F-35 Program Reaches New Milestone – Global Support Continues: As of the beginning of 2023, there were more than 890 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jet fighters in service around the world.
Though the “full rate production” for the fifth-generation aircraft isn’t likely to begin until later this year, the program hit a significant milestone this month as BAE Systems delivered the 1,000th rear fuselage to lead contractor Lockheed Martin.
F-35 In Good Shape
According to the UK-based defense contractor, more than 1,500 employees at the company’s facilities in Samlesbury, Lancashire, produce the rear fuselage for every F-35 in the global fleet. The first fuselage was delivered to Lockheed Martin in 2005.
“This is a significant moment for everyone involved in the programme and a testament to the highly-skilled workforce we have in the North West of England,” Cliff Robson, group managing director at BAE Systems Air, said at an event to mark the 1,000th delivery.
“Our role on the F-35 programme is another example of how we make a substantial contribution to the local and national UK economy and help to deliver capability which is critical for national security,” Robson added.
BAE Systems has been involved in the F-35 program since its inception, and it continues to play key roles across the development, manufacture, and sustainment of the aircraft. Some 500 UK companies are also part of the F-35 supply chain, supporting more than 20,000 jobs and injecting approximately £41 billion into the UK economy.
New Spares Warehouse Down Under
It was just last month that Lockheed Martin also unveiled plans to have BAE Systems Australia set up an F-35 spares warehouse at Royal Australia Air Force Base (RAAF) Base Williamtown in New South Wales to support the more than 300 F-35 Lightning IIs that will be in service across the Indo-Pacific region by 2035.
In addition to maintaining RAAF F-35 fleet of aircraft, the newly constructed facility will support F-35 variants operating in the region. That will include aircraft operating out of Singapore, Japan, and South Korea, as well as from U.S. Navy and Royal Navy carrier-based aircraft and United States Marine Corps F-35Bs deployed in the region.
“The establishment of a regional warehousing and distribution network for the Indo-Pacific will increase F-35 operational resilience for Australia and regional F-35 operators, including U.S. forces deployed in the Indo-Pacific,” Warren McDonald, Lockheed Martin Australia Chief Executive told Australian Defence Magazine last month. “The regional warehouse will create approximately 20 immediate jobs as part of a growth path to more than 500 long-term F-35 sustainment jobs in future years.”
3D Printing Used for Simulators
Back in the United States, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Training & Logistics team has been developing methods to employ 3D printing in the production of the F-35 Full Mission Simulator (FMS). Late last year, the team successfully completed the first two 3D-printed cockpits, which were delivered to MCAS Cherry Point.
Additive printing is an intricate process that is now performed at the Orlando, Florida, Rotary and Mission Systems site – and the entire process reportedly takes about two months. However, this could also pave the way for future large additive programs, and efforts are underway to eliminate defects and streamline the process to increase overall efficiency.
3D printing can reduce the total lead time to obtain the conventional parts by 75 percent, and it could speed the production of the F-35 FMS cockpits – which are crucial in the training of the future F-35 pilots.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs.