Lockheed Martin could add 2,400 jobs in six years

Posted Saturday, Aug. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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F-35 production Annual production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is estimated to increase from about 36 this year to nearly 200 by 2021. 2007-2012: 95 (total) 2012-2013: 71 aircraft (total) 2014: 50 2015: 75 2016: more than 100 2017: 125 2018: 175 2019: 175 2020: more than 175 2021: almost 200 Source: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics
More information By the numbers: F-35 Lightning II • More than 1,400 suppliers in 46 states and Puerto Rico • More than 32,500 direct jobs • More than $8 billion in direct economic impact Source: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics

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More than 2,400 manufacturing jobs could be added at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth over the next several years if production ramps up as expected on the F-35 joint strike fighter, officials say.

Currently, Lockheed Martin has more than 10,000 employees working on the F-35 program, including about 1,600 production workers involved in building the jet fighter at the company’s west-side plant.

In six years, the company expects that the program’s “ramped-up rate” will require an additional 2,417 workers to manufacture more than 150 fighters a year. That’s four times the current rate of production of three aircraft per month.

“We’re going to almost 200 airplanes a year,” said Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed’s vice president of program development and business integration for the F-35 program. “When you talk about what the effect is going to be in Texas, it’s going to be significant.”

O’Bryan offered the jobs forecast in an interview with the Star-Telegram after last week’s news that Pentagon leaders had agreed to terms for the purchase of 71 additional F-35s. In the deal, the government negotiated a lower cost for the planes, a signal that the F-35 program is stabilizing after years of cost overruns and delays, aerospace analysts said.

The deal has brought a new cautious optimism to the program, which has suffered through years of cost overruns and technical problems since Lockheed Martin was awarded the F-35 contract in 2001.

Just last fall, Pentagon leaders were moaning publicly about the program’s costs and Lockheed’s inability to solve problems. Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the top Pentagon official over the F-35, called the relationship between Lockheed and the military “the worst I’ve seen.”

But since that time, Lockheed has come under new leadership, both at its corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md., and in Fort Worth, with the appointment of Orlando P. Carvalho as the head of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. In June, Bogdan and other officials signaled their intention to increase production during a visit to Fort Worth, where they publicly lauded the company for improvements.

One big unknown is the future of political and budgetary pressures in Washington, which could affect future orders. Some observers have speculated that while the F-35 program is safe now, tighter military spending could result in fewer plane orders down the road, given its status as the nation’s biggest weapons program. And some foreign buyers have said they would reassess their commitment to the F-35 because of its rising costs.

But in announcing the new contracts Tuesday, leaders said the reduced price for Lots 6 and 7 will allow the U.S. to ultimately buy more than 2,000 F-35s.

“This brings confidence [to the program] going forward,” O’Bryan said.

In the last six years, only 95 aircraft — of 3,100 expected to be ordered — have hit the production line, resulting in a decreased need for manpower.

The idea of more jobs is a welcome change for a company that has had more than 300 layoffs over the last several months and offered employees a voluntary buyout package that was accepted by about 220 workers as of January. Lockheed employs more than 14,000 people in west Fort Worth.

The F-35 program has been a huge economic support in the Fort Worth area, and local businesses expect that increased production will bring even more jobs, profits and local growth in the years to come.

“To have the most advanced aviation technology in humankind built in this town certainly gives us bragging rights,” said David Berzina, executive vice president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

Lockheed Martin’s payroll hit $1.4 billion last year. To Berzina, that’s “millions a year in payroll pumped into North Texas, Fort Worth, Tarrant County, to support businesses, to support schools, car dealers, retail. ... I don’t know what other one private-sector employer makes as big of an impact in D/FW as Lockheed Martin.”

Some of Lockheed’s 18 North Texas suppliers say they are ready to see a surge of activity at the mile-long plant.

“Texas is succeeding where other states are not in manufacturing,” said Della Williams, president and CEO of Williams-Pryo Inc., a Fort Worth company that manufactures ground-support test kits for the F-35. “I think it’s just going to get better.”

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard

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