Standing Up European F-35 Sustainment Centers


2014-12-13 The F-35 is not an airplane, but an air system.

And one which will be global in character.

Operationally, the impact of an integrated F-35 fleet will be significant.

And no less so will be the global sustainment possibilities inherent in the program.

The program has built in a global sustainment capability from the ground up, which allows for the clear possibility of shaping a very different approach to global sustainment. 

Programs developed first for the US which then add global customers face a significant parts and support problem because there was never a thought of building in a global sustainment approach.

The Italians have already built a regional sustainment center in Italy for Europe and Med operations.

The manufacturing program is already mature and there will three FACOS: two already exist in the US and Italy and a third to be added in Japan.

Recently, the US F-35 program office announced an official step forward in shaping such an approach.

F-35 European Maintenance Sites Announced

By Claudette Roulo

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2014 – The F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter program office announced today the European locations for heavy engine and heavy air frame maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade facilities.

“In the European region, F-35 initial air frame MROU capability will be provided by Italy by 2018,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan told reporters.

Bogdan is the Program Executive Officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office in Arlington, Virginia.

Italy has invested $1 billion into a purpose-built final assembly and check-out facility for the F-35, he said.

“As Italy builds up their production capability at the FACO, there’s an opportunity later on to add more production capacity to that FACO if other partners and the U.S. want to build their planes there,” the general said. If the facility does shift toward production, Bogdan explained, the United Kingdom would be assigned to provide additional air frame depot capability.

Engine heavy maintenance will initially be provided by Turkey by 2018, he said, “with Norway and the Netherlands providing additional capability two to three years after Turkey’s initial capability.”

Test cells for engine heavy maintenance are “very expensive — in the tens of millions of dollars,” the general said, and no single partner or their industry was willing to invest in more than one test cell in their nation.

“That’s a big risk for industry and that partner long-term to get the return on that investment,” Bogdan said. Based on projections by the program office, at least three test cells were needed in order to build a sustainable program in Europe, he said.

Global Sustainment Posture

The announcement is the next step in establishing a global sustainment posture for the aircraft, the general said, noting that he expects to announce the Pacific region locations next week. Regional assignments for components, systems repair, warehousing, support equipment and other global supply chain functions will begin next year, Bogdan added, eventually totaling hundreds of billions of dollars in potential work.

“There is much work still to be had on the F-35 global sustainment posture,” he said, “and we will go through a similar process over the next few years of assigning that capability to those areas and those partners that provide us the best value for doing that kind of work.”

Partner nations and countries participating in the foreign military sales program for the F-35 who also wish to be assigned MROU work are responsible for making the investments in their own infrastructure, the general said.

“Over time, the workload that gets sent to that partner nation is the way in which their industry can recoup that investment cost,” Bogdan said.

Site Selection Process

The final site determinations were made after the F-35 program office solicited and evaluated proposals from nations interested in being assigned heavy engine or heavy airframe work, he said.

A site survey team visited each nation that responded, the general said, and the evaluations and site visits were used to compile a list of recommended locations for review by the Defense Department.

DoD’s final decision took into consideration a number of factors in addition to the recommendations by the program office, Bogdan said, including geography, operational necessity and the expected distribution of aircraft.

Multiple Sites Guarantee Flexibility

Each nation that sets up a regional capability is guaranteed to always receive a workload that is equivalent to the number of aircraft it purchases, the general said. But as basing decisions change over time, he added, the additional regionally assigned workloads may shift based on who can provide the best value given past performance.

“We will probably look at this on a two- to three-year basis,” he said, adding that cost is not the only consideration in determining best value.

“When you look at a best value type of arrangement, you’re looking at quality of the work, you’re looking at delivery schedule and are they meeting [it], and you’re looking at cost,” Bogdan said.

The site decisions will have no effect on where the F-35 is based, the general said.

“Those decisions are made at the DoD level for reasons other than this,” he said. “The reason why we’re standing up capability in all three regions is to provide the partners and the U.S. the freedom of maneuver and the freedom of action to base the plane anywhere they want globally and still have access to the kinds of support we need to keep the F-35 fleet going.”

And a Jane’s piece provided some additional assessment as well.

The US Department of Defense has assigned maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) responsibilities for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter airframe and engine in Europe to Italy and Turkey, US officials said on 11 December.

“These initial assignments will support near-term engine and airframe F-35 overseas operations and maintenance and will be reviewed and updated in approximately five years,” said Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon’s F-35 programme manager. Regional considerations such as forward basing, aircraft phasing, and transportation contributed to initial assignment decisions, he said during a press briefing.

F-35 initial airframe MRO capability will be provided by Italy by 2018, Lt Gen Bogdan said. Should additional airframe MRO capability be required, the United Kingdom would be assigned to supplement Italy’s work.

Engine heavy maintenance for the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) F135, meanwhile, will initially be provided by Turkey, with Norway and the Netherlands providing additional capability approximately two to three years after Turkey’s depot becomes operational in 2018. The general explained that engine test cells needed at such facilities cost “tens of millions of dollars” to build and that no single F-35 operator in Europe was prepared to bankroll a large enough facility to handle the work.

He added that other F-35 operators will have future opportunities for maintenance work on the aircraft. He expects “hundreds of billions of dollars” worth of F-35 work worldwide over the next five decades or so.

The Pentagon has not yet assigned F-35 depots for Asia, but Japan and Australia are known contenders for the Pacific facilities. Both countries have outlined plans for such depots.

In July Australian Defence Minister David Johnston stated his government’s plan to set up a regional F-35 MRO centre will strengthen defence relations between Australia and the United States, enhance the Royal Australian Air Force’s capability to operate the F-35, and provide opportunities for Australia’s aerospace and defence industrial base. A development partner in the F-35 programme, Australia is committed to purchasing 72 F-35 aircraft, after announcing a second tranche of 58 aircraft in April. All aircraft are expected to be operational by 2023.

Meanwhile, linked to Japan’s plans to locally build F-35s under licence, Tokyo also wants to set up a regional F-35 MRO depot. A spokesman from the Japanese Ministry of Defence told IHS Jane’s in April that it is drawing up a plan to support the development of a facility in collaboration with the United States as well as regional procurers of the aircraft. Tokyo ordered four F-35s in 2011 and has plans to locally manufacture a further 38 aircraft. In 2013 Lockheed Martin and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) signed a contract to build a final assembly and check-out (FACO) facility for Japan’s F-35s. The Japanese FACO plant is being established at MHI’s Nagoya Aerospace Systems Works Komaki Minami Plant in Aichi Prefecture, which was used to build F-2 multirole fighter aircraft, developed in the 1990s in conjunction with Lockheed Martin.

Other Asian F-35 operators will likely include South Korea, which agreed in March 2014 to purchase 40 F-35s, and Singapore, which is a security co-operation participant in the programme. The US military is also expected to deploy F-35 from US bases and ships based in the region.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but Second Line of Defense has been looking at the roll out of the F-35 global sustainment efforts for some time.

Some of the many articles which address this development are the following: