Lightning Built in Texas
“These are long-term jobs.”
– Keith Graf, director of the Texas Governor’s Office of Aerospace, Aviation and Defense
A new fighter pours jobs into the state.
In June, a sleek fighter plane intended for the Marines took to the skies over Fort Worth for the first time. The 40-minute flight marked another milestone in the development of the nation’s Joint Strike Fighter – and the largest defense contract in U.S. history.
The aircraft was the Marine Corps version of this fighter, officially dubbed the F-35 Lightning II in July 2006, which is being assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facilities. The F-35 incorporates stealth design as well as breakthroughs in electronic warfare technology, and is expected to be a frontline fighter for decades to come.
The F-35 is uniquely designed as a one-size-fits-all fighter to replace an array of current aircraft flown by the Air Force, Navy and Marines. The Air Force production model, the F-35A, first flew in December 2006; the Marine Corps version that debuted in June incorporates sophisticated “jump-jet” technology that allows it to take off from very short fields and land vertically. The Navy’s F-35C is designed for the heavier strains of carrier takeoffs and landings, and is scheduled to fly in 2009.
The fighter’s impact on Texas will be hard to overstate. “It’s huge,” says Keith Graf, director of the Texas Governor’s Office of Aerospace, Aviation and Defense. “They’re talking about producing 3,000 or more aircraft.” A 2001 study commissioned by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce estimated that the project would lead to the creation, both directly and indirectly, of nearly 32,000 Texas jobs over its life.
And it’s a long commitment. The U.S. General Accounting Office recently estimated that acquiring and maintaining the U.S. F-35 fleet through its expected decades-long service life might entail nearly $1 trillion in total spending.
Foreign sales will add to that number. Nations participating in the F-35 development program include the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway, although not all have committed to buying the production fighter. In recent months, Israel, Brazil and Singapore have expressed interest in the aircraft as well.
“These are long-term jobs. Someone getting on with Lockheed Martin now could potentially retire out of that program,” Graf says. FN