parties about the manufacture of components for the JSF using advanced composites. It paves the way for the parties to work together to finalize a long-term agreement (LTA) for Quickstep to supply 19,325 composite doors and access panels. These parts will all be exported to the United States for incorporation into the Joint Strike Fighters globally. Quickstep hopes to complete the LTA by March 2010.

Under the contract, Quickstep may supply up to 21 components under the LTA. The parts include lower side skins, maintenance access panels, F2 fuel tank cover, lower skin and in-board weapons bay doors. The potential manufacturing contract under the LTA is planned to last between 20 and 30 years and could generate annual turnover of $50 million by 2015.

The Quickstep composites process involves use of a fluid-filled, balanced pressure, heated floating mold technology for the curing, partial curing and joining of composite materials. It works by rapidly applying heat to the laminate which is trapped between a free floating rigid (or semi-rigid) mold that floats in a heat transfer fluid.

Quickstep managing director Philippe Odouard said the MOU was a major milestone in the transformation of Quickstep because it opened the door to not only a substantial JSF contract, but also to other potential defense and aerospace contracts, further validating the time and investment Quickstep has put into preparing its production facility over the past three years.

“The potential value of the LTA to Quickstep and to Australia cannot be overstated,” Odouard said. “As well as generating hundreds of millions of dollars in export revenue, the LTA could lead to world-class training opportunities in the highly advanced industry of aerospace composites. “Australia is ideally placed to carve itself a much bigger slice of the global defence market.  The LTA could be the perfect start to that process.”

As a minimum, the $700 million LTA would create about 156 high-end jobs, including technicians, engineers, machine operators and quality assurance experts, and may create a further 620 support industry jobs.

Paul Johnson, CEO of Lockheed Martin Australia, said the Industrial Participation program for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program had already generated more than $200 million for 25 Australian companies and that his company was continuing to work closely with the federal and state governments to identify further opportunities for the Australian defense industry. Odouard said Quickstep was in discussions with other parties concerning further possible JSF-related contracts.