New Germany-based F-35 fuselage factory will allow Lockheed to boost production
The Weeze-based factory will replace a factory previously operated by Turkey.
When the United States removed Turkey and its companies from the F-35 program, there were concerns about how the U.S. could fill the resulting supply chain holes. Now one major void has been closed.
Germany’s Rheinmetall said this week that the fuselage factory in Weeze, a suburb of Düsseldorf, is expected to start operations in 2025. It’s expected to build at least 400 fuselages for Germany and other nations.
“We'll produce 156 [F-35s per year] … between now and the early 2030s, based on the contract work we have and the demand that I see,” Greg Ulmer, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, said during an interview at the Paris Air Show last month. “Then with that additional Rheinmetall capability, we could flex up to 165-ish over a period of two, three, four years, something like that.”
The German fuselage factory fills a void created in Lockheed Martin’s supply chain after Washington barred Ankara from the F-35 program in 2019 after it bought Russian-made air defense missiles and radars. Turkish companies make more than 900 F-35 parts, including center fuselages.
Northrop Grumman makes the majority of F-35 fuselages at a factory in Palmdale, California.
“Northrop Grumman will replicate our automated and manufacturing technologies of the Integrated Assembly Line in Weeze,” Glenn Masukawa, vice president for Northrop Grumman’s F-35 program, said in a statement.
When Turkey was ejected from the F-35 program, many believed the United States could entice new buyers by offering up supply chain work that was being done in Turkey.
Just weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany said it would buy 35 F-35s instead of U.S.-made F/A-18 Super Hornets. Earlier this year, Rheinmetall signed an agreement with Lockheed Martin to build fuselages.
The new Rheinmetall fuselage factory will employ more than 400 workers, the company said.
Lockheed builds the lionshare of F-35s at a massive factory in Fort Worth, Texas. It also has smaller assembly facilities in Italy and Japan.