Italy emerges as lead candidate for second line as Lockheed Martin seeks resolution of technology issues

Lockheed Martin has started analysing options for establishing a second final assembly and checkout (FACO) line outside the USA for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The assessment is being launched as a bargaining item between Washington and several JSF international team members, most notably Italy, Turkey and the UK.

A final-assembly capability has long been a demand from some national industries involved in the nine-nation JSF development partnership, but carries political risk for the programme in the USA by transferring jobs overseas and increasing the overall cost of production. Lockheed’s programme cost estimates and manufacturing strategy call for a single line in Fort Worth, Texas.

Technology transfer is another major concern, given US government reservations about sharing secrets of the JSF’s stealth and sensor capabilities.

“We’ve been in the process of trying to define all the discreet activity and all those sensitive areas of technology,” says Lockheed director of international programmes Michael Cosentino.

Resolving such issues cannot be avoided much longer. A new international partnership agreement covering the production and sustainment phases is due in 2006, and negotiations formally began last month. A FACO line has become a priority in Italy, with both government and industry making the demand in unison.

BAE Systems has also championed the cause of establishing a final-assembly line in the UK. That interest led to a study by Rand in 2003 on the economic costs of opening a second line, which determined that programme costs would increase by about £79 million ($144 million).

Cosentino notes, however, that the UK may lack Italy’s united voice. “We hear [the FACO demand] more from BAE than we hear it from the Ministry of Defence,” he says. Turkey also has declared an interest in a domestic final-assembly site.

  •  The Netherlands could buy at least two JSFs to support test activities.


Source: Flight International