Lockheed Martin Corp closed out 2019 with the worldwide delivery of 134 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets—3 aircraft more than their commitment last year—and has a target of delivering 141 more in 2020. With a recently announced $1.9 billion military contract from the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, the Maryland-based company continues to ramp up production in its Fort Worth plant.
The contract’s aim is to support operations as well as maintaining the F-35 fleet worldwide, improving mission readiness, and reducing costs.
“The F-35 continues to deliver exceptional capabilities to the field, and this contract ensures F-35s are mission ready to meet warfighter needs,” said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of the F-35 program in a press release. “The joint government and industry team continues to make significant progress improving readiness rates and reducing sustainment costs. In 2020, we will continue to optimize and advance the sustainment system. We are confident F-35 sustainment costs will be equal to or less than legacy jets.”
Jet production has shot up over the last decade, from only nine F-35s in 2011 to its current number of 134 in 2019. Additionally, production is slated to increase every year, capping out more than 170 deliveries in 2022 and hitting peak production numbers in 2023.
The delivery of 134 jets was a boon for the company, which was hit by several challenges last year, including the Defense Department ejecting Turkey—one of NATO’s F-35 partner nations—from the program after it purchased Russian-constructed surface-to-air missile systems.
Additionally, the program ground to a stop in November when developers uncovered a “co-mingling” of titanium and Inconel fasteners on the production line. Despite the two-week break in production to rectify the issue, Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord said the following month that she anticipated that Lockheed Martin would be in full-rate production by the fall of this year.
In order to fulfill the increasing production demands, the Fort Worth plant has hired thousands of workers over the past several years, including mechanics and technicians, bringing the count to more than 14,000 employees in the Fort Worth area late last year.
Lockheed Martin continues to look to future hiring. In January 2020, the enterprise held a large job fair targeting upcoming engineering graduates or recent graduates that majored in aeronautical, mechanical, computer, software, electrical, and systems engineering. And, starting in 2007, Lockheed Martin has partnered with Project Lead The Way (PLTW) that identifies potential engineering students in high school, providing them with training, potential internships and possible full-time employment upon graduation.
Additionally, more than 8,500 maintenance personnel throughout the globe have been trained on the fleet, which has surpassed 240,000 flight hours since 2011.
There are three variants of the F-35. The F-35A is primarily used by the Air Force, while the F-35B and F-35C are used by the Marine Corps and Navy. Each is unique in its takeoff and landings. The F-35A has a conventional takeoff and landing variant. The F-35B, with a short takeoff and landing variant, is ideal for bases with short fields and near combat zones, and the F-35C is a stealth fighter designed for aircraft carriers.
The final F-35 delivered in 2019 was the F-35B Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant for the Marine Corps.
In addition to the US military, these fighter jets are used by 12 international allies. More than 490 aircraft have been delivered to date, and are located in 21 bases around the world.
With a major initiative to lower the cost of these jets, Lockheed Martin has expressed its confidence in reducing costs on the F-35A to $77.9 million when it reaches Lot 14. At the same time, the aerospace company is continually improving both mission readiness with a greater than 65% mission capable rate, and operational squadrons at a consistent 75% rate.
In all, Lockheed Martin states that there are 220,000 people employed in the United States, which is comprised of both direct and indirect jobs. They are also supported by over 1,400 top-tier suppliers in the United States and Puerto Rico alone, and has a total economic impact estimated at more than $44.2 billion.
Ben Enman is the Director of Sales for Ameri-Force. Ben has worked in the maritime industry since 2011 and is well-known among the nation’s leading ship builders. Ben gained field experience as a Regional Manager overseeing several branch locations and has traveled the nation as Director of Sales since 2018.