F-35 development partners Italy and Turkey are the big winners for major maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade work in Europe for the single-engine, stealthy, multinational Lockheed Martin fighter.

The Pentagon announced the MRO&U Thursday that Italy will be the primary location for heavy airframe maintenance. Turkey will initially handle heavy engine maintenance for the Pratt & Whitney F135. Both are expected to stand up operations by 2018. Norway and the Netherlands will provide additional heavy engine MRO capability by 2021 and the U.K. will be the site of heavy airframe maintenance should additional capacity be required for fighters in the region.

The Pentagon unveiled the assignments for Europe Dec. 11; those for the Pacific region are expected next week. The likely choices for airframe maintenance facilities are Japan, which is building its own final-assembly-and-checkout (FACO) plant, and Australia, which is unlikely to be willing to transit its jets to the Northern Pacific region for repairs. Australia is a JSF development partner nation; Japan is a foreign military sales customer.

Work on the Japanese FACO in Nagoya began in May and the first major subcomponents are slated to be loaded into the electronic assembly and mating (EMAS) tooling there in December 2015. The first Japanese-assembled F-35A is slated to roll out of the facility in 2017.

These assignments were based on data provided by European partners in the F-35 and their indigenous companies as well as practical regional considerations, such as forward basing, aircraft phasing and transportation. The decisions will be reassessed in five years. These choices are not exclusive. Should additional work be required, partners and foreign military sales customers can vie for work as the fleet grows.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 program executive officer, said more assignments for supply warehousing, component work, and maintenance of the support equipment are expected to come out next year. "There is much work still to be had on the F-35 global sustainment posture," he told reporters during a Dec. 11 press roundtable. Though he did not provide details, Bogdan acknowledged that some partners submitted proposals that were not expected; so, there were, in effect, some losers.

Italy was the obvious choice for airframe work, as Rome invested at least $1 billion in a final-assembly-and-checkout (FACO) facility at Cameri Air Base in Northern Italy. The facility includes the same electronic mating and assembly (EMAS) tooling – only in fewer numbers – used by Lockheed Martin at its final assembly plant in Forth Worth. Four EMAS stations are at the Cameri site, but the facility includes 11 workstations, at least five of which are initially configured for MRO work.

The first Italian-assembled F-35A is slated to roll off this assembly line by March.

Much of the work in Italy will be managed by Alenia, which is owned by Finmeccanica. Company CEO Muaro Moretti said the work will have "significant technological content and will generate sizable economic and occupational returns." Moretti sees the work as part of a larger strategy as the company works to overcome a severe dip in stock value in the wake of corruption probes. "Today’s acknowledgment is the result of an effective strategy at [the]national level. It stands out as a key factor in the path to re-launching the group with a focus on enhancing its core business areas of excellence."

Turkey is also not a surprise choice for the engine work. F135 manufacturer Pratt & Whitney has agreed with the Turkish military to build an engine facility there and the company has arrangements with local companies to build parts for the propulsion system.

Norway’s state-owned AIM Norway, will over see its work eventually.

Three facilities were selected in Europe for engine work because the program knew that at least three separate engine test cells would be needed to service the number of fighters expected to operate in the region. No single country was able to spend the millions of dollars that would be needed to house multiple test cells, driving the partners to establish multiple facilities.

The Pentagon plans to make use of these facilities in Europe for repair of its aircraft to avoid having to transit fighters operating there to and from the continental U.S.

The repair centers are likely to be a boon for local industries in these areas, but countries offering to do the work had to ensure it would come at no additional cost to the program that could include more than 3,000 fighters globally over 50 years. Italian defense officials estimate the airframe repair facility alone will generate $18.6 billion in MRO work for industry there.

Bogdan said each of the countries being assigned work will be guaranteed a minimum amount of work equal to the amount they are spending on F-35 purchases. Assignments above that amount will be decided based on a "best value" approach, Bogdan says, noting repair centers could eventually compete for work.

aviationweek.com