Lockheed Martin could add 2,400 jobs in 6 years for F-35

FORT WORTH, Texas – More than 2,400 manufacturing jobs could be added at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth in 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 Fort Worth 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 Fort Worth 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 last week, 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 past six years, only 95 aircraft – of 3,100 expected to be ordered – have hit the production line, resulting in a decreased need for manpower.

More in Herald Business Journal

Sign of the future: Snohomish business aims to reshape industry

Manifest Signs owner thinks that smart signs is an unexplored and untapped part of his industry.

Snohomish County’s campaign to land the 797 takes off

Executive Dave Somers announced the formation of a task force to urge Boeing to build the plane here.

A decade after the recession, pain and fear linger

No matter how good things are now, it’s impossible to forget how the collapse affected people.

Panel: Motorcycle industry in deep trouble and needs help

They have failed to increase sales by making new riders out of women, minorities and millennials.

Costco rises as results display big-box retailer’s resiliency

Their model has worked in the face of heightened competition from online, brick-and-mortar peers.

For modern women, 98-year-old rejection letters still sting

In a stark new video, female Boeing engineers break the silence about past inopportunity.

Tax reform needs the public’s input on spending priorities

The GOP tax plan is a good idea, but the next step should give us a voice on how taxes are spent.

Commentary: GM, Boeing fight a war of words over Mars

Boeing is strongly signaling how crucial deep-space exploration is to its future.

Under cloud of ethics probes, Airbus CEO Enders to step down

He leaves in 2019 after 14 years. Meanwhile, aircraft division CEO Fabrice Bregier leaves in February.