Unexpected production twist: Germany refuses local assembly of F-35

An interesting piece of news has come to light from Janes surrounding a sudden change in the production location for the F-35 fighter jets ordered by the Luftwaffe. Germany has opted for an unanticipated decision to have their entire F-35 fleet assembled exclusively at the Fort Worth facility in the US instead of a location closer to home – Europe, specifically Italy.  

Lockheed is designing a special F-35 for an unnamed customer
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Janes reports that Berlin has chosen to assemble their F-35A aircraft, specifically intended for the Luftwaffe, at the US Final Assembly and Inspection Facility [FACO] located in Fort Worth, Texas. Previously, the plan was to utilize the European FACO based in Cameri, Italy for this purpose. 

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of these aircraft, confirmed this news through an official press release. While the final assembly and inspection of the German aircraft will unfold on American soil, the company assured that it will integrate parts manufactured in Europe. These components will be sourced from respective units in Germany, Italy, and the UK.

Italy will assemble 24 of the 36 Swiss F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters
Photo credit: Il Manifesto

Panavia Tornados replacement

As reported by BulgarianMilitary.com, Berlin initially had no interest in the US-manufactured stealth jet. However, the unfolding situation in Ukraine shifted their perspective, persuading the Bundestag that the F-35 is the superior replacement for the outdated Panavia Tornado in terms of carrying nuclear weapons. This change in attitude led to a request for the procurement of 35 units of the F-35A version.  

Previously, it was believed that the first fleet would be delivered to Germany in 2026. However, it’s now anticipated to arrive as early as next year. Despite this alteration in the timeline, Lockheed Martin, the producer of the jets, has not offered any insight as to why Berlin prefers their aircraft over those produced within Europe, according to Jane’s.

UK will train Ukrainian pilots, even though it cannot train its own - Tornado bomber fighter
Photo credit: RAF

The elephant in the room

Let’s consider an often overlooked aspect – the potential ramifications of Germany’s choice to outsource production beyond Central Europe. This move might unexpectedly inflate costs down the line. Sure, there’s no present evidence, but that doesn’t discount the potential reality of this situation. When you take the supply chain into account, this could escalate the German F-35’s price tag, subsequently hiking Germany’s defense spending. While the F-35 requires substantial financial resources for maintenance and operation, without domestic production, the opportunity for local job creation is missed. 

Consider the German F-35 budget – essentially, it’s going to drain into the US. There’s little to no chance of these funds cycling back via taxes to Germany anymore. Of course, the manufacture of components for the German F-35 could be considered a compromise, but these aren’t exactly the lifeline of Germany’s economy. 

Spotted: Turkish KAAN stealth also with inverted canopy as on F-35
Photo credit: Twitter

And what about technological advancement? The defense sector fuels tech development significantly. By buying American planes, Germany is inadvertently investing in US research and development. As opposed to this, had the assembly been in Italy, it would likely have bolstered innovation within Europe.

What’s happening in the Lower Rhine?

Now the future of Lower Rhine, Germany has been thrown into uncertainty. This is due to an announcement made by German media in July of the previous year, stating that Rheinmetall, a notable player in Western military aviation, is preparing to produce “at least 400” F-35A center fuselages from 2025 onward. The selected production site? None other than Weeze, Lower Rhine, western Germany, according to a recent press release.

Su-57's vertical stabilizers give it an advantage over the F-22 - F-35
Photo credit: USAF

Far from being a mere production hub, this facility will also serve as a maintenance depot for German F-35 aircraft and those from other friendly nations. This facility is expected to fill the void left by previous facilities in Turkey, which were expelled from the fighter program.

Currently, the sole production of the center fuselage for the F-35 lies in the expert hands of the US military aircraft company, Northrop Grumman. The introduction of a second, albeit smaller, production hub in Germany was regarded by local media last year as a necessary move to alleviate a severe bottleneck that was hindering the ramp-up of stealth fighter deliveries. Yet, it’s now uncertain whether the decision from Berlin has thrown a wrench into Rheinmetall’s plans. Will the assembly of the German F-35 affect the company’s intentions in any way? Or is there a link between the proposed facility and Berlin’s decision to shift assembly out of Europe?

F-35 tramples the local market

Spain lands F-18s and strains its Eurofighter Getafe factory
Photo credit: UK MoD Crown

The current scenario in the European defense sectors is a cause for concern, as their international standing and market value are experiencing a steady decline. The most prominent indicator of this issue is the failure of domestic fighter classes to secure contracts when competing against the US F-35 in tenders.

Having established itself as a significant force in the aerial warfare market, the F-35 is anticipated to continue its expansion across Europe. Conversely, European fighters have managed to garner clients only in nations that the US, with its fighter offering, has not approached. This pattern extends beyond the aerial sphere, with ground forces’ equipment markets also ceding territory to manufacturers from South Korea, notable for products like the K2 tank and the K9 artillery system. 

Armaments from Germany, France, and Italy have faced severe criticism for their quality, particularly from Ukrainian operators. This feedback sharply contrasts with the proficiency and reliability associated with American weapons.

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Photo credit: UK MoD / Twitter

The American stealth aircraft

The F-35A is a variant of the F-35 Lightning II, a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighters. The F-35A model is a conventional takeoff and landing ]CTOL] variant, primarily used by the United States Air Force and other air forces around the world. 

The dimensions of the F-35A are quite significant. It has a length of 51.4 feet, a wingspan of 35 feet, and a height of 14.4 feet. The aircraft’s weight is approximately 29,300 pounds when empty, and it has a maximum takeoff weight of 70,000 pounds. 

The sale of 35 F-35 stealth fighters to Germany is in progress
Photo credit: Pixabay

Technically, the F-35A is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan engine, which provides 43,000 pounds of thrust. This allows the aircraft to reach a top speed of over 1,200 mph, or Mach 1.6. Plus, it also has a range of approximately 1,200 nautical miles.

F-35A abilities

The F-35A is equipped with state-of-the-art avionics and equipment. This includes the AN/APG-81 active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, the Electro-Optical Targeting System [EOTS], and the AN/ASQ-239 Barracuda electronic warfare system. It also features the Autonomic Logistics Information System [ALIS], which provides predictive maintenance and health monitoring for the aircraft. 

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Photo credit: Twitter

The F-35A’s armament is extensive and versatile. It has an internal weapons bay to maintain its stealth profile, capable of carrying a mix of air-to-air and air-to-ground ordinance. This includes AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9X Sidewinder, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions [JDAM]. In addition, it has an external hardpoint capacity for missions where stealth is not a priority, thus allowing it to carry additional weapons or fuel tanks. 

Furthermore, the F-35A is equipped with a GAU-22/A 25mm cannon. This four-barrel version of the GAU-12 Equalizer cannon is mounted internally with 180 rounds for the F-35A, providing a significant firepower advantage in close-quarters combat scenarios.

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