WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin has signed an agreement with Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to begin work on a final assembly and check out (FACO) facility for Japanese F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
The contract was announced by Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed’s vice president in charge of the F-35 program, at this week’s Paris Air Show.
While declining to give contract figures for the deal, Eric Schnaible, Lockheed’s spokesman for Japanese F-35 issues, said Lockheed hopes to replace the contract, which runs through the end of 2013, with a five-year deal sometime by mid-October.
“We are committed to maintaining our successful long-term partnership with Japanese industry as we mature the Japan F-35 program,” Schnaible said. “Over time, we believe Japanese industry will become a key provider in the F-35 supply chain for both production and sustainment.”
The Pentagon’s Joint Program Office declined to comment on the news, noting FACO decisions are made between Lockheed and the host country.
While this contract is a major step towards getting the FACO up and running, it will be some time before locally assembled F-35s take off. The first four aircraft will be produced at Lockheed’s Forth Worth, Texas, assembly line for a 2016 delivery.
The remaining 38 will be assembled at the Japanese facility. Plans currently call for the FACO to produce parts for Japanese planes only, in accordance with Japan’s long-held ban on weapon exports. However, there has been speculation in Japanese media that the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may experiment with the exportation of Japanese-design parts for F-35s around the world.
Japan’s FACO will be the second international facility for the F-35. Italy’s FACO at Cameri Air Force Base is set to open next month.