Rome 09 April 2015
After being launched in the USA to equip the three United States Air Forces with a joint tactical support fighter, the F-35 Lightning II - JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) rapidly attracted the attention of other countries, due to its operational features and the value of the industrial program. As a result, eight nations have decided to take part in the development: the United Kingdom, Italy, Holland, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Denmark and Norway, while two further countries, Japan and Israel have decided to order some of the aircraft.
Work on the program started in the USA in 1994, as part of the JAST (Joint Advanced Strike Technology) project, which envisaged the development of a latest generation combat aircraft capable of combining the guarantee of long lasting technology with a single aircraft, developed in various versions, capable of replacing a wide range of the existing aircraft making up the United States military fleet.
The first stage of Concept Exploration was followed by the stage of Concept Demonstration (from 1996 to 2001), which Italy was involved in from 1998. In this defining stage the essential technologies were identified, to be studied and developed in the subsequent work of building prototypes, and the construction company was chosen to continue the program. In 2001 the contract was awarded, as leading contractor, to Lockheed Martin, who won the tender with its F-35, heading a consortium including the main partners Northrop Grumman together with BAE Systems and Pratt & Whitney for the engines.
Italy is the second most important international partner, after the United Kingdom and will contribute 4.1% of the design and development stage of the F-35. In Italy, at the Italian Air Force base in Cameri (Novara), an independent production and back-up center has been established for the F-35. The industrial plant, currently the only one outside of America, consists of a Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) line, that will also include a logistics center (MRO&U), for maintenance, repairs and updating the F-35 in Europe.
Finmeccanica, with Alenia Aermacchi, Selex ES and Oto Melara, is the key industrial player in the Italian program for the F-35 and is prepared to deal with long-term industrial involvement in backing up the entire life cycle of the JSF.
Alenia Aermacchi is responsible for production of the F-35 wing section, as a second production line to the Lockheed Martin line, and has started production of components to be used on the final assembly line of the aircraft in the U.S.A and Italy. Based on the present estimated total number of orders, the estimated volume of wings to be produced stands at approximately 800 complete wings, within the period from 2014 – 2028, with delivery of high-precision components already started as from 2009, and delivery of the first assembled fuselage-wing section having taken place at the start of 2012. At the Cameri operations center, all the infrastructures, machinery and equipment needed for the F-35 aircraft have been set up. Work on assembly and testing is carried out by Alenia Aermacchi, in close collaboration with Lockheed Martin and the Italian Air Force, to make use of the combined experience needed to carry out the subsequent work of maintenance, repairs and updating during the operational lifetime of the fleet.