Alenia pushes to streamline costs for Italian F-35 plant

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Alenia Aeronautica is seeking to streamline costs for a proposed final assembly and check out (FACO) facility based in Italy for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The Italian plant at Cameri air base would open with only the "essential" needs, and striking "costly" equipment and tooling that Lockheed uses to meet production rate targets at the F-35's primary assembly centre in Fort Worth, Texas, says Alenia CEO Giovanni Bertolone.

"The final cost is related to the severity of the requirements" imposed by US and Lockheed programme officials, he says. "The way to make it affordable in the proposal is to work on the requirements in order to be essential and not to have something that is nice to have."

The negotiations between industry and government officials in the US and Italy must reach a conclusion by January, Bertolone says.

"We want to stay within the program. We want to stay on schedule," Bertolone says. "So this means the next months will be crucial."

Lockheed says the company and Alenia want to complete negotiations by the end of the year. Both companies "are working to ensure that the Italian government gets the FACO at an affordable price," it adds.

Since 2007, Lockheed and Alenia have been studying requirements for a FACO located on government-owned property on the Cameri base. The project was initially estimated to cost $250 million, and Bertolone would only describe the current price tag as in the "hundreds of millions of dollars".

Bertolone also hinted about concerns over rising cost pressures in the programme. Italy remains committed to the F-35 programme, but the government's fiscal resources are strained by the global economic crisis, he says.

"We are discussing a certain level of investment [with Lockheed] and we want to maintain this level of investment," Bertolone says.

Alenia is also seeking to keep costs for the FACO low as the Italian government tries to recoup a greater share of its $900 million already investment pledged to develop the F-35. Alenia already has participated in the design of the F-35's wing. In fact, Alenia will start building the first parts for the F-35 wing in a few weeks, as the company builds up to become a second source to Lockheed for wing production in 2012.

"Theoretically, the global level of industrial return [for F-35 development partners] is quite high, but we are looking [for once] as anglo-saxons," says Bertolone, half-jokingly. "We want to be pragmatic. We are not looking to the theoretical numbers."

Although Alenia does not expect to receive additional work packages, Bertolone says, parent Finmeccanica's aerospace electronics companies are in good position to pick up extra work.