FORT WORTH — In 1991, the west-side aerospace plant then operated by General Dynamics Corp. had 26,500 workers to build the nation’s high-tech warfighters.Four years later, the workforce had been slashed by 15,000 employees, former top executive Gordon England said.“Budgets were slashed in defense,” the North Texas aerospace icon said. “Wars were over. It was time to quit spending money.”North Texas faces a similar crossroads today, England said. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are wrapping up, so defense budgets are being squeezed.“Do I believe there is room for efficiency in the Department [of Defense]? Yes. I do not believe it is all bad to force the department to do things better,” he said. “After all, the nation is having a financial crisis, so the DOD needs to play its role.”England made his comments Thursday in an interview with the Star-Telegram at an aviation summit in north Fort Worth.Despite budget pressures in Washington, England said, he is confident that current employment levels at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and Bell Helicopter — the area’s top aerospace employers — will stay constant. Together, the companies employ more than 20,000 workers in Tarrant County.“I believe the F-35 is the underpinning of not only the three services [Army, Air Force, Marines],” he said. “The world needs the airplane.” And Bell’s V-22 Osprey has been performing well, he said, so that program is also likely to continue.“Yes, budgets may vary as there are adjustments,” but the two companies will continue to be local leaders in defense contracting.The former deputy defense secretary said it’s time for the Pentagon’s budget to be more efficient. The only way that can happen is by cutting costs, he said at the summit, hosted by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.The Defense Department “does not need the same-size land forces. Their command structures can be reduced,” England said. Some spending levels and structures still reflect Cold War-era programs, he said.“I’m against [across-the-board budget cuts under] sequestration, but I’m not against a reduction in the budget,” he said.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard