Bethesda, Maryland, USA – As Lockheed Martin is getting desperate to find new customers for its faltering F-35, new info on an unlikely manufacturer of the jet parts recently surfaced – a Chinese-owned company.
Recent reports reveal that a Chinese-owned company has been manufacturing key circuit boards and other systems for the F-35. Exception PCB, based in Gloucestershire, southwest England, produces the aforementioned parts. Now, why would anyone be worried about an English company producing parts for an American jet? Well, it seems that Exception PCB was acquired by a foreign company in 2013. The buyer was its present Chinese parent, Shenzhen Fastprint. The circuit boards produced in Gloucestershire control many of the F-35’s key capabilities, such as its engines, lighting, fuel and navigation systems, the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) stated in a press release.
However, the representatives of Exception PCB reassured the media that they are an established manufacturer and that they presented no risk to the F-35’s supply chain. This was also reiterated by the UK MoD.
“Exception PCB produces bare circuit boards, and as a result, there are no risks associated with their product in the F-35 aircraft supply chain,” said a spokesperson for the MoD.
Concern that a Chinese-owned company is producing any parts for the F-35 program, because of fears about alleged Chinese espionage and rivalry has been expressed by Western military experts and former defense ministers.
“We have been completely and utterly naive about the role of China, and it is only now that people are beginning to wake up,” Gerald Howarth, a former Conservative defense minister stated.
The F-35 is equipped with an array of highly sensitive sensors and weapons systems. Nine countries form part of the multi-billion-dollar Joint Strike Fighter program and companies within these countries produce certain parts of the fighter jet.
China has often been accused by Lockheed Martin of trying to steal information on the jet. The military-industrial giant is claiming that China’s J-31 is a copy of the F-35.
The troubled F-35 is now being offered to multiple countries, as Lockheed Martin is trying to save the endlessly overrunning costs. The company is trying to find future potential Foreign Military Sales customers in Singapore, Greece, Romania, Spain, and Poland. Other countries rumored to be eyeing the jet include Finland, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. Last year in November, it was reported that Belgium was the first new customer for the F-35 in years, choosing it over the Eurofighter Typhoon to replace its aging F-16s.
However, Turkey was recently axed from the program despite investing over $2 billion in JFS. Turkey already paid for the first batch of F-35 fighters, but these were never delivered, because of US sanctions imposed on the country over its acquisition of the Russian S-400.
Lockheed Martin tried to stop the Congress from banning Turkish F-35 acquisition, primarily because Turkey was a key partner in both R&D and production, with approximately 1000 parts of the F-35 still being produced in the country. Even more importantly, Turkey was to be one of the largest foreign customers of the F-35, planning to acquire at least 100 jets, which was extremely important to Lockheed Martin. The jet is reported to have so many critical flaws that even staunch US allies are most likely to reduce their initial orders.