Northrop Grumman
The 900th F-35 fuselage section, produced by Northrop Grumman in Palmdale, California.

F-35 Fuselage Assembly Line Planned in Germany

July 16, 2023
With the production rate for the fighter jets due to rise during the 2020s, Rheinmetall will open a new plant by 2025 to manufacture fuselage sections at a rate of 400 per year.

Rheinmetall AG will build a new plant at Weeze, Germany, to manufacture F-35A fuselage sections at a rate of 400 per year by 2025. As the production rate for the fighter aircraft is due to rise in the course of this decade, the 60,000-sq.m. plant will employ more than 400 workers, with assembly, logistics and warehouse facilities, research and testing centers, quality control units, and training space.

The cost of the new plant was not announced.

Rheinmetall is a heavy equipment and defense manufacturing group that joined the F-35 program earlier this year.

A February letter of intent among Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Rheinmetall signaled their intent to source the F-35 center fuselage from the new partner.

The new plant will house the second integrated assembly line for the aircraft’s fuselage – a structural component for which Northrop Grumman is the sole manufacturer. Its current production rate is 156 fuselage units per year at an assembly plant in Palmdale, California, which some analysts have noted is below the program’s target rates for future deliveries.

Northrop also produces the jets’ wing skins, sensor systems, avionics, and aircraft and training software.

Multiple reports have noted that the availability of fuselage sections is a weakness in the current F-35 supply chain. Reportedly, the fuselage section was one of the components that would have been manufactured by Turkish suppliers, though that country was expelled from the F-35 program in 2019 when it acquired a Russian-built air-defense system.

“Northrop Grumman will replicate our automated and manufacturing technologies of the Integrated Assembly Line in Weeze,” stated Glenn Masukawa, v.p. for Northrop Grumman’s F-35 program.

The F-35 is a single-engine, Stealth-enabled aircraft deployed for ground attack and combat, and available in three variants: F-35A, for conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL); F-35B, for short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL); and the F-35C, carrier-based variant for Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant. Lockheed Martin the aircraft’s primary manufacturer and the program leader.

In addition to the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Navy, F-35 aircraft are in service with nine other nations’ defense forces, and eight more nations have requested to purchase the fighters.

Germany confirmed its decision to join the F-35 program at the end of 2022, finalizing its intention to acquire 35 F-35 aircraft for a reported $8 billion.