Designated AU-18, the 500th F-35 centre fuselage is for a conventional take-off and landing variant for the RAAF. Northrop Grumman began production on the AU-18 centre fuselage in June 2018 and completed work on 21 February 2019.
A core structure of the F-35 aircraft, the centre fuselage is designed and produced on Northrop Grumman's integrated assembly line, a state-of-the-art facility supported by technologies exclusive to or pioneered by Northrop Grumman bringing together robotics, autonomous systems, virtual 3D and predictive automation to the forefront of centre fuselage production.
Kevin Mickey, sector vice president and general manager of military aircraft systems at Northrop Grumman, welcomed the milestone, saying, "Our teams and suppliers are constantly finding better, more affordable ways to deliver a superior product on time, at-cost and, as with this centre fuselage, ahead of schedule. When you couple this level of commitment with advanced manufacturing technologies, it’s just a win-win situation for us, our customer and the warfighter."
Northrop Grumman has been producing centre fuselages for all three F-35 variants since May 2004 as part of the global F-35 production line. Lockheed Martin is the industry lead for the F-35 program and Northrop Grumman plays a key role in the development, modernisation, sustainment and production of the F-35.
This announcement follows Northrop Grumman's recent announcement that it had secured additional, follow-on maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade (MRO&U) work for Australian and Asia-Pacific allies’ fleets of F-35 JSFs.
Based on the recent contract assignment, Northrop Grumman Australia will deliver avionics, composites (teaming with Quickstep) and electro-optics repair (teaming with BAE Systems) services. In providing these services, the company will leverage its existing capabilities, as well as introduce new technologies to the Australian defence industrial community.
Warren King, interim chief executive of Northrop Grumman Australia, said at the time: "Northrop Grumman Australia continues to be fully committed to growing its in-country technical sustainment workforce and capabilities, and this work will allow us to continue supporting the Royal Australian Air Force’s mission and the Australian defence industry at large."
To further support the execution of this assignment, Northrop Grumman Australia is establishing an Electronic Sustainment Centre (ESC) to sustain mission-readiness capabilities within the Commonwealth. After achieving readiness in January 2019 to support regional APN-241 radar repair, the ESC is prepared to support key fifth-generation communications, navigation and identification systems.
In addition to producing the centre fuselage and wing skins for the aircraft, the company develops, produces and maintains several sensor systems, avionics, mission systems and mission-planning software, pilot and maintainer training systems courseware, electronic warfare simulation test capability and low-observable technologies.
For the RAAF, the F-35A's combination of full-spectrum low-observable stealth coatings and materials, advanced radar-dispersing shaping, network-centric sensor and communications suites – combined with a lethal strike capability – means the aircraft will be the ultimate force multiplying, air-combat platform.
Ten nations are currently flying F-35s, including the US, UK, Italy, Norway, Israel and Japan. The F-35A – the variant chosen by the RAAF – will have with a projected life of 30 years in service.
Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 of the advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program – which is aimed at replacing the ageing F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that have been in service with the RAAF since 1985.