2014-11-05 Recently, the Rome based think tank, Centro Studi Internazionali, published their look at the F-35 program, its impact on Italian defense and the role of Italy within the global enterprise.
The report was authored by Francesco Tosato who is the analyst in charge of military affairs at the Center and a contributor to Rivista Italiana Difesa and Rivista Militare.
The report is well worth reading and can be found here:
In our own report published last year, we focused on the impact on Italian defense capabilities as well as the importance of the standup of the Cameri facility to build the Italian F-35s, and to provide a base for other Europeans to do so, as well as the potential role of Italy in providing for sustainment support for the US and allied forces deploying the aircraft.
Although there are many interesting points highlighted in the report, we are going to highlight two.
The Role of Cameri
The first point pertains to Cameri where Tosato focuses on the important role which the center could play in the decades to come.
It must be stressed that it is in the national interest to make the investment at Cameri profitable.
This can be done by operating on three levels:
• Increasing the number of aircraft and wings constructed by our production line to reduce production costs;
• Acting to ensure the plant has the role of the future Center for Maintenance, Repairs, Overhaul and Upgrades (MRO&U) for the European and Mediterranean area, nipping any possible Turkish competition in the bud;
• Increasing the number of national undertakings, included Small and Medium Enterprises (PMI), that are in a position to access the F-35 program.
In relation to the first point, it must be remembered that the Cameri installation was designed for an original requirement of 131 aircraft for our country plus another 85 planes for the Netherlands (216 F-35s in all).
However, so far the two orders (90 Italian + 37 Dutch aircraft) total only 127 units.
It is therefore important that Italy insists with Lockheed Martin that part of the new commissions under purchase be given to the FACO of Cameri (above all those coming from the European and Mediterranean area)…..
In relation to the second point, the most important prospective business connected to the F-35 program will be the maintenance and upgrade activity on the fleet of aircraft deployed in Europe for the next 40 years.
At present, the only existing infrastructures that respect the safety standards laid down by the United States for F-35 maintenance are the LockheedMartin factory in Fort Worth (Texas) and the FACO at Cameri.
It is therefore essential that our country should exploit to the full this competitive advantage by advocating the FACO as the only F-35 maintenance centre (MRO&U) for the whole of the European and Mediterranean region, and also by ensuring that it is FACO that supplies support to the American Armed Forces aircraft deployed across our continent.
This favorable situation should be exploited by making a move ahead of potential European competitors and acting along two parallel tracks: on the one hand, engaging Lockheed Martin and the American Government so that they undertake a written commitment to designate Cameri as the regional MRO&U and, on the other, taking steps to develop a network of European alliances in support of Cameri, involving primarily Holland, Norway, Great Britain and Turkey with adequate compensation…..
Thirdly, in order to optimize the technological and economic returns of the F-35 program on the Italian hi-tech industrial chain as a whole, the priority is to increase the number of Italian enterprises involved in the project. At present there are a number of PMI that have expressed interest in being involved both in the structural and the sensor, motor and logistic support parts…..
Through a gradual, precise and constant approach of engagement with the American counterpart on single business opportunities relative to the Joint Strike Fighter, the Ce.S.I. is of the opinion that there is a good chance of increasing the economic returns for the overall Italian system in the project by involving a wider range of national productive organizations.
The second point focuses on the weaponization of the F-35.
As we have argued earlier, that the commonality of the F-35 program allows non-US weapons manufacturers an important opportunity to build out the capabilities of the global fleet by integrating their “national” weapons on “their” planes and thereby making them, in effect, an App for the F-35 as a global kinetic and non-kinetic I-Phone.
Here Tosato makes the case for European weapons on the F-35 as a key point to recognize when looking at return on investments.
It is in the national interest to move as soon as possible towards integrating the F-35 with weapon systems of European concept in order to optimize the logistic features shared with the Eurofighter line (with a consequent limitation of costs) with operative capabilities superior to those of comparable American weapons.
Our country should claim equality of treatment on a par with the United States’ other allies (such as Israel and Norway), insisting on the fact that the integration of European weapons should be reasonably priced.
In this field also, we advise a precise stage-by-stage approach to involve the American counterpart on 3 specific aims: the immediate integration of the European long-range air-to-air missile Meteor (with which an agreement with Great Britain is possible, resulting in cost-sharing) and that of the Storm Shadow cruise missile, the only national “strategic” weapon and main deterrent system in the possession of our Air Force.
These weapon systems should ideally be made available for the F-35 immediately following the first upgrade after the 3F software configuration as has been planned for the arms of the Norwegian and Israeli allies.
At a later date, when such equipment has been completed, it would also be possible to consider the integration of the short-range Iris-T air-to-air missile.
The integration of European weapon systems on the F-35 is a critical point in the future development of the F-35 program in our country as it involves elements of national and technological sovereignty that are of primary importance.
Over the last ten years our country together with our European partners has invested huge resources in developing missile weapon systems that are integrated at a continental level. Such weapons (Meteor, Storm Shadow, Iris-T) will make up the natural operative equipment of the Eurofighter aircraft and consequently they must also be integrated on the F-35, for obvious reasons of economy and standardization.
(For our look at the case of Meteor for Italy see the following:
An Interview with Professor Margelletti
To discuss the report more fully, we followed up with the President of the Institute, Professor Andrea Margelletti in a phone interview in October 2014.
Andrea Margelletti is the Chairman of Ce.S.I. – Centre for International Studies.
Since 2012 Mr. Margelletti has been appointed as Strategic Advisor of the Italian Minister of Defence. He is also an advisor to COPASIR, the parliamentary select-committee on intelligence.
Question: There are significant economic pressures in Europe.
What is the impact on the F-35 program?
Margelletti: The pressures are significant, and there are political pressures of various sorts to not support the program.
But the basic fact is that the F-35 is essential to our defense.
The F-35 is a keystone to cooperation with the United States and the allies, and we need to have better capabilities in our defense to deal with the threats we are facing.
That is really the core point.
Question: Although an American-generated program, the F-35 is a significant global program with about 30% foreign content built into the aircraft and that effort will remain steady over time in the sustainment of the global enterprise.
Why is not then perceived as really a European program in a global sense as well?
Margelletti: The perception is much stronger than the reality.
The perception is that the F-35 is a classic American program.
It is not widely perceived of as a coalition program, unlike Eurofighter, which is perceived of as a European program.
When Lockheed sells an F-35 in Asia, for example, even though there are European benefits, it is viewed in Europe as an American sale, not a coalition one.
Question: What is the impact of Cameri?
Margelletti: It is important but because Cameri is a big base in a key region, the broader Italian benefits are not recognized.
Yet there is a clear need to bring in more Italian industry throughout the country to support the program.
And it is clearly important to get beyond the perception that Cameri is an Italian facility to support the BUY of Italian aircraft.
It is crucial for the US government to grasp the core point that this is a core allied asset, and needs to be shaped as such in very practical ways in the period ahead.
We are not a colony of the United States; we are a core partner with key European allies as well and there is a need to paint a broader picture of the effort.
And a key opportunity in this regard is with European weapons. Europe has a sophisticated and capable precision weapons industry.
Our weapons need to be integrated on the F-35 and available for global sales on the aircraft as well.
The US Government, Lockheed Martin and the partners could only benefit from having a broader range of choice with regard to F-35 weaponization.
The F-35 is a political opportunity to build national and coalition defense capabilities.
It is crucial that we do not lose this opportunity.
Editor’s Note: The report can be found in the Focus Publication Section of Second Line of Defense as well.