F-35 Climbing? Italy Receives Its First F-35B Produced Outside Of The USA And Germany Shows Interest

Photo: Italian Defense Ministry

The Italian Navy recently received its first F-35B Lightning II STOVL (Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing) aircraft, assembled at the Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) in Cameri, Italy. It’s the first F-35B built outside the US. The Italian FACO is operated by Leonardo in conjunction with Lockheed Martin with a current workforce of more than 800 skilled personnel engaged in full assembly of the conventional F-35A and the F-35B STOVL aircraft variants and F-35A wing production.

Photo: Italian Defense Ministry

At the milestone event on January 25th, 2018, Director of Leonardo Aircraft Division Mr. Doug Wilhelm stated, “The production of the first F-35 B-model, the most technically complex variant, here at the Italian FACO is a testament to the outstanding capability and quality of the Italian aerospace industry. The Cameri FACO continues to prove itself as a European F-35 center of excellence.”
To date, nine F-35As and one F-35B have been delivered from the Cameri FACO, which is the only F-35B production facility outside the United States. Four of those jets are now based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for international pilot training and five are at Amendola Air Base, Italy. The Italian F-35A and F-35B will replace the Panavia Tornado, AMX and AV-8B aircraft.

The Cameri FACO will produce 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and retains the capacity to deliver to other European partners in the future.

Three distinct variants of the 5th generation fighter will replace and supplement the A-10 and F-16 for the US Air Force, the F/A-18 for the US Navy, the F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier for the US Marine Corps, and a variety of fighters for at least 11 other countries.

More than 265 production F-35s have been delivered fleet-wide and more than 550 trained F-35 pilots have flown more than 120,000 flight hours, to date.

First operational JASDF F-35A makes its debut at Misawa AB

On January 26, 2018 the first operational Japan Air Self Defense Force F-35A Lightning II arrived at Misawa Air Base in Japan. To welcome the first F-35A an arrival ceremony was held at the only joint service Air Base in the Western Pacific. It houses the US Air Force, Navy and Army, as well as the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
This year nine more F-35s will be delivered to incept the first fifth-generation fighter squadron as part of the JASDF’s 3rd Air Wing. JASDF Maj. Gen. Kenichi Samejima, the 3rd AW commander, stated, “The F-35A will bring transformation in air defense power and significantly contribute to the peace for citizens and ensure security. All service members will do their best to secure flight safety and promptly establish an operational (squadron) structure step-by-step.”
The JASDF plans to acquire a total of 42 F-35As as successors to its F-4s. A commemorative ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 24 at Misawa AB to celebrate the official initial deployment of a JASDF F-35A.

The aircraft is a high-performance, multirole aircraft with advanced electronics designed to heighten situational awareness and distribute more information to pilots than any other fighter aircraft, giving operators a critical advantage over adversaries. Japan is one of 12 countries to purchase the F-35A in efforts to maximize air superiority.

Col. R. Scott Jobe, the 35th Fighter Wing commander, states; “This aircraft represents not only a big step forward in technological advancements and combat capabilities but also in U.S.-Japan relations. We look forward to training alongside our JASDF counterparts and continuing to enhance the safety and security of Japan together.”

The 35th Fighter Wing is an air combat unit of the United States Air Force and the host unit at Misawa Air Base, Japan. The Wing is part of Pacific Air Forces (PACAF)’s Fifth Air Force.
The 35th Fighter Wing is a combat-ready F-16 wing composed of 4 groups, 2 fighter squadrons, 27 support squadrons and agencies, and more than 3,850 personnel.

Germany looks at F-35 to replace Tornado fleet

While many German allies in Europe, including Norway, the Netherlands, UK, Italy, Turkey and Denmark have selected the F-35 and some countries have already received first jets, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) is looking at an existing platform to replace its Tornado fleet from 2025 to 2030 and according to the Luftwaffe’s requirements, the F-35 seems to be the best candidate.

A German Luftwaffe Tornado takes on fuel from a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall AB’s 100th ARW. Photo by USAF.

The chief of staff of the German Air Force, Lt. Gen. Karl Muellner told to Jane’s 360 that the Tornado replacement needs to be fifth-generation aircraft that cannot be easily detected by enemy radars and can engage targets from a long distance. “We are considering several candidates, with the capability of the F-35 as the benchmark.” The German Ministry of Defence has sent a formal RFI (Request for Information) for different fighter jets, like the F-15E and F/A-18E/F, both built by Boeing, and the Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 4. But it’s difficult to think of a candidate other than the aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin, because the German Air Force requirements lead to the F-35.

Germany had previously engaged Airbus Defence and Space to evaluate the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program, but the early retirement of the Tornado forced the German Air Force to look at an already developed platform. Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson told Reuters during a trip to Norway that the company is ready to work with the U.S. Government on discussions with Germany regarding the Tornado replacement effort.

Germany plans to replace 85 Tornado jets that are slated to retire around 2030 while the Belgian Air Force is also looking for replacement for their F-16s.

How successful is the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Program?

After delivering the 66th F-35 aircraft for the year on December 15th 2017, meeting the joint government and industry delivery target for 2017.

These 66 aircraft delivered in 2017, bring to 265 the total number of F-35 aircraft delivered to U.S. and international customers. More than 530 pilots and nearly 5,000 maintainers have been trained, and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 115,000 cumulative flight hours.

So how successful is the F-35? In the US and Europe there were a lot of critics in the last few years regarding the F-35 program. There has also been a delay in development of the F-35. The testing phase was originally supposed to end in 2013, but is now officially scheduled to continue until 2018. The F-35 program office plans to close out the joint strike fighter’s development phase later this year. Despite all of the challenges, the F-35 has proven itself during USAF deployments last year in Europe and South-Korea and during US exercises like Red Flag and Northern Lightning.

It looks like the aircraft is on it’s way to financial success for Lockheed Martin, delivering the fifth generation stealth fighter to the USAF, US Navy, USMC and its NATO Allies from Canada and Europe. The Israeli Air Force has declared its first F-35 to be operational in December 2017, and the JASDF has now received its first operational F-35, the Royal Australian Air Force will follow this year. The South-Korean Air Force also has plans to buy F-35 aircraft.

While the jury is still out on whether the F-35 will be successful in combate, things seem to be looking up for the F-35. Many countries are receiving delivery of their long awaited aircraft and new ones are kicking the tires. One thing is clear. The F-35 pilots speak highly about the fighter jet. The F-35 Lightning II is a visually appealing aircraft, with a technology suite capable of dominating the skies, along with its big brother, the F-22 Raptor.