The 4,500m² expansion follows the UK Government’s recent commitment to 138 F-35 Lightning II STOVL variant aircraft for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
The Government is also accelerating procurement of the aircraft, making 24 available on the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales aircraft carriers by 2023.
The facilities expansion work, due to be completed in January 2017, is the final part of a three-phase plan for the facility, which was originally opened in 2003 at a cost of £11m. When the new facility is complete, it will be capable of manufacturing 160 aircraft sets per annum, an increase of around 250% from current levels.
Cliff Robson, Senior Vice-President for the F-35 Lightning II programme at BAE Systems, said: “The further extension to the site signals another important milestone in the F-35 programme and demonstrates BAE Systems’ readiness meet the challenge of increased production rates.
“We are proud of our role in the F-35 programme which will provide economic value to the region for decades to come. We currently have 13 graduates working on the programme and have been particularly pleased to welcome five apprentices on to the programme in the last 12 months, with a further five due to complete by the end of the year, ensuring we train the pipeline of skills for the future.”
The planned expansion will provide more space for the aircraft tail assembly lines, test facilities and facilities to marry-up the two halves of each rear fuselage. It will also see redevelopment of around 1,500m2 of existing floor space to provide more capacity, including bigger areas for the paint shop and sub-assembly activity.
There is a potential requirement for more than 3,000 aircraft over the next 20 years, meaning the F-35 Lightning II will continue to make a significant contribution to the UK economy through the work created in the 500 UK-based companies involved in the programme.
Over the past 13 years BAE Systems has made significant investment in the programme, including a new titanium machining facility which opened in 2010, a new office building and an initial extension to the manufacturing facility in 2011. The programme currently employs 1,625 people and the aircraft is expected to be in production for more than 20 years.