The Pentagon announced how it plans to spend hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 40 to 50 years sustaining and maintaining the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in Europe for decades after it enters service.
Heavy airframe maintenance work will go to Italy with the United Kingdom providing back up support, and heavy engine work will go to Turkey, Norway and The Netherlands, F-35 program manager Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan told reporters Thursday.
The regional alignments are part of what the Department of Defense calls regional Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade, or MRO&U, capability for F-35 airframes and engines.
The maintenance and sustainment work will examine and repair engines, update weapons systems as new technology emerges, replace components as needed and, in some cases, perform heavy repair work on the F-35 airframes throughout the expected service life of the aircraft, Bogdan explained.
“The maintenance and repair capabilities that we will be standing up allow us to keep the airframe and the airplane weapons system up to speed with the threats. These are necessary to keep a weapons system relevant and flying for forty to fifty years,” Bogdan said.
Overall, the nine countries participating in the F-35 program are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
Bogdan said decisions about F-35 sustainment and maintenance for Asia will likely be announced next week.
The F-35 joint program office, or JPO, made a variety of site survey visits across Europe and made particular recommendations to the Department of Defense regarding where these maintenance and sustainment capabilities should be established.
“The JPO made recommendations to the Department of Defense. Can the partner build and grow the capability that we need in sufficient time? Do they have the technical and management wherewithal to run this operation? What would be the cost of running this operation?” Bogdan explained.
Regarding engine work, Turkey will perform the initial capability, also in 2018. Norway and the Netherlands will provide additional support about two-to-three years after Turkey does initial work.
Also, Turkey, Norway and the Netherlands will compete for additional workload above and beyond a guaranteed minimum, Bogdan explained. Determinations regarding work will be made according to the countries’ ability to produce quality work, stay on schedule and provide competitive costs.
“We did the analysis and made a recommendation to the department that all three partner nations are capable of doing the work, had plans for growth and were technically capable of doing the work,” Bogdan told reporters.
F-35 initial heavy airframe capability will be provided by Italy in 2018. Should additional work be required, the UK will do the work, Bogdan added.
“DoD looked at many different elements when they made this decision. Italy invested nearly a billion dollars in building a FACO (Final Assembly and Check Out facility). It is hard for anyone else to match that. That is a cost that the rest of the enterprise does not have to bear now. Italy is fully committed to this program. They are a stable and very important partner for a long time,” Bogdan added.
The facilities in Italy will be specifically configured for heavy airframe work, he added.
“Light and medium is modifications that don’t alter the structure of the airplane – when you talk heavy maintenance you are getting down to the structure of the airplane that carries loads,” Bogdan said.
Geography, operational factors and cost considerations were all part of the calculus regarding how the JPO made determinations.
“There is still much work to be done on the F-35 global sustainment posture. We will provide work to partners who provide us the best value for doing that type of work,” Bogdan said.
These maintenance assignments do not preclude the opportunity for other F-35 Partners and Foreign Military Sales customers, including those assigned initial airframe and engine capabilities, to participate and be assigned additional future sustainment work, to include component and system repairs, as the fleet grows and F-35 global presence expands, JPO officials said.
"This is the first of many opportunities we will have to assign F-35 global sustainment solutions," said Bogdan. "As international F-35 deliveries increase and global operations expand, support provided by our international F-35 users becomes increasingly more important.”