Congress must pass a sound budget


Painter Ben Early sprays coatings on a F-35 in the finishing area at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth.
Painter Ben Early sprays coatings on a F-35 in the finishing area at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram

When Congress kicked the federal budget can down the road this past week, thousands of eyes across North Texas were watching.

None more so than those of the 8,800 people who work on the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics on Fort Worth’s west side.

The continuing resolution passed by the Senate and House, funding the government at current levels until Dec. 11, is not itself such a problem for Lockheed Martin and its employees. It’s what it sets up for December that’s scary.

Another continuing resolution following on the heels of this one could be a disaster.

Lockheed Martin, after years of working to overcome problems on the F-35 program, finally has things going right and is preparing for a long-planned ramp-up in production.

That means $1.2 billion in construction spending to upgrade the plant and preparations to hire an additional 1,000 people for the production line over the next couple of years.

Star-Telegram writers Max B. Baker and Steve Kaskovich have detailed the plans in an in-depth report for Sunday’s editions.

But if Congress can’t settle on a longer-term strategy and pass a budget when December rolls around, the uncertainty means Lockheed Martin will have to put its ramp-up on hold.

That would be a big blow for the program — and for the Pentagon, which is finally very happy with the F-35 and Lockheed Martin.

There’s a significant bottom-line impact to any delay. One of the big reasons the Pentagon is happy is that, having fixed its problems, Lockheed Martin is sharply trimming production costs on future F-35s.

A variation of the aircraft that cost $112 million in 2013 is expected to be as low as $80 million by 2019 if current plans can be carried out.

And previous production of 30 to 40 planes a year is expected to hit almost 200 by the end of the decade.

The F-35 has had plenty of detractors. It is a very expensive blend of machinery, electronics and armament designed to meet military needs of the future.

But when the military brass is happy, Congress should listen. There are many good reasons to put a solid budget together, and the F-35 is one of them.