TOKYO, -- Japan's first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft has commenced its assembly at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' (MHI's) final assembly and check-out (FACO) facility, it was confirmed on 15 December.
Lockheed Martin said in a statement that Japan's first F-35A - designated AX-5 - has officially begun the "mate" process, where major components of the aircraft are joined together to form the aircraft's structure.
The corporation said the AX-5 aircraft would complete its assembly in the FACO's electronic mate and assembly station before scheduled roll-out in 2017.
The first four F-35As for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) - designated AX-1 through AX-4 - are in various stages of production at Lockheed Martin's F-35 facility in Fort Worth, Texas, said the company. The first aircraft, AX-1, is expected to be delivered to the JASDF in 2016.
The remaining 38 F-35As will be assembled and delivered from MHIs FACO facility, which has been under development since 2013.
Although an MHI spokesman said the company would not comment on the developments, Lockheed Martin said that it is currently collaborating with the Japanese company to complete the FACO facility and "install the remaining equipment and tooling required to assemble and deliver F-35A aircraft from the Japan assembly-line". The US corporation is also providing technical assistance and workforce training.
In addition to producing the JASDF's F-35s, the FACO facility will provide maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade services to F-35s based in the North Asia-Pacific region as per a US Department of Defense decision in December 2014. Support capabilities are expected to be in place from 2018.
The MHI FACO plant is based at MHI's Nagoya Aerospace Systems Works Komaki Minami Plant in Aichi Prefecture, which was used to build F-2 multirole fighter aircraft, developed in the 1990s in conjunction with Lockheed Martin.
An F-35A front profile in flight.