US President Donald Trump has told US television that he plans to relocate all off-shore manufacturing work for the multi-national Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program back to the US.
The threat comes after the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently found that 15 of the 900 JSF components manufactured in Turkey are not “being produced at the needed production rate”. While alternative sources have been or are being sought, any shortfall in components puts at risk the production timelines of complete F-35s at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility, and the final assembly and checkout (FACO) facility in Italy.
Turkey was suspended from the JSF program in July 2019 following its decision to take delivery of a Russian-made S-400 (SA-21) advanced surface-to-air missile system. Turkey was the seventh international partner to join the JSF program after the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, and Norway, signing on as a Tier 3 partner in July 2002. In January 2007, Turkey consolidated that partnership by signing an MoU with the JPO to participate in F-35 production.
In a television interview on May 14, in response to questions regarding US companies having offshore supply chains, Trump used the F-35 as an example of the “stupidity” of production work being done overseas.
“It’s a great jet, and we make parts for this jet all over the world,” Trump told FOX’s Maria Bartiromo. “We make them in Turkey, we make them here, we make them there. The problem is, if we have a problem with a country, you can’t make the jet. We get parts from all over the place. It’s so crazy. We should make everything in the United States.”
When asked if he would bring all F-35 production back to the US, Trump said, “We’re doing it because I’m changing all those policies.”
COMMENT: Just how such a move could be achieved in anyone’s guess, especially in light that the program is not just a US program, but is ‘owned’ by eight partner nations including the UK, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, and Australia.
As part of the partnership MoU signed by the former JSF Program Office (JPO), Lockheed Martin, and the partner nations, each nation is entitled to expect industrial participation through production and the life-of-type of the aircraft roughly equivalent to the percentage of the total number aircraft to be built it intends to acquire.
Australia has a program of record for 100 F-35s, about three percent of all partner nations’ total requirements. As such, as long as Australian companies are appropriately qualified and can be cost-competitive, Australia can expect to supply at least three per cent of the components for all F-35s for partner nation and foreign military sales customers. To date, Australian industry has secured A$1.7 billion worth of work on the program.
This industrial partnership adds to increased international cooperation, standardisation, and interoperability between the allied partner nations, as well as a share in funding the development cost and a say in the configuration of the aircraft.
In addition to the US’s industrial commitment to partner nations, most F-35 components are built by more than one manufacturer, meaning it is likely the primary or a secondary source of components is already located in the US anyway.