Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has launched a production line for the outer wing set of the F-35 stealth fighter key component to make the advanced fighter jet invisible to radar, the company announced.
“The construction of the new production line significantly upgrades IAI’s technological capabilities, automation and robotics, and will enable the company to establish itself as a major player in the military and civilian aerostructures,” read a statement by IAI.
The production line, which will last around 20 years, is expected to generate revenues of more than $2.5 billion during the next 10-15 years.
Deliveries of the outer wing sets are expected to start at the beginning of 2019, and include in the first phase about 700 kits with potential for further orders. According to a 2016 statement by the company, the production line is scheduled to build a total of 811 pairs of F-35A wings by 2034.
The sets will be manufactured using state-of-the-art technology which includes a unique composite layer of materials called AFP (Automatic Fiber Placement). The 3mm. thick threads that eventually become one unit give the wings the ability to evade radar detection.
IAI’s Board of Directors approved the construction of the production line in 2015 following a decision by the plane’s maker, Lockheed Martin, to expand the production of the sets and chose IAI as the subcontractor.
“The opening of the production line constitutes a significant milestone in the realization of the company’s strategy for building advanced capabilities in the field of composite materials manufacturing technology. Thanks to this move, IAI will belong to a ‘limited club’ of companies with these manufacturing capabilities,” said IAI Vice-President Shlomi Karako at the launch.
The expansion of IAI’s collaboration with Lockheed Martin “is another proof of the deep partnership and trust” the American manufacturer has with Israel’s leader in defense production, said Lockheed Martin Israel’s CEO, Joshua “Shiki” Shani.
“The precision, technological components, personnel and manufacturing quality needed for the wings of the F-35s require the highest standards. IAI has proven its capabilities in the production line in the hundreds of wings produced so far, and we expect to commence operations in their coating field, which is another layer in the overall manufacturing process of the F-35 aircraft,” he added.
The F-35s have components built by several Israeli defense companies including Elbit System-Cyclone that built the center fuselage composite components, and Elbit Systems Ltd. which manufactured the helmets worn by the pilots.
The IAF currently has 14 F-35Is, and is expected to receive a total of 50 planes to make two full squadrons by 2024. The IAF is set to decide in the coming months between purchasing a third squadron of F-35 jets or Boeing’s latest F-15I.
In May 2018, Israel Air Force Commander Major General Amikam Norkin announced that the IAF had become the first country to use the F-35 in a combat role in the Middle East, using the stealth fighter on two operational missions on different fronts.