Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin

F-35 arrives in Israel

On the same day that saw US president-elect Donald Trump take a swing at the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II for being too expensive, Israel took delivery of its very first two jets. Both arrived at Nevatim airbase following a flight that saw stopovers in the Azores and Italy.

The Israeli jets are among the first to be based anywhere outside the US. Crewed by US pilots, both F-35I Adir (Hebrew for ‘mighty one’) jets on Monday flew to Israel after leaving the F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Italy. Airheadsfly.com had the rare opportunity to visit this facility last October.

Last week, both jets arrived at the FACO after a transatlantic flight that saw a stop over in Lajes on the Azores. The visit to the FACO was a surprise move, especially since the Israelis have said that all future maintenance on the Adir will be done in-country. Nevertheless, the FACO in Italy offers maintenance and upgrade facilities for F-35 jets.

Israeli pilots will fly the new aircraft for the first time this week. In 2018, the Israeli Air Force will put them into service. The country now has 50 jets on order.

The arrival of the advanced jet was overshadowed by Trump’s announcement that the F-35’s program costs are ‘out of control’ just hours before. His tweet – that also vaguely hints at cutting those costs – saw Lockheed Martin stocks take a plunge straightaway. Most recent estimates say the total program costs are now around 376 billion USD.

Trump’s targetting of the F-35 comes only a few weeks after another blow to the program, which was Canada’s postponement of a purchase by selecting the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for now.

Exclusive: spotlight on F-35 production in Italy

In an enormous rectangular building in Cameri, Italy, a group of people swarms over the grey object that among them is known as AL-5. To others, it is known as the fifth Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II for the Italian Air Force. But judging by the language used, it’s not Italians who seem to turn AL-5 inside out. They are Americans, employed by Lockheed Martin and the US Department of Defense (DoD). And their job at hand is quality inspection of a factory fresh, Italian-made F-35 Lightning II.

An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
Related reading: F-35 takes a hit – from Canada. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Airheadsfly.com’s recently paid a very exclusive visit to the rather secretive F-35’s Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, which is run by Leonardo Aircraft and which rolled out its first F-35 in March 2015. The FACO is the result of extensive negotiations involving Italy, the US, Lockheed Martin and Leonardo Aircraft prior to 2010.

Development of the site started as soon as the ink was put on the contract. When epxloring the facility, it is hard to image that this 22-building, one million square feet complex was raised from the ground up in just three years. It is one of only three F-35 final assembly lines in the world, the others being Lockheed Martin’s production plant in Forth Worth, Texas, and Mitsubishi’s FACO in Nagoya, Japan.

Cameri sees final assembly of F-35A and B models for Italy, plus  F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) in the future. Other potential customers  may follow as well. “So far, we have completed delivery of four jets to the Italian Air Force, and we’re getting ready to hand over AL-5 as well. The first four were flown to the US for pilot training, but the fifth will stay in Italy. It will be delivered to the 32nd Stormo (wing) at Amendola airbase soon”, says brigadier-general Giuseppe Lupoli, F-35 FACO program manager on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Defense.

(Image © Airheadsfly.com)
Work in progress on an F-35A for the Italian Air Force. Visible in the background is the first F-35B to be produced in Cameri. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)
An F-35A takes shape in one of 11 assembly docks in the Cameri FACO. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)
An F-35A takes shape in one of 11 assembly docks in the Cameri FACO. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Assembly

Situated in the center of the FACO is the assembly hall. It covers eleven assembly bays, in one of which Leonardo Aircraft employees now crawl under and over AL-8, the final aircraft of an initial order of eight F-35s from Italy. The same hall also covers five bays for future maintenace, repair and overhaul works on the Lightning II.

Whereas in Fort Worth the hugely expensive 5th generation fighter jets are manufactured on a moving production line, in Cameri an F-35 stays in a specific assembly bay for the whole build process, with parts being brought to the jet. “Our bay approach is certified by Lockheed Martin and elements of it have even been introduced in Fort Worth”, says Lupoli. At full speed, the Cameri FACO is said to be capable of delivering two new jets per month.

The first F-35 Lightning II from the assembly line in Italy (Image © Larry Bramblett / Lockheed Martin)
The first Cameri-built F-35 Lightning II was rolled out in March 2015.  (Image © Larry Bramblett / Lockheed Martin)

First F-35B

For now, production rate is not anywhere remotely near that. Most assembly bays remain unused and empty while awaiting a formal procurement decision from Rome. The exact numbers are debated for a considerable time already in Italy, but the country  currently is eyeing 52 more F-35As for its air force, plus 30 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variants to be used by both navy and air force.  Meanwhile, the FACO understandably needs to keep the production flow going. Lupoli: “Because of long lead times, we are indeed moving ahead with production of parts for the next batch of jets.” Indeed, during Airheadsfly.com’s visit the first Italian F-35B was seen in final assembly, along with more A-models for the air force.

Dutch jets

Also, 2019 will see production of the first F-35s for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The RNLAF has for several years been performing operational test and evaluation (OT&E) with its first two Lightnings in the US and should initially see delivery of six more from Fort Worth. The remaining 29 out of 37 aircraft ordered are to be assembled in Cameri.

(Image © Airheadsfly.com)
In Cameri, F-35s also receive their stealthy coating. Here, a full scale mock up is used to test the FACO’s associated installation. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Quality

In the Netherlands some concerns were raised over the fact that a 90 million USD aircraft designed and ordered in the US, is to be manufactured in an Italian factory. Those concerns were mainly about quality control…. and that’s were those Americans swarming over AL-5 come in. Not one F-35 leaves this FACO without a US pilot test flying it and without personnel from both Lockheed Martin and US DoD performing an inspection that easily lasts a couple of days. Pieces of blue tape on AL-5’s stealthy coating mark the spots that apparently are not up to standard.

Although their number has been greatly reduced since production got underway, the presence of US personnel in Italy comes as no surprise given the sensitive nature of the F-35. Lupoli: “Even with an aircraft destined for the Italian Air Force, we first hand it over to US DoD personnel for inspection and acceptance. Only then does US DoD hand it back  to our own air force. By doing so, quality control here in Cameri is totally in line with the US standard.”

(Image © Airheadsfly.com)
US personnel inspects AL-5 before acceptance. Only then will US DoD hand the aircraft over to its customer, being the Italian Air Force. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Wings

Apart from complete jets, the FACO also produces full wing sets for use in Fort Worth, with a maximum capacity of 72 sets per year. Quality control is equally strict here. Experts check each wing before it is ‘closed’, which means the upper skin is joined with the lower skin, making components inside unreachable without extensive repair jobs. Recently, faulty insulation on piping inside the wing forced Lockheed Martin to do exactly that kind of work on dozens of F-35s. According to the Italians, the problem was not found on Cameri-made wings.

The work done is testimony of the skills acquired by Leonardo Aircraft employees in just a few years’ time. In total, F-35 works in Cameri should generate an estimated 6,000 Italian jobs and add 15.8 billion USD to the Italian economy.

Lifespan
The Cameri site is projected to be in operation for at least forty years, during which focus will shift more and more to maintance, repair and overhaul of European. Lupoli: “Over the next 15 years, we expect to reduce the number of assembly bays and turn those into additional bays for F-35 maintenance.”

That’s no surpise, given the fact that Cameri back in 2014 was appointed as  the sole provider of heavy F-35 airframe maintenance in Europe. But to maintain one of the world’s most advanced and expensive military jets, this facility will first have to build them. To a passing visitor such as Airheadsfly.com, it seems the FACO is ready to fill those empty assembly bays and do exactly that. It seems ready to fulfill its projected contribution to the Italian economy as well as European defense needs. All it needs, are more actual F-35s to build.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A view of F-35 production in Cameri. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

The first F-35A for the Italian Air Force takes off from Cameri FACO (Image © Todd McQueen, Lockheed Martin
The first F-35A for the Italian Air Force took off from Cameri  in September 2015. (Image © Todd McQueen, Lockheed Martin)

The F-35 takes a hit – from Canada

The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II on Tuesday 22 November took a major hit. Not in any mock 1 vs 1 dog fight or any large scale military exercise, but in the political arena. By choosing the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as an interim solution to its immediate fighter jet needs, Canada is signalling that the F-35’s development takes to long and its price tag is to high.

Canada is looking to buy 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as  immediate replacements of ageing ‘legacy’ model F-18 Hornets. If a deal with Boeing is finalized, delivery of new jets should take no more than two or three years.

With the F-35, that would take considerably longer, not to mention the fact that development and testing of this 5th generation fighter jet – and its software along with it – may not even be finished by then. Recent progress in the program still doesn’t mean the jet is capable of firing its internal gun, for example.

Later purchase

Canada has pondered and postponed an F-35 purchase for many years. Today’s selection of the Super Hornet does not exclude the possibility that the Canadian government in Ottawa may still purchase the F-35 at a later stage. However, the 400 billion USD weapons program has been the subject of much criticism in Canada, especially its 100 million USD per piece price tag.

A RAAF F-18 in flight (Image © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Partner nation

Nevertheless, Canada’s choice is remarkable and concerning for Lockheed Martin and the F-35’s Joint Program Office (JPO) in Washington, since the country is a level 3 partner in the program. Other level 3 partners are Australia, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, all of which have selected the F-35 as their new fighter jet.

Unique

In fact, Canada now is unique in being the only partner nation in the program not to actually buy the F-35 – for now. By doing so, it’s industry will benefit from taking part in the program, without tax payers having to cough up billions of dollars to actually buy the jets. For other nations however, it means that their jets will have higher price tags, since fewer jets sold means that development and production costs per aircraft remain higher than anticipated. That will cause some sour faces in other partner nations.

A CF-188 is preparing for flight at Bagotville in Quebec (Image © Corporal Marc-André Gaudreault, Canadian Forces Combat Camera / DND-MDN)
One of Canada’s ageing ‘legacy’ Hornets. (Image © Corporal Marc-André Gaudreault, Canadian Forces Combat Camera / DND-MDN)

Reputation

Yes, both Lockheed Martin and Ottawa will downplay this and probably point to a possible Canadian fighter jet competition still to be held. But the truth is, it is a major hit for the JPO’s promise of lower unit costs and the F-35’s reputation – which saw a change for the better in 2016, partly due to appearances in the Netherlands and the UK.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of other fighter jet competitions that see the F-35 and Super Hornet go head to head, such as the current ones in Belgium and Finland. The former beat the latter earlier this year in Denmark. Following today’s decision in Canada, that makes the score even.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

 

F-35 part maintenance spread to UK, the Netherlands & Australia

The US Department of Defense has assigned Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade (MRO&U) capabilities for F-35 Lightning II parts to facilities in the UK, the Netherlands and Australia, as announced on Monday 7 November. The contracts involved are potentially worth billions of USD.

As part of the F-35 global sustainment strategy, nations in the F-35 program were asked to work with industrial partners to provide the repair facilities. The resulting assignments are based on data compiled and analyzed by the F-35 Joint Program Office. They come into effect in 2021 and will be reviewed after five years. The assignments make sure F-35 operations and maintenance can be supported anywhere around the world, according to the US.

A very exclusive report on F-35 production in Cameri, Italy, follows soon here at  Airheadsfly.com.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has a total of 774 repairable components, broken into 18 categories such as avionics, life support, egress, canopy system and pumps.  The current assignment is for 65 of these 774 parts, with assignment of the remaining parts to follow over the next two to three years. Eventually, the program intends to have regional repair capability in Europe and the Pacific for all 774 components.

The Department of Defense assigned 48 components to the United Kingdom, 14 to the Netherlands, and 3 to Australia. From 2021 to 2025 these repair capabilities in the UK, Australia, and the Netherlands will serve all F-35s around the world.

Airframe
The current assigments are for repairable parts, and not complete airframes. In 2014 the US assigned F-35 MRO&U capability for airframes and engines for the European and Pacific Regions.  In Europea, F-35 initial airframe MRO&U capability will be provided by Italy at their Final Assembly and Checkout facility in Cameri by 2018.

Also in Europe,  engine heavy maintenance will initially be provided by Turkey in 2018, with Norway and the Netherlands providing additional capability approximately three years after Turkey’s initial capability.

Asia
In Asia, Japan and Australia were choosen for the F-35 airframe MRO&U capability. For heavy engine maintenance, the initial capability will be provided by Australia, with Japan providing additional capability approximately three to five years later.

500 hours for Dutch F-35 OT&E

The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) celebrated 500 flight hours during Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) at Edwards Air Force Base in California on Wednesday 25 October. This milestone was reached and celebrated by Edwards-based 323 squadron  this week.

The Dutch have been testing both RNLAF Lockheed Martin F-35As and their behaviour in an operational evironment. Recent activities included dropping live bombs on the test ranges surrounding Edwards.

Of course, 2016 was also marked by the successful deployment of both jets to the Netherlands, which sparked a major change in public acceptance of the F-35.  Whereas earlier the Dutch mainly opposed the expensive fighter jet program, they now seem to have accepted the F-35 as the best choice to replace ageing F-16 jets.

Still, the RNLAF F-35 fleet will only consist of the current two jets for the next two years. Starting 2018, more jets are to be delivered. The total number projected so far is 37.