Rome — Italy’s F-35 final assembly line has been qualified to start offering maintenance to European jets and this month received its first customer: a Norwegian F-35.
The Norwegian fighter flew in July 4 after the facility at Cameri in northern Italy achieved full operational capability for F-35 overhauls last month, F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin said.
A spokeswoman for the firm said the DoD joint program office for the fighter certified Cameri’s Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul, and Upgrade (MROU) facility as achieving full operating capability in June.
Cameri, an Italian air force base which started life as a final assembly line for Italy’s expected order of 90 jets and delivered the first in 2015, is owned by the Italian government and operated by Italian state-controlled defense firm Leonardo in partnership with Lockheed Martin.
It is one of only two assembly lines outside the US; the other is in Japan.
Leonardo also builds F-35 wingboxes at the site, so far delivering over 200. But Italian officials have been also keen to offer maintenance work at the base to European F-35 fleets in the long term to make Cameri permanently viable.
In 2014, the 101-acre site was named by the US DoD as its F-35 Heavy Airframe Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade facility for the European region. Italian jets entering service with the navy and air force have received maintenance at Cameri, but the Norwegian jet arriving this month was the first international customer.
Italy is meanwhile also hoping new European F-35 customers will have their jets assembled at Cameri. So far, 22 Italian fighters have rolled off the line, including 17 F-35As and 5 F-35Bs — three for the Italian navy and two for the air force.
Since a deal was struck in 2018 with the Netherlands to assemble jets, 19 Dutch F-35As have also been delivered by Cameri.
In March, Switzerland said at least 24 of the 36 F-35s it plans to buy would be assembled at Cameri after talks with the U.S. government and Leonardo. The first eight planes Switzerland will obtain will be assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas plant before they are used for pilot training in the U.S.
Switzerland said it was in talks with Lockheed Martin for a further four to be assembled in Switzerland as part of an offset program with local firm RUAG. Meanwhile, a German military delegation visited Cameri earlier this year to inspect the site with an eye toward employing it for assembly work when Berlin buys the F-35.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.