Many countries that are partnering with the United States in the F-35 joint strike fighter program will have a role to play in the aircraft’s assembly, but the U.S. government will not decide which country does what, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said in Tokyo, Japan, July 21.
During a press conference with Japanese media representatives, Carter explained that the supersonic stealth fighter’s prime contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., will decide where the fighter’s various manufacturing processes will be located, based on two factors: the partner nation’s desire to participate in the aircraft’s production, and economic efficiency.
Carter arrived in Japan on the first international stop of an Asia-Pacific tour that has already taken him to Hawaii and Guam, and will continue to Thailand, India and South Korea. He discussed the F-35 program while responding to a reporter’s question on whether Japan will be the site of the aircraft’s final assembly and check out.
Lockheed Martin officials have explained that process, known in the industry as FACO (Final Assembly and Checkout), which involves putting together the four major structural components of the airplane, installing the engines and electronics systems, and coding and test-flying the aircraft.
“The F-35 program is obviously very important to us,” Carter said. “It’s the linchpin of tactical aircraft inventories for the United States for decades to come, so we’re completely committed to it.”
The deputy secretary noted that in his previous position as the department’s undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, managing the JSF program was one his central responsibilities.
“I wouldn’t have told you this three years ago, but I can tell you now: I think it’s getting on the path to finishing its development [and] ramping up to full-rate production,” Carter said.
Nations currently partnering with the United States on the aircraft’s development include the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia.
Many of those partners will participate in building the airplane, Carter noted.
“We can’t all do everything; we can’t all build all parts of the JSF,” he said. “Otherwise, that will be economically inefficient, and we’ll be wasting our taxpayers’ money, and that’s not fair.”
What makes sense, the deputy secretary said, is for each country involved in producing the fighter to make some of the parts for all of the other partner nations.
“So it’s a very complicated matter of apportioning, in an economically efficient way, all of these technical tasks,” Carter said. “And that’s what Lockheed Martin … does in discussions with all the partners.”
Defense Department leaders care about the outcome of manufacturing decisions “because we want an affordable airplane, as does the Japanese government,” he said.
Carter added, “I’m sure that that will be done in a way that is satisfactory to Japan, just like it has to be satisfactory to the United States, has to be satisfactory to Turkey, to the U.K. … That’s the way international programs work today.”