Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announced on February 25 that the joint UK/Australia F-35 Reprogramming Laboratory has opened at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The facility will be used to develop, verify, and validate Mission Data File software for Royal Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35B and Royal Australian Air Force F-35A fleets.
“The Reprogramming Laboratory produces Mission Data Files (MDFs), which compile information about the operating environment and assets in an area, before being loaded onto the aircraft before flight using a portable hard drive,” Reynolds said in a statement following the announcement.
“Combined with the aircraft’s advanced sensor suite, this provides the pilot with a clearer battlespace picture, [and] today’s opening is a key milestone in the delivery of this [F-35A] program to the Australian Defence Force.”
The joint venture is funded on an equal basis by the Australian and UK governments and was originally known as the Australia, Canada, UK Research Laboratory (ACURL) before Canada decided to re-evaluate its future fighter plans following the 2015 general election. The latter country, however, remains a Tier 3 industrial partner in the F-35 program.
The lab has been producing MDFs for Australian and UK F-35s in temporary facilities at Eglin since June 2018, before the opening of the dedicated facility on February 25. SRC Australia won a related contract in 2018 to deliver its Ghosthawk mission support system, which is used to produce RAAF operational mission data sets for the Reprogramming Laboratory.
Similar software reprogramming laboratories either exist or are under development at Eglin for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps (USRL) and Norway and Italy (NIRL). A further facility is under development at the Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC) at NAS Point Mugu, California, to support Foreign Military Sales (FMS) F-35 customers such as Israel, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.
Australia has currently taken delivery of 18 of its 72 F-35As on order, the first having arrived in Australia in December 2018. Reynolds said that the program is on track to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in December 2020 and Final Operational Capability (FOC)—represented by three operational fighter squadrons and an Operational Conversion Unit—in late 2023.