FORT WORTH — BAE Systems plans to hire about 300 workers for a new Fort Worth facility it has opened at Alliance Airport to handle an estimated $1 billion in electronics upgrades to South Korea’s fleet of more than 130 F-16 fighter jets.The British defense contractor said Monday it had finalized an agreement with South Korea, reached last year, for the F-16 modernization contract. BAE beat out Lockheed Martin for the work, which will provide new avionics and systems integration for the planes. “This agreement marks a significant expansion of our F-16 modernization business, and we’re eager to get the work,” said Erin Moseley, president of BAE Systems’ Support Solutions sector.BAE employs about 100 workers in west Fort Worth who work on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. It has hired about 70 employees for the Alliance facility with the rest to be added by the end of next year, said Neil Franz, a BAE spokesman in Arlington, Va.BAE has done some F-16 upgrade work for customers including the U.S. Air Force and Turkey, and hopes that the deal with South Korea will establish it as a viable competitor to Lockheed, the manufacturer of the F-16, for other contracts.The $1 billion value for the contract was estimated in media reports in South Korea.Some analysts have estimated that as many as 2,000 of the 3,000-plus F-16s in operation around the world could be candidates for upgrade projects. Last year, Lockheed was awarded a $1.85 billion contract to upgrade 145 F-16s for Taiwan.Many nations are opting to upgrade their F-16 fleets as delays have pushed up the cost of buying new F-35 fighters.Franz said work at the Alliance facility will involve engineering, support services and design for the upgrade kits. Flight testing is scheduled to begin in 2015, with delivery of the first upgraded F-16 set for 2018. BAE recently filed papers with the state for renovation work at 13601 Heritage Parkway. Franz said an expansion is planned in three phases over the next several months to about 200,000 square feet. The facility will include flight and modification hangars, where BAE can perform work on F-16s and other aircraft.Positions to be filled next year include engineers and support personnel in avionics design, systems integration, test and evaluation and logistics support.Franz said the bulk of the 300 jobs would be added in Fort Worth. BAE facilities in Florida, New York, California and Virginia will also be involved in the project.
Steve Kaskovich, (817) 390-7773 Twitter: @stevekasko