LONDON — Two of the principle companies involved in developing the F-35 Lightning II strike jet have teamed with a British state-owned components repair operation in a bid to secure a significant long-term deal to become the avionics sustainment hub for the aircraft in Europe.
A team involving BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and the Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA) are expected to submit a proposal to the F-35 Joint Program Office in August to secure one of the region's key support contracts for the aircraft, said executives familiar with the program.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed the involvement of BAE and Northrop Grumman but declined to say anything about whether DECA would have a role.
"BAE and Northrop Grumman, along with other industry partners, have been assisting the UK MoD in developing a solution for the provision of F-35 maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade services. However, at this stage, we cannot discuss the makeup of the bid, as to do so could undermine our position in the down-select process," a ministry spokesman said in a statement.
DECA's involvement is, in essence, mandated due to US government insistence that some avionics repairs on the jet here are only undertaken by UK government employees.
"The fact is some repairs will be ring-fenced between industry and government," according to an executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "That is the basis on which the aircraft has been bought."
The MoD spokesman did not respond to a question about whether there is a government-eyes-only lock on the repair and overhaul of certain F-35 avionics.
Based at Sealand, northern Wales, DECA supports Tornado strike jets and Chinook helicopters for the British military.
The agency was formed last year when the government opted not to privatize the business as part of the sale of the Defence Support Group to Babcock International.
BAE confirmed it is part of the team working the sustainment center proposal, but Northrop Grumman referred inquiries to the MoD.
Executives here said other teams in Europe were also forming to bid for the work. Italy is likely to be among the country's putting forward proposals, they said.
Britain's interest in hosting the European avionics repair center was first revealed by the UK's defense procurement minister, Philip Dunne, during a visit to the US earlier this year, but the makeup of the industrial team behind the proposal was not released.
News of the makeup of the British team comes ahead of the F-35 jet's appearance next month at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough air show.
The executive said the value of the avionics repair deal depends on the eventual size of the F-35 fleet in Europe but that revenues could be measured in "hundreds of millions of dollars a year."
"It's a significant work package and an important part of the framework of the global support program [being introduced for the F-35]," the executive said.
Britain, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Turkey and Italy have ordered the jet while nations like Belgium, Finland and Spain could eventually add their names to the customer list.
Italy, Turkey, Norway and the Netherlands have already secured either airframe or engine support contracts as part of the European element of the global support program being implemented by the US.
The Italians also have an F-35 final assembly and checkout line operating at the Cameri Air Base in northern Italy as part of their industrial effort.
Aside from prime contractor Lockheed Martin, BAE and Northrop Grumman are the two largest contractors in the F-35 program.
It's not clear what avionics are involved in the repair proposal but industry executives here said they would be major, high-value components.
Northrop Grumman supplies a range of key systems including the radar , electro-optical and communications subsystems as well as the communications, navigation and identification avionics and other systems.
BAE's involvement is likely to center on the company's logistics management and fleet-support expertise gained from supporting Royal Air Force Typhoon, Tornado and Hawk jets.
Europe's largest defense player already has a substantial stake in the F-35 program producing the aft fuselage in the UK and key electronic warfare and systems at its US operations.
In April, the company secured a £114 million (US $152 million) deal from Lockheed Martin to build F-35 maintenance, logistics and training facilities at RAF Marham, the base earmarked to be the home of the British Lightning II.
The detailed arrangements relating to who exactly undertakes the maintenance and other work at Marham still has to be hammered out.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.