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By Dr. Monique M. Maldonado
Contributor, In Homeland Security
An Italian facility has unveiled the first Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet to be assembled outside the United States, Lockheed Martin reports.
The aircraft marks a historical precedent for the JSF program. The B-variant jet was constructed at the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy, and was shown to the public on May 5, 2017. FACO is expected to build approximately 30 F-35Bs for the Italian military within an undisclosed timeframe.
Most fighters are manufactured at Lockheed Martin’s plan in Fort Worth, Texas. The successful assembly of this aircraft in Italy is a milestone for the United States and its international alliance.
F-35B Jet Adds Improved Mission Capabilities to Marine Corps
The short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B was designed to offer new and specific mission capabilities for the U.S. Marine Corps. According to the F-35’s manufacturer, the JSF fighter is the “world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft.”
The F-35B-Variant is intended for use on unconventional bases, terrains and mountainous locations. It can also operate near aircraft carriers with short runways and front-line combat zones.
The idiosyncrasies of the B-Variant are its propulsion system and its specialized engine. It is designed for short takeoff and vertical landings, along with conventional landings.
In July 2015, the F-35B successfully completed its initial operational capability (IOC) when approximately 10 fighter jets were cleared for deployment missions and clandestine operations. With successful IOCs, the B-Variant has been delivered to Marine Corps installations for training and military operations in Arizona, California and South Carolina.
The Italian government has worked closely with the United States since the JSF program’s inception in October 2001. The Italian’s first F-35B, known as the BL-1, is projected to begin flight testing in August 2017. If it is successful, it will be allocated to the Italian Defense Ministry toward the end of the year.
After a series of confidence flights from Cameri, an Italian pilot will fly the first F-35B jet to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, early in 2018. The F-35 will undergo required Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification testing.
In addition to manufacturing 30 F-35Bs fighters, the FACO facility is projected to produce approximately 60 Italian F-35As and 30 Dutch F-35s. FACO has built seven F-35 A-Variants for the Italian military and is expected to complete two more F-35 A-Variants by the end of this year. FACO also will construct nearly 900 wing sets for the entire JSF program.
FACO Could Become Manufacturing Hub for Coalition Forces
Cameri’s FACO facility is the only F-35B assembly line outside the United States. It could potentially become the hub for U.S. coalition forces around the world, creating cost savings in manufacturing, maintenance and shipping.
Doug Wilhelm, Vice President of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Program Management, said, “Italy is not only a valued F-35 program partner that has achieved many F-35 program ‘firsts,’ but is also a critical NATO air component force, providing advanced airpower for the alliance for the coming decades.”
Numerous reliability issues have caused significant delays in the F-35 program. Those problems include the jet’s advanced software. In a recent report, Dan Glazier, a defense policy investigator at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), described the F35’s computer systems as “interfering with the pilot’s ability to survive and prevail.”
Having an overseas plant can take pressure off Lockheed Martin’s only facility in the United States. FACO can also increase manufacturing operations for foreign military sales throughout the world.
Positive reviews and successful testing have made the Italian plant the European hub and international face of the F-35 program. Its aircraft are flying both in Italy and the United States.
FACO could also manufacture aircraft for other alliances and security partners. The United States has international cooperation agreements with Australia, Canada, Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom. All of these countries have heavily invested in the JSF program.
Also by Dr. Monique M. Maldonado:
Does American Legacy Aircraft Top the F-35 in Counterinsurgency Operations?
Is the F-35 Ready to Defeat ISIS?