German company Rheinmetall has signed a letter of intent (LoI) with US-based firms Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to manufacture and deliver F-35 centre fuselage.

The new agreement is expected to lead to the establishment of a second centre fuselage integrated assembly line (IAL) in Germany.

The effort aims to expand the contribution of European industry partners in the global F-35 programme.

It will also allow Rheinmetall to share its expertise as an aviation-certified company, as well as its experience as an integrated technology firm in manufacturing complex components.

The partnership is expected to bring essential capabilities to Germany and will highlight Rheinmetall’s contribution to the national security policy.

Lockheed Martin F-35 customer programmes vice-president (VP) Mike Shoemaker said: “The F-35 centre fuselage production in Germany will be vital to meet growing global demand for F-35s, which play a vital role in 21st-century security.”

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The first IAL is located at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California, US, from where the company manufactures and delivers centre fuselages for all three variants of the F-35.

Northrop Grumman is a principal partner on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II programme. The company also manufactures and maintains aircraft training software, avionics, wing skins and sensor systems.

Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger said: “The long-standing partnership between Lockheed Martin and Rheinmetall, as well as very close ties that have existed for decades between Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) and our company, lead to a genuine transfer of know-how to Germany as an industrial location.

“Furthermore, this setup makes a significant contribution to minimising risk by bringing in national partners that are involved in a tried-and-tested manner.”

Last December, the German Ministry of Defense approved the purchase of 35 F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin.