Centre fuselages for next RAAF F-35s in production

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A file image of Northrop Grumman workers inspecting a completed F-35 centre fuselage. (Northrop Grumman)

No fewer than six centre fuselage sections for the RAAF’s next batch of F-35A Joint Strike Fighters are currently in production at Northrop Grumman’s F-35 Integrated Assembly Line (IAL) at Palmdale, California.

The fuselage sections are for six of the RAAF’s next eight F-35As, which are scheduled for delivery in 2018, after the first two Australian jets (AU-1 and AU-2) were handed over in 2014.

“We’ve currently delivered two aircraft to the Australian air force, we have six aircraft that are [currently] in our assembly process, [and] we’ll actually deliver seven this year,” Corey Carruth, the F-35 IAL’s director of manufacturing, told Australian media during a tour of the Palmdale facility earlier this month.

“One of the next units we’ll deliver off our assembly line is AU-3, the third Australian unit, we’ll deliver it to Lockheed Martin in March.”

Following the delivery of the centre fuselage of AU-3 in late March, AU-4 and 5 will follow shortly after in April, Carruth said.

The next eight Australian jets are being built as part of the F-35’s low rate initial production (LRIP) batch 10.

To date Northrop Grumman has delivered over 287 F-35 centre fuselages from its Palmdale IAL, which uses the same building that it assembled the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber in. Today the IAL is delivering a centre fuselage to Lockheed Martin every three days with a production flow time of 164 days.

“We’ll actually be increasing this year to a day-and-a-half production interval, meaning we’ll deliver an airplane every day and a half and start a new airplane every day and a half,” Carruth said. “We’ll get down to about 110 days total flow.”

Northrop Grumman delivered the first RAAF F-35 centre fuselage for AU-1 in October 2013. AU-1 and AU-2 have been based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona since late 2014 as part of the International Pilot Training Center there. Of the next eight jets, two will ferry to Australia in 2018 for Australian operational test and evaluation, while the other six will be based at Luke for pilot training before being ferrying to Australia in 2020.

AU 1 FF Aerial 1
The next batch of RAAF F-35As are in production. (Lockheed Martin)

Comments

  1. Raymond says

    Ladies and gentlemen, despite intense criticism, public opposition campaigns, incorrect information, misguided opinion and malicious nonsense, we present and welcome the future of US, Australian and allied air power… the F-35!

    Thank you to all who believed in the F-35 and persevered with a truly world-class product during the inevitable setbacks, whilst suffering constant disparagement by those who didn’t actually understand or realise what the aircraft was capable of.

    I know we will be so grateful for your efforts in the years to come.

  2. John N says

    Well there you go!

    As I mentioned in a previous post, my understanding was that the next batch of 8 F-35A airframes for the RAAF were being procured from LRIP 10, this confirms that.

    For those not aware, the delivery schedule looks like this:
    * 2 – (2014) – already delivered
    * 8 – (2018) – LRIP 10 (as mentioned above)
    * 8 – (2019)
    * 15 – (2020)
    * 15 – (2021)
    * 15 – (2022), and
    * 9 – (2023)

    By late 2023 all 72 approved F-35A’s will have been delivered (the possible remaining up to 28 airframes to replace the Super Hornets will be decided around the mid 2020’s, for delivery in the late 2020’s).

    The transition order for the four Squadrons is planned to be: 3SQN, 2OCU, 77SQN (all Williamtown NSW) and finally Tindal NT based 75SQN.

    I don’t think it will be long before we hear news of 3SQN standing down its Classic Hornets from operations and start preparing for transition to F-35A.

    And of course 3SQN’s Classic airframes will end up in the ‘pool’ of available airframes to be available for the remaining operational Squadrons, and so on and so on until the transition is complete (the best will keep going, the oldest and most worn will be parked). An orderly and professional transition from one type to the other.

    And for the ‘what if things go bad’ and ‘anti F-35 brigade’, yes the RAAF does have an insurance policy or two,

    While the transition is occurring the RAAF will have the 24 Super Hornets and the very soon to be introduced 12 Growlers available for active service, and of course the ‘best of’ the Classic Hornet airframes too.

    And as far as ‘software’ for the airframes, I understand that when all F-35A’s are delivered they will have the planned operational Block 3F software version installed.

    But of course it doesn’t stop there, in the early 2020’s Block 4 should be available, this is a big one for the RAAF, it will include the capability for long range anti-ship missiles such as JSM.

    And what will be even more interesting is that over the years ahead, each Block upgrade should introduce new and further enhancements or ‘refined’ enhancements of capabilities,

    Far less about hardware upgrades (as is the norm with most combat aircraft, the F-35 will be more about software upgrades).

    Anyway, all good!

    Cheers,

    John N

  3. Raymond says

    Jasonp – perhaps, however there is a (big) light at the end of the tunnel, and the naysayers will be surely eating their words sooner or later!

  4. says

    Raymond,refer to my post on the marine rotation article.John you were right on target there mate.Well done.Cant wait to hear that beast of an engine.

  5. the road runner says

    Yep it still has a long way to go….Approx 10,000 flight hours per JSF, in RAAF service….. a looooong way to go!

    I shall even give the opposition some ammo…the F-35A tail hook is having a few issues at the moment,,,, as the F-35 C hook can be used several thousands of time, the A version is a one trick pony with a single use (life)when an issue arises with the braking system on the jet …..so lets cancel the program…they will never be able to fix that !

    @ John Newman ,yep upload a new app and the JSF has a new trick in the already big bag of tricks..
    Lets not forget that The JSF is able to use a greater variety of weapons than some 4th gen fighters that have been in service for a decade or 2

    If/when F-35A are produced at 60 to 80 a year ,watch the price drop !
    Good to see the RAAF get some fat in the game

  6. says

    Raymond,You sound 100% more confident than Lockheed.Ladies and gentlemen,it’s coming to airspace near you.I just hope you can actually hear yourself.Its quite embarrassing really.

  7. mike9 says

    Naysayer here, all the PR in the world will not solve the continuing problems, cost blow outs and lack of achieving even the first goals promised. for gods sake a bloody F16 out performed it repeatedly..

  8. Gary says

    Mike9 – Yes an F16 did outperform the F35; however, this was a scripted OT&E sortie against a non combat ready F35.

  9. Jasonp says

    Mike9 – Alternate Facts. Read the entire report before forming an opinion, not the sound bites from the doomsayers.

  10. John N says

    Paul,

    Where will Block 4 upgrade be done? Wouldn’t have a clue.

    But realistically I would imagine as the years go by and there are the various software Block upgrades every couple of years or so over the 30+ years that the Global F-35 fleet will be in service, that upgrades will be done either ‘in country’ by each user, or probably at the ‘regional’ maintenance hubs.

    It would be totally impractical if the eventual global fleet, of approx. 3000 airframes, all had to head back to the US for a software upgrade every couple of years, just wouldn’t work.

    So if the upgrades are not performed ‘in country’ by each user nation (don’t know yes or no, probably yes), the next ‘logical’ place for upgrades would be at the various ‘global’ regional maintenance hubs.

    Australia is the regional hub for the South Pacific, Japan for the North Pacific, the US mainland of course, the UK and I also believe Italy too for Europe.

    So for Australia, I think it would be pretty reasonable to assume the Block upgrades will either be done at the local RAAF base or the regional hub in Australia (which could be at RAAF Williamtown for example).

    PAUL (another Paul?),

    What will happen to the Classic Hornets? More than likely they will end up being scrapped and a number end up in aviation museums around the country (just like the F-111C & G airframes for example, and is what is starting to happen to the AP-3C fleet too).

    Yes there is always the possibility they could be ‘on sold’ to another nation, but of course that all depends on what ITAR restrictions the US placed on those airframes at the time of original purchase by Australia.

    Just because some other country might come along with a bag of money and say “I’ll have them, sell them to me!”, doesn’t mean we can, it all comes back to the terms and conditions they were originally purchased under from the US.

    Cheers,

    John N

  11. Mick181 says

    Canada could end up with some classis RAAF Hornets as their fleet is probably going to have to soldier on for who knows how long and they are probably the only ones who would get US Congress aproval for a sale.

  12. says

    John N,thanks mate I thought the same.Why I asked is because of the lines of software codes were owned by the US.By the way one of hornets will be fine in my backyard.R u going to Avalon John?

  13. John N says

    Paul,

    Am I going to Avalon, unfortunately not, work, work, work! Buggar!!

    I understand what you say about the US owned ‘source code’, but that’s not what gets installed on each airframe.

    The US does own the source code and we are unlikely to see that source code, but what would be installed on the aircraft is the ‘compiled’ program/software.

    Now that is no different to you or I upgrading our laptop, iPhone, etc, we get to download and install the compiled program/software, but we never see the source code.

    So I don’t see that the F-35 (or any other modern military aircraft) will be any different when it comes to software upgrades.

    If I remember correctly the Super Hornets have recently completed an upgrade, both hardware and software, and that was performed here, not in the US.

    Cheers,

    John N

  14. Dan says

    There comes a point in time with any system (F-35) in this instance where you cross the rubicon (the point of no return). That time is now! Onward, forward, upward! I hear both sides of the discussion, but progress is eternal and rust never sleeps.

  15. MikeofPerth says

    Maybe the USMC will buy out what is left of our hornet fleet (minus the few the RAAF will keep for museums and gate guardians), given the issues they are having keeping their current fleet airborne and the fact they plan to not phase out their hornet fleet until 2030.

    They could use them as is or strip them for parts like they did with the old British Harrier fleet.

  16. Raymond says

    Paul,I.have.one.thing.to.say.to.you-I.completely.stand.by.what.I.say.and.I’m.not.embarrassed.in.the.slightest.

    To mike9: some basic research will educate oneself on the facts surrounding the F-35 vs. F-16 that F-35 opposers love to dig up, as others have already mentioned. You will also discover that costs are on track to soon be approx. US$85m per copy for the F-35A.

    Yes, the F-35 has a way to go, obviously, however anyone that peddles fiction and repeats fallacies (of which there are many – it’s quite unbelievable that some will believe whatever they want to without even a rudimentary level of research) is on the losing side and this will be proven in time.

  17. says

    Thanks John,yes the Rhinos were upgraded here if I remember correctly too.Dont worry about work mate,jets are more important.Your not even going on the public days? Trust me,it will be worth it.Have a good one mate.

  18. mike9 says

    Did you actually write alternative facts? go and read senator Cains’ report from the US Defence committee . and please , not combat ready ?,are you joking? the excuses get more colourful every month

  19. Corey Dark says

    Why are we buying the F-35As when they’re still finding problems with the aircraft, continued delays and putting off fixing problems with the aircraft just so the IOC testing can be completed?? How hard is it to employ additional people or use the current workforce to fix all these problems?? Hell the C variant has had even more issues found and even more delays hence why Trump and the USN are looking at the Boeing Advanced Super Hornets and Growlers. Just wish more media outlets would push all these issues they continue to find and yet won’t bother fixing for a few year to come. Also out F-35s should have had probe and drogue refueling capability not the Boom system.

  20. Harry says

    Mike, I wouldn’t say its combat ready. So would a lot of people. Combat readiness in most peoples definition would be after FOC. The Gun software isn’t ready. Im not sure it can fire missiles yet. So it can drop some dumb bombs. Does that make it combat ready? The helmet system isn’t finished and I doubt the EW software and systems are complete. So in what way is it combat ready? Do you know of a full squadron that has stood up yet? And please don’t same some fallacious story about how Israel used it over Syria. They didn’t!

  21. John N says

    Harry,

    You said “Im not sure it can fire missiles yet”, are you serious?

    Mate, you are way way behind the times (June 2013 to be exact):

    https://www.f35.com/news/detail/f-35a-completes-first-in-flight-missile-launch

    And this:

    https://www.dodbuzz.com/2016/08/01/air-force-f-35-hits-drone-with-sidewinder-missile-in-kill-test/

    And this too:

    http://www.defense-aerospace.com/articles-view/release/3/180806/f_35-training-unit-fires-amraam-missiles.html

    Can’t fire a missile? Yes it can! Both AMRAAM and AIM-9X too!

    Cheers,

    John N

  22. Dee Thom says

    Harry, as a point of interest, a four barrel Gatling style cannon has been ground trialled over the past few months. It has the ability to fire 3350 rounds per minute, which gives it superlative ground attack ability, as well as close in air to air combat, and will be contained internally for stealth, except when in use.

  23. rpaps5 says

    Well look at the F35érs try to gloat – don’t know what for. It might be combat-ready against a Winjeel, as it can’t fire the gun, or most missiles. If you are unlucky to get below it, you might get a sore head when it drops a lump of iron on you . The aircraft in any form STILL does NOT meet it’s original specifications! So what if the eventually delivered airframes have 3f software ( will it be a version of 3f that actually works? Early versions of almost every software release have been more “”buggy”” than the prev. version. If LM is so good at production rates quoting 1 airframe every 3 days now, why are 80% of the Australian airframes (original 2 plus the LRIP10 batch of 8) being kept in the US for several more years to train other countries pilots? The gestation time for the design is so long most of the pilots will have been no older than toddlers (if born at all) when the US selection was made. The first 2 airframes will need to be refurbished before being eventually delivered to Aus. This aircraft will always be “”too little, too late, too expensive””. Boeing/Trump (hate to agree with him on anything) might just have something in a offering of ASH Super Hornets – throw that amongst your collective pidgeons…Ha…Ha…Ha

  24. John N says

    rpaps5,

    You said: “If LM is so good at production rates quoting 1 airframe every 3 days now, why are 80% of the Australian airframes (original 2 plus the LRIP10 batch of 8) being kept in the US for several more years to train other countries pilots?”

    Mate, seriously? Do you have any idea what you are talking about? Sorry, but I suspect not (no offence).

    Do you have any idea as to the ‘value’ of the US/Australia relationship when it comes to defence procurement and how the USAF and USN both bend over ‘backwards’ to assist us with new FMS acquisitions? Do you? Again, I suspect not.

    Putting aside the F-35A for a moment (yes I am going to point out other FMS procurements), procurements such as MH-60R, F/A-18F, EA-18G, P-8A, and the ‘potential’ future MQ-9 Reaper procurement, as examples.

    The US Govt, and particularly the USN and also the USAF, have gone ‘above and beyond’ in assisting us to introduce new systems into the ADF’s ORBAT.

    RAAF (and RAN), air and ground crews regularly spend many ‘months and even years’ based in the US gaining all of the ‘corporate’ knowledge that the respective ‘parent’ user of that particular system has to offer.

    The Growler for example, did you know that RAAF crews have been based in the US for approx. two years, yes TWO years, learning what the US has learned in ‘seven decades’ of EA operations, well have a read of this:

    https://blog.usni.org/2017/01/05/ameri-straya-the-story-of-the-people-behind-the-u-s-australian-partnership-in-electronic-warfare

    If you are not ‘impressed’ by how the USN has helped the RAAF with Growler, then I don’t know what will impress you.

    Did you also know that some USN P-8A’s have operated with an almost ‘exclusive’ RAAF crew (with the exception of only one USN person) for the ‘technical’ reason that it is a USN asset and not an RAAF asset?

    Did you know that Australian ‘aircrews’ based in the ‘US’ have been operating USAF MQ-9 Reapers since late 2015 against targets in Iraq? And there has been NO final decision regarding Reaper procurement? Did you know that??

    Did you know that ‘future’ 1SQN Super Hornets crews, instead of being train by 6SQN (now Growler) will start their training in the US?

    And of course the first aircrews for the Super Hornet all trained in the US with the USN for a long time before returning home, did you know that??

    MH-60R for Navy, same thing, air and ground crews spent a lot of time in the US training on firstly USN MH-60R’s and then eventually RAN MH-60R’s as they were delivered.

    Do you see a pattern here?

    So back to the F-35A’s that will be based in the US for a number of years with the ‘multi national’ training Squadron.

    The reason that RAAF F-35’s (and other partner nation F-35s), are continuing to be based there has nothing to do with LM, again repeat, NOTHING to do with LM, it is all part of the ‘process’.

    Cheers,

    John N

  25. rpaps5 says

    John N. Do you actually think Aust is the only “”special”” country the US offers FMS to?? Who benefits most from the multi-national training squadron – the US of course!
    As for all of the rest, of course I know about it. Do you really think they give these facilities to us? Take the Growler crews, the US insisted that they get a minimum return on investment in terms of time using our embedded instructors boosting their staff numbers to train US crews.
    I won’t even bother to respond to the rest of your ignorance. with F35 read US in general not just LM, most of the production is going to the US services – who benefits most from retaining other countries airframes for training, the US services of course. FMS deals are 2 way, we “”pay”” in some form or other for anything we get under FMS deals. The US gets it’s pound of flesh for everything provided to any other country.
    The Reaper and Super Hornet training scenario’s are at Australia’s convenience not US largess.
    So, take off your rose coloured glasses and stop ranting at anyone who dares to have a differing opinion.
    I am former RAAF, and I am fully aware of all of your scenarios.
    rpaps5

  26. says

    Rpaps5,I’m sure you know what your talking about mate.One thing I can’t believe is how 200% certain these people think they are (pro 35 gang that is) that they know every single thing about the jet,without being involved in the program.I don’t know to much about it,which is why I’m cautious.Thanks for your info and service to our country.

  27. mike9 says

    Has not achieved one design goal , not one. everything is still “under development” and will be compliant soon., apparently. .the simple answer is that too much has been spent now and there is no going back, I think the last U.S. senate estimates committee meeting quoted $ 1 .4 trillion , projected., the old story is never learnt , trying to be a jack of all trades and master of none.. everything is a compromise .on this aircraft..and by the time it achieves full operational service in OZ, it will be 20 years late?