Lockheed Martin’s flagship F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is facing more bad news, as contractors working at the company’s Italian assembly line recently announced plans for a strike set to take place on Tuesday.
Lockheed and its local partners employ over 600 workers at Italy’s Cameri Air Base, which is where the final assembly work is done on F-35s destined to join the Italian armed forces. However, only 270 members of the staff are formal employees, with the rest working on the fifth generation fighter as contractors working for a third-party agency known as Leonardo.
“There is no job security for staff,” said Sergio Busca a representative of the UILM union that planned the strike. “Leonardo has long promised to hire them, but we are getting frustrated.”
Thus far, the Italian defense firm has partnered with Lockheed to complete construction on nine total F-35s; a paltry number compared to the total of 60 F-35As and 60 F-35Bs sold to the Italian government, let alone the 29 additional F-35A’s scheduled to be built on site for transfer to the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
“Leonardo has said the high number of agency staff is normal, but we should have work here for decades with the maintenance activity, so why not hire the staff, given their qualifications?” Busca told Defense News.
For their part, Leonardo has promised to increase the total number of permanent staff on site to 520, but thus far that promise has done little to appease the workers. Last week, they organized an over-time ban that UILM claims has been widely adopted by contractors and employees alike as an initial form of protest. On Tuesday, that protest will expand to a strike that is slated to last only one day – as a symbolic set back that shouldn’t ultimately harm the national defense initiative.
“The strike is planned for Tuesday, on the same day Leonardo has invited us for talks,” he said. “It is possible that at the assembly staff may vote to delay the strike in order to hear what the firm has to say. But if we don’t hear about hirings, the strike will be on,” he said.
News of Tuesday’s strike comes on the heels of a number of interesting developments between Lockheed Martin and the international defense community. Currently, the United States has stopped accepting deliveries of the advanced air platform because of an ongoing dispute about who will ultimately be forced to pay for significant repairs required by nearly every F-35 that has been built. Corrosion issues at the point in which the aircraft’s panels are mated to its aluminum frame will cost millions to repair, and both the U.S. government and Lockheed Martin are pointing their fingers at one another in terms of both blame and financial responsibility.
Further, recent Defense Department reports indicate that not only are nearly half of all delivered F-35s considered non-operational by military standards, the Air Force has also come to conclusion that the extreme costs associated with maintaining the platform will ultimately require them to reduce their total order by as much as a third. Maintenance expenses are not expected to vary by branch, so there’s potential that similar conclusions will soon be made by the Navy and Marine Corps.
However, despite these setbacks, Lockheed has reportedly begun courting the Japanese government for a contract to build another fifth generation platform that would be a “hybrid” of the F-35 and America’s export-banned air superiority fighter, the F-22 — one they claim would be “superior” to both of the advanced jets developed and built for the United States.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense