Farnborough Air Show

JSF briefing soothes the nerves of partner nations

 - November 27, 2006, 10:31 AM

Yesterday’s briefing here by senior F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program officials provided some assurance that the international partners won’t be burdened in the production and operational phases by U.S. restrictions on technology transfer. Today, BAE and Lockheed Martin will add more detail, with a carefully crafted statement on the aircraft’s in-service support. Still, the devil is in the detail, as they say.

For instance, F-35 program head Adm. Steve Enewold, U.S. Navy, confirmed that Italy’s ambition to have its own final assembly line had been agreed to, “subject to a whole list of rules agreed between Alenia and Lockheed Martin.” Aviation International News understands that the U.S. government is pressing for this activity to take place at Cameri airbase rather than Alenia’s own airfield, in order to restrict access to sensitive technology.

The international partners, led by the UK, have been pressing for assurances that they will have “operational sovereignty” over their F-35s. Enewold said that detailed discussions in recent months had “defined what this means to each of them, and I think we now have a ‘high-lock’ agreement.” There will be classified bilateral annexes on this subject added to the Production Sustainment and Follow-on Development (PSFD) MoU, he added. Enewold looked forward to the first signatures on that MoU in November.

By so doing, the partners commit to sharing the costs of preparing for production, but they do not have to specify their numbers of aircraft required until four years before delivery, Enewold said.

Would the partners be able to integrate their own weapons of choice? Enewold suggested that, for practical and cost reasons, this might have to be done in the main F-35 systems integration laboratory at Fort Worth. His deputy, Bg Gen Charles Davis, U.S. Air Force, told AIN that the program was trying to define a “Universal Armament Interface” with the aircraft’s Operational Flight Program that would makeweapons integration easier, and allow at least part of this work to be done outside the U.S. But as for unique overseas modifications to the aircraft’s avionics–such as what Israel has done on the F-15 and F-16–“we don’t see countries deviating from the baseline configuration,” said Enewold.

Tom Fillingham, the senior BAE Systems manager on the F-35 program, said that “we’ve been working through the sovereignty requirements document. We’ve seen a positive response from both governments since the Blair-Bush agreement.” In their meeting last May, the U.S. and UK leaders agreed that the UK would be able to operate, maintain and upgrade the F-35, provided that sensitive technologies were protected.

The UK Ministry of Defence stated last December that there was “no fundamental defense requirement” for a final assembly and check-out facility (FACO) in the UK. However, BAE’s calculations of the economic and industrial benefits to the UK of such a facility have since been endorsed by an independent review commissioned by the MoD. The UK will make a final decision on whether to press for a FACO this fall.

Alenia has successfully bid to be a second source for the wing, confirmed Tom Burbage, F-35 program integration manager, Lockheed Martin. The decision was made on the “best value” principle that has prevailed throughout the program, he added. No more major subassemblies will be outsourced. Northrop Grumman and BAE will retain their role from the current EMD (engineering manufacturing and demonstration) phase, as providers of the center and rear fuselage, respectively. But such is the size of the F-35 production program that there are huge opportunities for smaller companies to bid for a slice of the pie, even if they were not involved in the EMD phase. For instance, BAE will sign a letter of intent here today with six companies from Australia, Canada and Denmark. They could get outsourced work on the rear fuselage that is worth in excess of $1 billion.

The Italians clinched another second-source deal here Monday, when Galileo Avionica signed an MoU with Northrop Grumman. It will supply subassemblies for the F-35’s APG-81 radar and Distributed Aperture System.

Pratt & Whitney announced four outsourcing decisions on the F-35’s engine here that are collectively worth a potential $76 million through the production phase. Turkish company Kalekalip will produce augmenter flaps and seals; Magellan Aerospace of Canada will produce fan sync rings; the GPV Group of Denmark will produce the F135’s ring case; and Piaggio Aero of Italy will produce vane supports for the low pressure turbine. All four companies had previously been awarded F135 work. P&W said that the total value of F135 manufacturing work placed with the four countries was now more than $250 million each for Canada and Turkey, $200 million for Italy, and $29 million for Denmark.