Lockheed Martin expects the Nagoya-based final assembly and checkout line (FACO) for Japan’s F-35A to be up and running in 2017.
Japan’s first four F-35As from a 2011 order for 42 aircraft will, however, be delivered from the company’s Dallas Forth Worth line, with the first example due this year, says Orlando Carvalho, executive vice-president of Lockheed Martin's aeronautics business, in a recent interview.
For the time-being the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries line in Nagoya is only schedule to produce 38 fighters.
“The FACO in Nagoya is still in the process of getting fully stood up, getting the first plane through, and this process won't be completed until next year,” he says. “It’s the same process we just completed in Cameri, Italy in 2015 to deliver the first plane out Italy. We're following a very similar process in Nagoya to what we followed in Cameri.”
Carvalho also touched on other fighter requirements in the Asia-Pacific, namely the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KFX indigenous fighter programme, and industry talk that New Delhi could re-open a lucrative fighter requirement.
Under the terms of South Korea’s 2013 order for 40 F-35As, Lockheed will help Seoul develop the KFX. This programme hit a roadblock in 2015, however, when the US denied the transfer of four technologies deemed essential to the aircraft: active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, infrared search and track (IRST), electro-optical targeting, and jamming.
The failure to obtain export licences for these technologies created a furore in South Korea.
“In the case of KFX we work closely with KAI to understand what the requirements, needs, and desires are,” says Carvalho. “We then bring that information to the United States government and work with the appropriate offices on whether these needs can be met with the technology transfer that our government will be open to.”
He stresses, though, that KFX technology transfer issues are mainly a discussion between Seoul and Washington DC: “There is a lot of government to government communication that goes on around technology transfer. We're certainly not in the middle of that. We try to facilitate the communication around this to the industry side, so that there is clarity with what the US government decides.”
In regard to India, Carvalho says Lockheed stands ready to produce the F-16 fighter there, but that this potential requirement is still very much at the government-to-government level.
New Delhi has struggled for years to obtain a modern fighter. After interminable analysis and debate, in 2011 the Dassault Rafale won the Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition for 128 jets. When negotiations with Dassault about local production dragged on, the government of Narendra Modi decided to order 36 Rafales directly from Dassault’s assembly line in France.
Such an acquisition, however, contravenes the Modi government’s “Make In India” policy. It emerged in early 2016 that New Delhi is speaking with various governments about local production of fighters in India.
“We’ve indicated we'd be interested in utilising the F-16, not unlike what we offered during MMRCA competition,” says Carvalho. “We offer the opportunity to make F-16s in-country for the Indian air force, and potentially using that same production line for other countries. We've had discussions with both governments, but today it is largely a government to government discussion.”