The first F-35B assembled outside the United States rolled out of the Final Assembly and Check Out facility in Italy today.

According to a press release:

“The rollout exhibits the ongoing strong partnership between the Italian Ministry of Defense, industry partner Leonardo and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT).

The Italian FACO is owned by the Italian Ministry of Defense and is operated by Leonardo in conjunction with Lockheed Martin with a current workforce of more than 800 skilled personnel engaged in full assembly of the Conventional Take-off/Landing F-35A and F-35B aircraft variants and F-35A wing production.”

Doug Wilhelm, Lockheed Martin F-35 Program Management vice president said:

“Italy is not only a valued F-35 program partner that has achieved many F-35 program ‘firsts’, but is also a critical NATO air component force, providing advanced airpower for the alliance for the coming decades.

Italian industry has participated in the design of the F-35 and Italian industry made components fly on every production F-35 built to date.”

BL-1’s first flight is anticipated in late August and it is programmed to be delivered to the Italian Ministry of Defense in November. In addition, two Italian F-35A aircraft will fly from Cameri this year, the first by July and the second in the fourth quarter. To date, seven F-35As have been delivered from the Cameri FACO; four of those jets are now based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for international pilot training and three are at Amendola Air Base, near Foggio on the Adriatic coast. The Aeronautica Militare has already flown more than 100 flight hours in its Amendola-based F-35As.

After a series of confidence flights from Cameri, an Italian pilot will fly their first F-35B jet to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, early in 2018 to conduct required Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification. The next Italian F-35B aircraft is scheduled for delivery in November 2018.

The Cameri FACO has the only F-35B production capability outside the United States and is programmed to produce a total of 30 Italian F-35Bs and 60 Italian F-35As, along with 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, and retains the capacity to deliver to other European partners in the future.

The Italian FACO is also producing 835 F-35A full wing sets to support all customers in the programme. The FACO was selected by the US Department of Defense in 2014 as the F-35 Heavy Airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade facility for the European region.

24 COMMENTS

  1. can’t believe that as the largest defence spender in the EU the UK.. home of the Jet Engine and the only non American Level 1 partner, is not building the F35 here. I’m not a fan of trump, but at least he’s willing to use American clout to get businesses building in the US.. considering the amount we spend the F35 should be being built here.

    • I’m surprised too. I’d say fair enough if Italy built the hulls like they do for Eurofighter, but is there some reason the UK isn’t going to finish off the F-35B, same as it does the Typhoon, near Preston? Price I guess!

  2. Up front I have to say the Italians have been excellent partners in the Typhoon programme and the worksharing on that project was a good blueprint for other aircraft projects. However:

    The UK’s soft spine approach to our so called American friends has once again made us look rather slow and stupid. The Yanks as always are now showing their true colours when money is involved. That isn’t a criticism of them its as a result of us not buttoning every dot and comma down years ago. “Want our development cash and capabilities Mr LM? Well then outside the USA you build them here and nowhere else”.

    Where was Italy when all the development funding was needed? And what did they do in the design and testing phases? Why do LM get us here in the UK to do full life structure testing on the F-35 airframe? Given we are buying more than any country in the rest of Europe, and nearly as many as the WHOLE of the rest of Europe, the only country in Europe that should have a FACO is here in the UK. Totally shafted.

    And then we have the total insult of Italy carrying out Deep Maintenance for UK aircraft! So what on earth is RAF Marham going to do then store widgets? Long term maintenance is where the long term revenue stream lies. Totally shafted. Again.

    And to add a dose of salt to a gaping wound where do the Yanks tell us to send the F135 engines for major overhaul? Bloody Turkey! Its not like Rolls Royce who produced the F136 with GE, are the main partner in the EJ200 engine (based on RR XG-40 technology), supply and maintain thousands of US combat and other military engines don’t know anything about combat aircraft engine maintenance do they? When was the last time bloody Turkey designed, funded and produced a jet engine? Oh wait …. What Turkish engine is being used in Turkey’s TFX 5th generation air superiority fighter programme? Oh that will be the Vector version of the EJ200! Totally shafted. Again.

    I totally believe the F-35B is the right aircraft for the UK right now. But if this is how the only ‘Tier One Partner’ is treated we should never be involved in anything like this again with the Yanks without really squeezing the commercial pips tightly. I mean Italy (and Turkey?) can get all this extra work and future revenue for contributing the square root of sod all? It has also never met the NATO 2% spending target that the US demands of its partners. Italy has cut military budgets to around 1% during the past decade. So the message from America is ‘Its OK if you don’t meet NATO spending we will still spend $ Millions with you’.

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/02/daily-chart-11

    Anger and humiliation is how this country should now feel and we should step back and treat the Yanks as suppliers only from now on because they are no friends when they act like this. Not that they owe us anything but we should be as brutal as they are in commercial deals.

    • How easy is it to relocate some of this maintenance stuff? I wonder whether any of these decisions might get re-visited, e.g. if Italy cut back on its purchase plans (it does have serious economic and budget issues) and/or if the relationship with Turkey became more problematic.

      The win-win for the UK would be to expand & accelerate our F-35 buys in return for more local facilities but that is fantasy land I fear, my view is that it will be somewhat of a miracle if, 5 or 10 years down the line, we are still sticking to the current plan for 138 total.

      • Julian – the MoD should tell Washington (and this Pratt & Whitney) they have two options: Either we maintain our own engines (or they are sent to the USA) or we fit the F136 and do our own engines. There is NO way we should be entertaining doing business with a country that every day looks more and more like a dictatorship. And another question that astounds me is this: If the F135 is so ‘state of the art’ how can a country, with combat engine experience of only the F-16, be able to offer reliable maintenance?

        Some senior FAA and RAF bodies need to step up to the plate and tell the MoD so the message can be sent to the Pentagon … ‘Not on our watch’.

      • dadsarmy – Looks like the Italians have found a few internal strings to pull. They put in next to no funding, little design and development, cut their expected orders in half and get a FACO and lifelong heavy maintenance contracts in return.

        Maybe someone made someone in LM an offer they couldn’t refuse……

  3. I know. I can’t help thinking that, as the sole tier 1 partner with not only the biggest planned purchase in Europe but also the partner putting in the lion’s share of the partners’ contributions to up-front development costs ($2.5bn vs Italy as next biggest at $1bn), we should have negotiated a bit more in-country stuff.

    Does anyone know how much of the European maintenance is going to be based in the UK? Ultimately that’s probably more important. The air frame gets assembled once but thereafter is around for decades and requiring a lot of maintenance over its life. The more self-sufficient the UK can be in operating its F-35s the better.

    • Chris – I see you just answered my question re maintenance. Deeply, deeply disappointing. I agree with your sentiments.

  4. Makes you want to cry…the sheer lack of oversight by the UK and senior military personnel.
    uk should definetly have a F35 production site and be able to maintain engines. Not sure relying on Turkey at this time is a sound strategic decision.
    Also not sure Italy should qualify for an f35 production sites when their order will be less than half the UKs final production run.
    hmm something else HMG have lost sight on. Not filling me with much hope for the future when howlers like this keep happening.

  5. WTF? How in hell did Italy become a prime partner? Unlike many on here I have no combat/MOD experience but – what the hell?

    I do believe the F35 will become the defacto choice of NATO. I do believe it will be, in time, an awesome aircraft.

    I also believe we are being shafted by the USA – possibly as a result of Brexit.

    • Yeah. It was all decided ages ago. Nothing to do with Brexit. One problem is that we are such minnows compared to the US when it comes to military resources and development budgets that we don’t have a strong bargaining position when entering into joint development agreements.

      The only NATO country that has done a good job of funding enough local in-country development to build complete systems is France (e.g. Rafale). OK, they’re not 100% for MBDA, Thales etc but very strong in those partnerships. Ultimately that’s the only real way to avoid getting shafted by a much bigger partner. Sweden and Norway have also done pretty well in this respect. The UK really seems to have become a component manufacturer, and admittedly some of those components are excellent, bit it seems to have lost any desire to integrate things into complete systems in-country with the exception of ships and submarines. OK, some other land stuff but certainly not aircraft.

      If it wasn’t for Brexit then I would say that effective European cooperation would, although not a perfect solution, at least be an alternative to getting shafted by the USA that might in some cases be better. There would still probably be issues of “why is the main engine servicing in rather than the UK” where is another EU country but, pre Brexit, at least we would have been negotiating from a position of biggest (although often badly spent) defence budget in the EU and would have been “at the top table” for those negotiations. We would have had a much stronger hand. After Brexit I don’t see this as such an attractive option.

      • What rubbish blame Brexit we build the Euro fighter Typhoon with Germany,Italy and Spain because the powers that be say we can’t afford to build it on our own yet the French
        build the Rafale on there own and have done a pretty good job of exporting it Sweden Saab manage to also build a fighter and export it we give our technology away no wonder the UK aircraft industry is now a components based manufacturing.

  6. Stockholm syndrome! As the wolrd’s only geo political and super power America hedges its bets. Its a ruthless country. Only money and real politic matters in Washington. Anyone who thinks anything else is away with the fairies. How well the MoD did, who knows. There’s a brilliant article on defence one which should be mandatory reading (and weeping)

    http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2017/05/americas-allies-are-decline-heres-how-us-should-adjust/137608/?oref=d-topstory

  7. The UK being a tiar 1 partner to the American we are the only Country that has access to the F35 software
    I understand that the UK will be the software up grade to all 3000 F35’s

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