Italy and Turkey Win Major F-35 Overhaul Work

 - December 15, 2014, 3:04 PM
As the F-35 fleet builds, the program office is making awards for depot and component overhaul. In Europe, Italy and Turkey are the big winners so far. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The aerospace industries of Italy and Turkey have been selected to perform the majority of heavy airframe and engine maintenance work, respectively, for Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters that will be based in Europe. The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) in Washington, D.C., said that it based its choice on data supplied by the European F-35 partner nations (Belgium, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the UK) and their industries. The work will begin in 2018, and the awards will be “reviewed and updated in approximately five years,” the JPO added.

Each country was given the chance to bid for airframe and engine work that was additional to the needs of its own fleet, the JPO said. The UK has been nominated as a second source for the airframe work, if it is required. Dutch and Norwegian industry will provide additional heavy engine work, but not until at least 2020.

“This is the first of many opportunities we will have to assign F-35 global sustainment solutions,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the head of the JPO. At a briefing during the AFA Convention in Washington last September, he said that “it makes business sense to build that kind of depot capability” in Europe, North America and the Pacific. Bogdan explained that the selected countries and industries will have to make their own investment to create the depots. The JPO will make further nominations next year for component-level overhauls and will inject competition by choosing more than one provider in each region, for instance for the MRO of landing gears. The lion's share of the work will go to the facility that "does a better job, or gives us better value," Bogdan said.

In a critical report on F-35 sustainment last September, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that the type’s annual operating and support (O&S) costs are estimated to be considerably higher than the combined annual costs of the aircraft that the F-35 is replacing in the U.S. fleet, namely the AV-8B, F-15C/D, F-16C/D and F/A-18A-D. At the AFA Convention, Bogdan acknowledged that O&S costs are a vital and problematic issue and described some JPO initiatives to reduce them. “You’re not going to see huge decreases in the next year or two,” he warned, “but let us put some initiatives in place [so that] over time we’ll see those costs come down.”

Bogdan also noted that the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) being provided by Lockheed Martin is behind schedule.