“In the European region, F-35 initial air frame MROU [Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade] capability will be provided by Italy by 2018," Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan told reporters on December 11, DoD News reports. Bogdan is the Program Executive Officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office in Arlington, Virginia. On the same occasion, Bogdan said that “the United Kingdom would be assigned to provide additional air frame depot capability”. Bogdan also said that “engine heavy maintenance will initially be provided by Turkey by 2018”, “with Norway and the Netherlands providing additional capability two to three years after Turkey’s initial capability”. He also noted, DOD News reported, “that he expects to announce the Pacific region locations next week”. The process of selecting the sites / countries where MROU facilities for the F-35 will be placed is aimed at providing “the [U.S. strategic] partners and the U.S. the freedom of maneuver and the freedom of action to base the plane anywhere they want globally and still have access to the kinds of support we need to keep the F-35 fleet going”, the Program Executive Officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program also said.
F-35 combat capabilities: a very brief survey
Lockheed Martin, the company which designed and produces the F-35 says that “establishing air superiority in today’s complex global security climate requires the unprecedented capabilities and versatility that only the F-35 Lightning II can offer. Conceived in the mid 1990s, the tri-variant F-35 represents the pinnacle of more than 50 years of fighter development technology. Designed to dominate the skies, the F-35 combines the 5th Generation characteristics of radar evading stealth, supersonic speed and extreme agility with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history”. The same official presentation reports that “advanced avionics give the pilot real-time access to battle space information with spherical coverage and an unparalleled ability to dominate the tactical environment. Data collected by F-35 sensors can be immediately shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing an instantaneous, high-fidelity view of ongoing operations – making the Lightning II a formidable force multiplier”.
According to official estimates “based on its advanced capabilities, the F-35 will enable pilots to be six to eight times more effective in air-to-air missions, air-to-ground missions and surveillance missions”. The plane has a total weight (empty) of 22,500 to 24,000 lbs. Maximum takeoff weight is 50,000 lbs. Its payload can reach 13,000 to 17,000 lbs. It can carry 15,000 to 16,000 lbs of internal fuel. It has supersonic speed and its combat radius is “over 600 nautical miles”. A text published in April 2014 on the official webpage of the USAF reports that the F-35 can carry a payload of 18,000 pounds (8,160 kilograms); its speed is Mach 1.6 (~1,200 mph), its range is more than 1,350 miles with internal fuel (1,200+ nautical miles), and unlimited with aerial refueling, and its ceiling is above 50,000 feet (15 kilometers).
In order to better understand how important the F-35 is for granting the U.S. a decisive technological edge on the international arena, let us remember that, on December 12, Indian media reported that “China has denied its new stealth fighter J-31 could take down the US F-35 joint strike fighter, but admitted challenging the latter has always been its goal”. The Times of India also quoted Wang Yanan, the deputy chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, who said that “both the J-31 and J-20 are products of China’s move to develop stealth fighters”, but “it is unrealistic for the two models to surpass their US counterparts in a short period of time”.
Selecting both Italy and Turkey for building and operating there F-35 heavy engine and heavy air frame MROU facilities is, quite clearly, a geo-strategically significant decision. It is obvious that both countries are not far away from the Greater Middle East (Turkey practically being a part of the GME), and the Pentagon most probably estimates that the entire region is going to stay volatile and dangerous in the foreseeable future. Iranian foreign and nuclear policy, plus the political and strategic agendas of the Islamic State (ISIL), Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas are, both separately and put together, serious reasons to think that stability, security and predictability are not at all going to prevail in the Middle East. Granting a solid MROU infrastructure for a large number of F-35s, the new facilities are going to strongly enhance both the national power and power projection capabilities of the U.S. and its main strategic partners.
 Claudette ROULO (Defense Media Activity, DoD News), “F-35 European Maintenance Sites Announced”, DoD News, December 11, 2014, text accessed at the Internet address http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=123819
 “F-35 Lightning II”, on the Lockheed Martin official webpage, at the Internet address http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/products/f35.html, last accessed on December 13, 2014
 See the text “F-35 FAST FACTS: Get to Know the F-35”, at the Internet address https://www.f35.com/about/fast-facts, last accessed on December 13, 2014
 “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)”, on the FAS webpage, text accessed at the Internet address http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-35.htm, last accessed on December 13, 2014
 “F-35A Lightning II Conventional Takeoff and Landing Variant”, on the official webpage of the United States Air Force (USAF), text accessed at the Internet address http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/Display/tabid/224/Article/478441/f-35a-lightning-ii-conventional-takeoff-and-landing-variant.aspx
 “China admits its stealth fighter not a match to US F-35”, The Times of India, December 12, 2014, at the Internet address http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/China-admits-its-stealth-fighter-not-a-match-to-US-F-35/articleshow/45491102.cms