Coronavirus fears have stopped F-35 lines in Japan, Italy, Pentagon says

Coronavirus fears have stopped F-35 lines in Japan, Italy, Pentagon says
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Work has stopped for a week at the F-35 fighter-jet factory in Japan due to concerns caused by the spreading coronavirus, according to the Pentagon’s top acquisition official.

“In Japan, I believe they shut down the [the plant] for a week,” Undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord told reporters on Wednesday at a defense conference in Washington.

F-35-maker Lockheed Martin has a factory in Ft. Worth, Texas, as well as two final assembly and check out facilities, often referred to as FACO, in Japan and Italy. The two countries assemble the jets for themselves at the facilities.

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Lord also said that on Wednesday morning she learned that Lockheed workers at the F-35 plant in Italy had been directed to work from home.

The company is also restricting travel to the plant in Cameri, Italy — roughly 30 miles west of Milan, where numerous international flights have been canceled due to concerns over the virus.

Italy has been one of the most affected countries from the coronavirus outbreak outside of Asia, with the nation announcing Wednesday that it will temporarily close its schools and universities for two weeks due to the illness.

The Pentagon later released a statement asserting that “there have been no impacts to the production line.”

“In Japan, to comply with Japanese Coronavirus directives Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is temporarily closing the Japanese FACO for 1 week; of note, only Japanese aircraft are produced at this FACO,” DOD spokesman Lt. Col Mike Andrews said in the statement.

He added that Lockheed is restricting travel to Cameri for its personnel, citing State Department embassy travel alert guidance.

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In addition, workers for Pratt and Whitney, the maker of the F-35 engine, “have been directed to telework.”

“Combatting the Coronavirus remains a top priority for the department. ... The department remains fully engaged with the defense industrial base on all programs, including the F-35, and stands ready to respond when needed,” Andrews said.

Lockheed later said in a statement to The Hill that the company is "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 remains our top priority. We advised employees to avoid travel to, through and from northern Italy in alignment with U.S. State Department guidance."

The company also said that F-35 production in Fort Worth "remains unaffected at this time by the coronavirus."

Updated at 2:13 p.m.