“Trusting, open and hands-on” are some of the words that come to mind when Wayne Sargeant, Ferra Group’s Engineering Manager, describes the company’s 17-year relationship with Lockheed Martin on the F-35 Lightning II program. Ferra, an industry leader in the design, manufacture and maintenance of electromechanical subsystems for companies in aerospace and defence, has worked with Lockheed Martin on the program since its inception in Australia. And Sargeant, a former Royal Air Force (RAF) engineer, has been with Ferra every step of the way.
“I’ve worked with Ferra since 2005, but my relationship with Lockheed Martin goes back to my days in the RAF. It’s been amazing to witness firsthand how far aircraft, and the way in which we manufacture components for aerospace, have come in that time," said Sargeant.
For Sargeant, these technological advancements have enabled Ferra and Lockheed Martin to continue to evolve their working relationship.
Over the life of the program, Ferra has progressed from developing and manufacturing low volumes of Alternate Mission Equipment (AME) weapons bay adapters for the F-35, to being the sole source supplier of 10 different adapters for the international fleet. Critical to delivering the contracted program of work has been Ferra’s investment in an automated robotic manufacturing cell, which produces the adapters at full-rate production and enables the company to be efficient and cost-competitive.
“Ferra’s advanced manufacturing capabilities mean we can be reactive and agile. Our robotic cell can swap between the manufacture of different AME parts in as little as 15 minutes. This offers Lockheed Martin an immense amount of flexibility,” said Sargeant.
While Ferra was responsible for implementing the cutting-edge manufacturing capability, David Rogers, Ferra’s Chief Financial Officer, said it is not something the company would have invested in without confidence in the strength of its relationship with Lockheed Martin.
The relationship has also helped Ferra diversify geographically, with the company establishing a presence in both America and India over the years.
“By trusting us with a complex, technically difficult statement of work, Lockheed Martin provided Ferra with a doorway into the global aerospace and defence industry, not just in Australia, but worldwide. Diversification has enabled Ferra to reduce the risk of supply chain disruption and become more competitive. And we are leveraging our global presence to grow our business and provide our expertise to other original equipment manufacturers," said Rogers.
Another way in which Lockheed Martin has supported Ferra’s growth has been to help the company understand and navigate the rules and regulations surrounding government contracting in the United States. As a result, Ferra has been able to harness its skills in government-contracted administration to win other statements of work and compete for international contracts. And Ferra’s performance on the F-35 program has also opened up new opportunities with Lockheed Martin, such as work on the MH-60 Romeo helicopters.
On a more personal level, both Sargeant and Rogers feel a deep sense of pride working at Ferra and on the F-35 program. Together, the pair have spent a combined 23 years with the company, a clear testament to Ferra’s investment in its people.
For Sargeant, the delivery of Australia’s first F-35 in 2018 cemented the significance of Ferra’s involvement in the program. “Ferra has a section of the Australian flag that arrived with our first F-35 is framed in its office. I walk past it every day and feel an incredible sense of pride in our contribution to the F-35 program and, more broadly, the protection of Australia’s national interests,” said Sargeant.
Looking ahead, Rogers said Ferra would continue to work closely with Lockheed Martin to deliver adapters as the jet evolves and as the ordinance requirements of the F-35 international program partners change.
“Part of Ferra’s mission is to support the warfighter, and I and the rest of the team feel privileged to contribute to such an important and technologically advanced aircraft,” said Rogers. “Our relationship with Lockheed Martin goes beyond that of a supplier and customer. We actively work together to build Australian industry capability. As we continue our partnership, we are incredibly excited about what the coming years hold for Ferra, and for our nation’s defence and aerospace industries as a whole."