Britain will have to send its supersonic F-35 fighter jets to Italy for heavy overhauls, the UK Ministry of Defence has confirmed to The Register.
BAE Systems will maintain an airframe maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade (MRO&U) capability at RAF Marham in Norfolk, according to a US announcement earlier this week.
However, that will only be used if Italy, the Americans’ designated airframe overhaul point in Europe, is unable to cope with demand.
“The F-35 programme is based on a global support solution concept. This is the most cost effective way to deliver the F-35 support solution and is based on economies of scale,” the MoD told The Register, adding: “The UK is establishing an F-35 airframe maintenance facility at RAF Marham to maintain UK aircraft. However, regional Airframe ‘Heavy’ MRO&U and Engine MRO&U will be undertaken in Italy and Turkey.”
In Europe, F-35 heavy maintenance will be carried out by the UK for the aircraft’s avionics, and as noted above, Italy for the airframes and Turkey for the jets’ F135 engines.
The MoD declined to answer questions as to why Britain’s carrier strike aircraft will have to be dismantled and shipped abroad for MRO&U work, when a perfectly good airframe overhaul facility exists over here, referring The Register to the Americans for an answer. This was said to be because the Americans have the lead on PR relating to F-35 maintenance arrangements and not because, as El Reg suggested, the US supplier tail is wagging the British customer dog.
Being dependent on countries like Italy and Turkey sounds like a bad idea when it comes to maintaining your defence capabilities.