WASHINGTON — The global spread of the coronavirus is impacting work at two key nodes in the global supply chain of the F-35, a top Pentagon official revealed Wednesday.
Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters that “just this morning” she learned that workers for Lockheed Martin in Italy had been directed to work from home over concerns with the virus. In addition, Lockheed is restricting travel to the Italian facility under state department embassy travel alert guidance. The Pratt and Whitney engine team in Cameri have been directed to telework as well.
Italy this morning announced plans to shut down all schools and universities for the next two weeks in order to halt the spread of the disease, also known as COVID-19.
Meanwhile, work at a Japanese final assembly and check out facility, run by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, has been paused for a week, Lord revealed at the annual McAleese conference.
Still, “right now, it doesn't look like it is affecting deliveries” of the F-35, Lord said. “Right now we have not seen any effects.”
In addition, an industry test pilot who had planned to travel to Italy for flights is remaining in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.
Lord noted that a group led by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Ken Rapuano is keeping an eye on all aspects of the virus’ impact, including “scenario planning” on potential impacts.
The F-35 is perhaps the most globally integrated supply chain in military equipment history, with pieces built around the world sent to Lockheed’s Ft. Worth, Texas facility. However, jets for some foreign partners are assembled at the two FACO locations, one in Cameri, Italy and the other in Nagoya, Japan.
“Combating the Coronavirus remains a top priority for the department, and Secretary Esper meets weekly with senior leaders to discuss how we’re taking care of our men and women in uniform around the world,” said DoD spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews. “The department remains fully engaged with the defense industrial base on all programs, including the F-35, and stands ready to respond when needed.”
Lockheed spokesman Brett Ashworth said that the Fort Worth location “remains unaffected at this time” by the virus.
“We are working with our customers and partners to mitigate any impacts to F-35 international FACO operations in Italy and Japan. The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority. We advised employees to avoid travel to, through and from northern Italy in alignment with U.S. State Department guidance,” he said.
Updated 3/4/20 at 2:35 PM EST with comment from Lockheed Martin.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.