Complaints from Norway and others about lack of participation countered by large orders for mid-fuselage composites

US-based F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) contractors are offering large orders for mid-fuselage composite work to counter a new wave of workshare protests from international partners, including an ultimatum from Norway.

F-35 prime Lockheed Martin and principal subcontractor Northrop Grumman have promised contracts worth $50-300 million each to three companies - Australia's Hawker de Havilland, Denmark's Terma and Turkey's Tusas Aerospace Industries. A fourth agreement of similar value is being negotiated with Norway's Kongsberg.

The deals are aimed at four of the eight countries that pledged $4 billion to join the JSF programme's 11-year system development and demonstration phase expecting to reap industrial rewards, but are now almost unanimously disappointed by the results.

Norway's parliament could be on the brink of severing its ties with the programme, having scheduled a debate this week and a vote later this month.

Programme insiders fear Norway's departure could have a ripple effect, perhaps prompting others to drop out, but with fresh deals on the table, Lockheed Martin is optimistic Oslo can be persuaded to preserve its partnership status. "It is our belief that they will have a favourable discussion on Wednesday [9 June] and vote later in June to stay in the programme," says Michael Cosentino, the company's director of JSF international programmes.

Lockheed Martin has been quietly pushing its main airframe suppliers Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems and its own divisions for nearly a year to direct small deals to unsatisfied partners. This strategy was expanded late last year to address another looming problem: while the vast bulk of JSF development contracts have been placed with US-based companies, the US supplier base lacks production capacity in some areas to support production of the F-35. Suppliers were asked to set aside some of their excess work to help offset workshare imbalance with international partners.

Northrop Grumman agreed to outsource most of the composite material production for the aircraft's mid-fuselage section, says company programme manager Steven Briggs. Even in the early production years, F-35 orders are expected to be three times the largest annual output of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet programme, previously Northrop Grumman's largest customer for composites.

The company was faced with the choice of spending millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, or outsourcing the work. "It was easy to make the business decision," says Briggs.

But the business case is not so painless for the four companies in line to pick up the work. Lockheed Martin's agreements require the businesses to invest upfront in the tooling, training and facilities needed to support composite production work, but full contracts cannot be signed until production work begins in 2009.



Source: Flight International