Lockheed Martin has suspended the production of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in Japan and told employees at an Italian factory to work from home because of concerns over the coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak.
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, The production of the F-35 aircraft at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries factory in Japan has been paused for at least one week. The move is not expected to affect deliveries.
It is the first time that weapons manufacturing has been halted by the worldwide outbreak of Covid-19, which has spread to several countries since its emergence in China in December 2019.
Most of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters are assembled at a facility in Fort Worth, Texas, US. Final assembly and check-out (FACO) facilities for the aircraft are situated in Japan and Italy.
Lockheed Martin has also asked employees at a F-35 plant in Italy to work from home and restricted travel to the facility in Cameri, located about 30 miles west of Milan, where several international flights have been cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns.
The pause in production is not expected to affect Lockheed Martin’s plans to deliver 140 F-35 fighter aircraft in 2020.
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 remain 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.