JSF decision expected Friday

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Even when speaking privately, away from reporters’ notebooks, officials at Boeing Co. always say "when we win" while talking about the Joint Strike Fighter. Never "if."

That’s the kind of bravado needed this week, with word expected Friday from the Pentagon on whether Boeing and its St. Louis-based military aircraft group — or rival Lockheed Martin Corp. — has won the $300 billion JSF contract.

Ask around, and word is that Friday’s word will be Lockheed.

"It would be a case of the U.S. Air Force going with a company that knows what they want," said David Steigman, a senior analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va. "When you look at who the majority customer for the JSF is going to be, it would make sense in those respects to go with Lockheed."

A Lockheed win would affect more than just St. Louis-based employment. Boeing has said it would add 3,000 jobs in the Puget Sound area if it wins the contract.

"It is still a close competition," House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt said last week as he made the rounds of St. Louis media, seeking to calm nerves.

"It’s going to be made on the merits: Who has the best design, who has the best track record for actually producing a plane of this kind? I think Boeing has a great chance to win this contract. We are doing everything we can to help them."

That, perhaps insightfully, includes a backup plan.

Last month, Republican Sen. Kit Bond said he would propose splitting work on the JSF between Boeing and Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed, regardless of which design the Pentagon chooses.

Congress ordered the Pentagon to award the business to a sole contractor in last year’s defense authorization bill. Bond, who tried to change that policy last month with an amendment to next year’s defense authorization measure, dropped the effort but promised to revive it.

"I’m going to make every effort, regardless of the winner, because I think it’s a matter of national security," Bond said Monday.

The JSF is the definition of multitasking. It’s designed in variants to replace the Air Force’s F-16 and A-10, the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat, the Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harrier, as well as serve in Britain’s Royal Air Force and Navy.

Up to 3,000 jets would be built. In Boeing’s case, that would provide 5,000 employees in St. Louis with jobs at its Military Aircraft and Missile Systems group for 30 years. In Fort Worth, Texas, where Lockheed would build the JSF, the Chamber of Commerce said losing the JSF contract could cost 11,000 jobs.

At the St. Louis plant, production of Boeing’s F-15 has basically ended, while the company will complete the Navy’s order for the F/A-18 about the same time production of the JSF is scheduled to begin in earnest.

The idea of having just one company building that many fighter aircraft is enough to win Bond a few converts to his idea for splitting production between Boeing and Lockheed. They predictably include fellow Missourians Gephardt and Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan.

"It is important that at least two companies remain capable of manufacturing such technology, to promote competition and safeguard the diversity of an important skilled and semiskilled work force," Carnahan wrote in a letter to the Pentagon’s acquisition chief last week.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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