The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus across the globe has led Lockheed Martin to pause work on the F-35 at plants in Japan and Italy.
Yesterday, US undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord said that she had learnt of the closure of a plant in Japan operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and that staff in Italy had been asked to work from home.
The majority of the aircraft’s production is conducted at Lockheed Martin’s plant in Fort Worth Texas, which the company confirmed to Air Force Technology was so far unaffected by the coronavirus.
A number of components for the aircraft, however, are manufactured overseas, with some airframes destined for programme allies finishing their production at final assembly and check out facilities (FACO) in Japan and Italy.
In a statement, Lockheed Martin told Air Force Technology: “F-35 production in Fort Worth, where the majority of F-35 aircraft are produced, remains unaffected at this time by the coronavirus. 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 US State Department guidance. Employees in Italy may telecommute as required.”
It is not expected that deliveries of the jet will be delayed by the decision to halt work at the two factories. The US Department of Defence (DoD) also confirmed to Air Force Technology that a Pratt and Whitney resident engine team in Cameri, Italy, had also been advised to telework.
Despite this, the Pentagon said that there had been ‘no impacts to the production line.’
In a statement, the DoD told Air Force Technology: “Combatting 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.
“The department remains fully engaged with the defence industrial base on all programs, including the F-35, and stands ready to respond when needed.”
Only F-35s destined for use by Japanese Armed Forces are manufactured at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries FACO facility in Japan. In compliance with Japanese government directives aimed at capping the spread of the Coronavirus, the facility will remain closed for a week.