Keeping a Promise: Secretary Wynne Visits the FACO in Italy


2016-11-17 By Robbin Laird

Secretary Wynne recently visited, the Final Assembly and Check Out Facility, which has been built at Cameri Air Base near Milan.

When he last dealt with the FACO it was the germ of an idea in working through how best to involve Italy in the F-35 project.

Because the F-35 is not built around traditional offsets, given the plane is built differently from legacy aircraft, the question was how best for Italy to participate in the program.

In discussions with Italy, the idea emerged that Italy would stand up their own FACO for the assembly of the aircraft, and learn the skill sets which would naturally migrate into being a core maintenance center for future operations of the new aircraft.

With his visit in October 2016, Secretary Wynne was able to see first hand the results of the effort.

In a four-year period, the base saw a transformation from a dirt soccer field to one of the three final assembly plants in the world for the F-35, and the first built outside of the United States.

 Question: Take us back to the period where this project was first born.

 What was the thinking 10 years ago?

Secretary Wynne: When the F-35 program was being shaped the Italians were doing a first rate analysis of how this would affect them and whether they should be part of the program or not.

They were concerned, of course, that they would have an appropriate “offset,” given the money they would be putting into the program. They clearly wanted to generate work in their country relative to the amount of money they were going to pay out.

How best to get a return on their investment?

This led down a path of suggesting a final assembly and check-out facility.

The F-35 FACO at Cameri Air Base.
The F-35 FACO at Cameri Air Base.

I had talked to them about becoming a long-term maintenance facility in the Southern European area.

If they wanted to be able to do this, they needed to understand the airplane in detail.

That understanding would come about best if they were a producer of some key part of the aircraft and had the final assembly and check facility in their country.

They would have core first hands on experience.

We discussed the possibility of having the first Italian F-35 actually to come from that facility if they wished that to happen.

An airplane is not an airplane prior to final assembly, and they decided to do that in Italy.

Most European publics are familiar with the Airbus approach of building key sub assemblies in different parts of Europe and then having a final assembly line.

This is what the F-35 production model is clearly doing.

The Italians also are the producer of wings for the aircraft.

In fact, every F-35 has Italian produced components in it.

Question: When you went to Cameri last month, what did you find?

Secretary Wynne: The ideas have been implemented.

They went from concept to reality in a very short period of time.

They have gone from dirt to a first rate 21st century aircraft facility in a very short period of time.

I have significant experience with international co-production programs, such as the F-16. I was the lead negotiator on the F-16. And frankly I never have been to a final assembly facility like the one in Italy abroad for a new build US combat aircraft.

This is unique and they have clearly delivered in terms of commitment and capability. It is a first rate facility.

I want to compliment here both the Italian side and the American side from a standpoint of they have constructed a first-rate quality facility.

The team has done a great job of energizing the Italian workforce of some 800 workers who have taken full possession of the responsibility to deliver on quality and meeting critical engineering standards.

Supervisory and configuration control rests with Lockheed, but the Italians do the rest.

There is real talent on the Italian side at the plant and clearly there is a two way tech transfer process.

The Italians have contributed significant innovations in the smart ways they construct, conceive and execute on wing production and those innovations are then available to the global enterprise for the F-35.

I met with the Italian managers who very impressive. They were enthusiastic and upbeat and they really know their stuff.

For me, this interaction was a real treat.

To see something go from negotiation to reality is very rewarding and you can see that at the Italian FACO. They are well aware that they are not just doing this for themselves but for the entire NATO and Allied coalition.

They are very proud of their broader contribution.

I think this is a program that is bringing about a bigger picture, and it’s not just in manufacturing.

The wellspring of cooperation is seeping into operations without a doubt.

Whereas we had a very good integrated fighting force with the F-16, and the F-15, the truth is that in the information age the F-35 enterprise is about sharing across the board.

Literally, everybody’s F-35 is going to be a node on the network, and I think they get that. They get where the operational construct is going and they’re proud to be a part.

Editor’s Note: The background to mission success in the shaping, construction and building of the FACO is one of many less technical challenges than political challenges.

Many politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have seemed to make their mark by joint the Greek chorus of critics of the F-35.

Yet despite this, the F-35B which is a unique asset for Italian and other sea bases is not only flying today but the Marines and Navy are working the con-ops of Bs and Ospreys on the new USS America off of the coast of California as we speak.

When Wynne left the Department of Defense, the anti-modernization airpower critics were clearly embolden. Secretary Gates put the F-35B on probation looking a little bit like the dean in Animal house putting Delta Tau Ch on “double secret probation”. It took the coming of Secretary Panetta to end this holding pattern.

There were clear differences between Gates and Panetta.  A major reflection of the difference was Gates putting the F-35B on “probation.”  Whereas Panetta when it was evident that probation made no sense, gradually lifted “probation.” 

Here Panetta recognized the key role of allies (never a high priority for Gates except to fill in the gap) and of the USMC as the leading edge of expeditionary forces in the United States and a leader in shaping 21st century “agile forces.”

And that ever present critic who has never seen a new plane for the forces which he did not hate, Senator McCain has kept up his incessant criticism although his own state is a key one shaping the global coalition and with the Marines at Yuma and the USAF and the allies at Luke leading the way.

Yet in spite of all this the producers of the plane and the warriors have brought the F-35 into reality and are leveraging the aircraft to renorm airpower.

As the first F-35 to fly across the Atlantic approached Pax River, two members of SLD and two other journalists witnessed its landing. Four people that is it!

Yet Ninja had accomplished a milestone flying an F-35 built in Italy, accompanied by the Italian Air Force’s new tanker and Eurofighters, in effect, the future of the Italian Air Force.

On Feb. 5, the Italian Air Force’s first F-35, AL-1 with code “32-01” and markings of the 32 Stormo Wing landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, at the end of the JSF’s first ever transatlantic flight.

The aircraft was piloted by “Ninja,”an Italian Air Force test pilot, belonging to the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (Test Wing) from Pratica di Mare, and who had successfully completed his initial F-35 flight training at Luke AFB in November 2015.

To put this in perspective, the pilot had only 50 flight hours of F-35 flying experience.

And the Lightning II which Ninja flew across the North Atlantic in winter had only 15 flight hours on before he took off on his historic flight. 32-01was the first plane to came off of the Italian assembly line at Cameri Italy.

And this was done in the middle of winter, flying in and out of cloud layers over the turbulent North Atlantic against 120-knot headwinds. It was remarkable flying.

This is clearly what Cameri is all about and promises being kept.

For our 2014 Special Report on Italy, Cameri and the F-35, see the following:


In this special report, we look at the Italian engagement with the F-35 and the thinking of Italian airpower leaders about the impact of the F-35 on the future.

As of January 2014, we have a version in Italian for our Italian readers which can be downloaded below:

Italian F-35 Special Report Italian Edition January 2014

At Cameri, Italians are standing up a Final Assembly and Check Out Facility or FACO, a Final Wing Assembly for building for the global fleet, and Fleet Sustainment Facility for the region, including Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The Cameri facility includes both an ATF or Aircraft Test Facility (for testing stealth performance) and a final paint facility.  This means that in the heart of Europe, the F-35 fleet will have a battle damage facility.

Cameri, Fort Worth, Japan and Israel will all see key elements of the F-35 global production system.  This means that for the first time, the United States in building its front line fighter is looking to work differently with allies.  In turn, allies are building out a global sustainment capability available to those nations, which buy, into the F-35 fleet.

Significant cross learning has already occurred, but is just beginning.  The advantages of building a global system where best practices can be developed are obvious.

Building a global sustainment approach is less so.  But the impact on the cost of operations of an airfleet is significant.

Rather than bringing the logistical support equipment and material to the operational forward base, the forward deployment of warehoused parts and regionally based sustainment competencies will not only allow and air fleet to move rapidly to a problem but to reduce the need for surge airlift and tanking to get those supplies to the point of attack.

This is part of what the head of the Italian Air Force refers to the F-35 as part of building new coalition capabilities and shaping an F-35 fleet which can operate through coalitions against distributed challenges with distributed operational capabilities.

We start the Special Report by providing the interviews with RADM Covella, the head of the F-35 program in Italy, Lt. General Preziosa, the head of the Italian Air Force, BG Espisoto and Lt General Lupoli who focused on their perspectives on the F-35 and the evolution of Italian airpower.

We next add a look at the impact of the new aircraft on the latest Italian aircraft carrier, the Cavour.  What is the impact of shifting from Harriers to F-35Bs on the role of this type of ship?

We next examine the perspectives of four key industrial executives working in Italy with Alenia Aermacchi (AAeM) to make Cameri a reality.  Their experience and perspectives are unique and are part of a new approach to Euro-American defense industrial cooperation.

We then close with two more general pieces providing overviews.

The first looks at the nature of change posed by the Italian experience for the Asians as the Japanese add their own FACO facility.

The second looks at the general approach of the F-35 program to allies and the role of global investments.

It is the case of a 21st century combat aircraft built in global 21st century facilities with a global sustainment approach built in.

This is a unique moment in military aviation history.

And Cameri is now a key support center for the F-35 global enterprise.

Recently, the Joint Program Office announced a number of key global centers to support the F-35 and Cameri is an important one.

F-35 MRO&U Initial Component Global Assignments Made by DoD

The Department of Defense has assigned F-35 Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade (MRO&U) capability for the first component repair assignments Outside the Continental United States (OCONUS), for the first 65 of 774 repairables.  The assignments were based on data compiled and analyzed by the F-35 Joint Program Office that was collected from Partners Nations, Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers and their industries.  These initial Regional MRO&U assignments will support near-term component repair requirements in support of F-35 overseas operations and maintenance and will be reviewed and updated as program needs dictate but no later than the next five years.

As part of the F-35 global sustainment strategy, participating nations were provided with requirements outlining global repair needs for the F-35 component workload.   Each country was afforded the opportunity to work with their industrial base to provide the F-35 enterprise work over and above their own F-35 needs.  Regional considerations such as forward basing, aircraft phasing, and transportation also contributed to initial assignment decisions.

There are a total of 774 components (broken into 18 categories such as avionics, life support, egress, canopy system, pumps etc…) that will be repaired on the F-35.  This current assignment is for 65 of these 774 parts with assignment of the remaining parts to occur over the next 2 to 3 years. Eventually, the Program intends to have regional repair capability in Europe and the Pacific for all 774 components.

The current assignments are time-phased such that the first repair capabilities will be stood up by 2021 and will serve all F-35s globally until 2025.  This is because the demand for repairs from 2021 to 2025 can be satisfied with a single repair source globally.  Eventually, the demand for repairs will increase to a point where a single global repair capability will not be enough and as a result the program will stand up regional repair capabilities in Europe and the Pacific to handle the increased demand.  Thus, there are two component repair assignments being made today: one for global repairs form 2021 to 2025 and a second for regional repairs from 2025 and beyond.

2021 to 2025 Global Repair Assignments:

The Department of Defense has assigned 48 of the first 65 components to the United Kingdom and 14 of the first 65 components to the Netherlands, and 3 components to Australia for global repairs from 2021 to 2025. From 2021 to 2025 these repair capabilities in the UK, Australia, and the Netherlands will serve all F-35s around the world.

2025 and Beyond: Regional Repair Assignments:

For the European Region, the Department has assigned 51 of the first 65 components to the UK, and 14 of the first 65 components to the Netherlands, with this repair capability to be activated in 2025.

For the Pacific Region, the Department has assigned 64 of the first 65 components to Australia and 1 component assigned to Korea with this repair capability to be activated by 2025.

These initial repair technology category assignments do not preclude the opportunity for other F-35 Partners and FMS customers, including those assigned initial airframe and engine capabilities, to participate and be assigned additional future sustainment workload, to include other components, Support Equipment, Full Mission Simulators, Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), and Maintenance Training devices as the fleet grows and the F-35 global presence expands.

“This is the first of many opportunities we will have to assign F-35 global sustainment solutions for component repair work ,” said F 35 Program Executive Officer, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan. “As international F-35 deliveries increase and global operations expand, support provided by our international F-35 users becomes increasingly more important. We are grateful for the opportunity to work alongside these nations on a daily basis; this close teamwork enables the US Defense Department to make well-informed, best-value decisions to shape the F-35 global sustainment posture for decades to come.”

Today’s assignment of initial F-35 component repair capability represents about 8 percent of total amount of repairable work.  Requests for Information (RFI) for F-35 Warehousing and Non Air Vehicle repairs were released to the F-35 Enterprise in October 2016 and will be assessed during 2017.

In 2014 the Department of Defense has assigned F-35 MRO&U capability for airframes and engines for the European and Pacific Regions.  These assignments support near-term engine and airframe F-35 overseas operations and maintenance and will be reviewed and updated in approximately five years.

In the European region, F-35 initial airframe MRO&U capability will be provided by Italy at their Final Assembly and Checkout facility in Cameri by 2018. 

Should additional airframe MRO&U capability be required, BAE Systems in the UK would be assigned to supplement the existing capability.  In the European region, engine heavy maintenance will initially be provided by Turkey in 2018, with Norway and the Netherlands providing additional capability approximately 2-3 years after Turkey’s initial capability.

In the Asia Pacific Region, the Department of Defense assigned, F-35 airframe MRO&U capability to Japan and their industry partner, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Limited for the Northern Pacific and Australia and their industry partner, BAE Systems for the Southern Pacific, with both capabilities required no later than early 2018.  For Heavy F-35 Engine Maintenance, the initial capability will be provided by Australia and their industry partner TAE, with Japan and their industry partner, IHI Corporation, providing additional capability approximately 3-5 years later.