PARIS — Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi has received the first F-35 joint strike fighter fuselage parts in order to begin assembling Italian JSFs in Italy, a senior official said on the eve of the Paris Air Show.
Lockheed Martin delivered a section of forward fuselage on June 5 to the Final Assembly and Check Out line that Alenia and the Italian government have built at Cameri airbase in Northern Italy, said Giuseppe Giordo, the CEO of Alenia Aermacchi.
“The first Italian aircraft, from LRIP [low-rate initial production] 6 will now roll off the assembly line in 2015,” Giordo said.
Apart from assembling aircraft for Italy at Cameri, Alenia is also a second supplier of wings for the aircraft, and in April dispatched to Lockheed Martin at Fort Worth the first wing box it is scheduled to supply, part of an agreement for up to 800 wing sets being worked on at plants in Foggia and Nola and assembled at Cameri.
The first sets of outer wings will be delivered this summer.
Lockheed Martin has said Italy’s work on the aircraft would be cut back in line with Italy’s decision last year to trim its order of the aircraft from 131 to 90. But Giordo said he had yet to hear from the US firm on the subject. “It has not impacted our agreement to supply up to 800 wings,” he said. “It is not on the table yet.”
Alenia is emerging from a drastic restructuring program that has produced €160 million (US $213 million) in savings, Giordo said, while sales campaigns for the firm’s M346 trainer, C-27J and ATR aircraft are continuing, he said.
In Paris, the firm is expected to announce a major upgrade to its planned, but never built M-311 trainer, which was a development of the S-211. The new upgrade will be known as the M-345 “high efficiency” trainer, and is on display at the show.
Company sources say the trainer is meant to replace basic and low end advanced trainers, with costs similar to that of a turboprop trainer.
Giordo said he, meanwhile, expects the US competition to find a new jet trainer to be launched in 2014, while Poland would also pick a trainer next year, he added.
The sale of C-27J aircraft to the US, which was set to be canceled, faces a possible reprieve after the inserting of a provision in the US fiscal 2014 budget plan making its way through the approval process on Capitol Hill. The measure would oblige the US Air Force to use funding from 2011-2013 to buy the aircraft.
“Suppliers were then invited to apply and we responded at the end of May,” Giordo said. “This means new C-27Js, more than the 21 already ordered by the US, with $880 million available, minus 7 percent for sequestration.”
The price of a new batch of C-27Js, should Alenia receive a contract, has not been decided, he said. “They would not be the same price as the previous, JCA program of C-27Js sold to the US,” he said.
In Europe, Alenia is closely watching the stop-start talks over building a European medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV, Giordo said. “The UK and France did not reach a decision on a UAV, and in general there has been confusion in Europe over a project. We do not want to wait.”
Europe’s delay on UAV work prompted EADS Cassidian, Dassault Aviation and Alenia Aermacchi to issue a joint statement the day before the Paris Air Show urging European governments to finally commit to a joint MALE UAV program.
Giordo said he had also been looking around outside the EU, in tandem with the Italian government.
“We would like to build a new generation MALE UAV, possibly armed, with an entry into service in 2017-18,” he said.
Giordo said it was also important for Europe to come together to build a combat UAV. “If we want a European aeronautical industry, there must be convergence on a UCAV. The Neuron program on which Alenia is working is not inferior to work being undertaken in the US. It is important that we don’t repeat the duplication in Europe that led to the Rafale, Gripen and the Eurofighter.” ■