Italy has released details of its planned final assembly and check-out (FACO) facility for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with its government and parliament expected to approve the required investment before year-end.

To be built at the Italian air force's Cameri air base and to employ 500 people, the 60,000m² (646,000ft²)FACO will be run by Alenia Aeronautica under Lockheed's control. If approved, work will begin next year, with the site to have fixed assembly stations capable of completing two aircraft a month.

Major sections of the F-35's airframe, systems and avionics will arrive at the site from partner companies, with Alenia Aeronautica to produce the aircraft's wings. Italian personnel will apply low radar cross-section coatings at Cameri, which will also host flight-test and delivery activities.

Production will run until around 2022, with the Netherlands' F-35s also likely to be assembled in Italy. The FACO is also planned to become a long-term maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade facility for European operators of the JSF.

Rome remains firmly committed to the JSF programme, despite a recent decision to not participate in its initial operational test and evaluation phase, say officials within the Italian defence ministry and Lockheed. Italy must allocate funds in 2011 to acquire long-lead items for its first F-35s, with a full contract due the following year and deliveries to start in 2014.

"Although the Italian navy will receive a maximum of 22 aircraft and the air force has still to define the correct mix between STOVL [short take-off and vertical landing] and CTOL [conventional take-off and landing] within the 109 nominal allocated aircraft, the current per-year production will be adjusted to deliver initially the STOVL version to both services and later CTOL for the air force," says air force Col Fabio Giunchi, Italy's national programme deputy at the JSF Joint Programme Office.

Source: Flight International