At least a portion of the German F-35 aircraft is expected to be built at the Cameri FACO (Final Assembly and Check Out) in Italy.
The United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified the Congress on July 28, 2022, that the State Department approved the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to Germany for 35 F-35A 5th gen. fighter jets. The package also includes weapons, equipment, training and support for an estimated total cost of USD 8.4 billion.
In addition to the 35 aircraft and their engines, the FMS includes two spare engines, 100 AIM-120C-8 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles; 75 AGM-158B/B2 JASSM-ER air-launched cruise missiles; 344 GBU-53 SDB II; kits for 162 GBU-31 JDAM bombs with BLU-109 2000 lb warhead; kits for 246 GBU-54 Laser JDAM bombs with Mk-82 500 warhead; 75 AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder air-to-air missiles; inert weapons for training.
The presence of the AGM-158B/B2 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles – Extended Range is interesting as it gives the German F-35s a low observable, long-range, all weather, precision standoff cruise missile. The weapon, however, can only be carried externally as its dimensions cannot fit inside the F-35’s weapon bays. Germany has also another cruise missile, the Taurus KEPD 350, which is employed by Tornado and Eurofighter, but with shorter range compared to the JASSM ER.
As mentioned in our previous articles here at The Aviationist and also in the DSCA notice, will provide a suitable replacement for Germany’s retiring Tornado aircraft fleet in support of NATO’s nuclear sharing mission, which is considered a centerpiece for deterrence in Europe. All 35 F-35s destined to the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) will be stationed at Büchel Air Base, after the completion of the required renovation works expected in 2026.
The decision to base the F-35s there is not surprising: Büchel is the homebase of the Tornado IDS of the Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 33 (TLG33) and, above all, according to several reports (never been officially confirmed), it is also the base where the U.S. nukes required to fulfil NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement, are stored. By 2030, the nuclear strike mission will transition from the Tornado IDS to the F-35A, with the latter able to carry the B61-12 bomb in the internal weapons bay.
Interestingly, the expected date for the work’s completion coincides with the possible beginning of the F-35 deliveries expected by J.R. McDonald, the vice president of F-35 business development at Lockheed Martin. In fact, during a press conference at the ILA Berlin Air Show, McDonald said that the company is “sprinting to try and understand the German requirements” and, as soon as the German Parliament approves the contract, they could work to deliver the first aircraft in 2026.
The DSCA notice of the State Department approval of the finalized package with the number of aircraft, training needs and weapons requirements should be the final step before the German Parliament approval process. McDonald provided further details mentioning that Germany requested Block 4-model aircraft at the Technical Refresh 3 (TR3) standard.
A portion of the German F-35s is expected to be built at the Final Assembly Check Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy. “The most likely scenario would be that they receive some aircraft from Cameri and some aircraft from Fort Worth,” said McDonald. “Building exclusively at Cameri may stretch out the delivery time.”
The FACO was also visited by a German delegation in April 2022 to help inform the final decision about the facilities that will built their F-35s. McDonald noted the U.S. government is now more open to requests from European countries to have their F-35s produced at the Italian FACO, while previously they were subject to the approval of the Department of State on a case-to-case basis.