Lockheed gets $233M boost for Orlando F-35 projects

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Lockheed Martin’s advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will receive nearly $233 million for work on flight training and maintenance simulators. Nearly 96 percent of the work will take place in the Orlando region.

In one of the largest contract increases for the Lockheed Martin’s F-35 simulation program, the funds will go towards production of 19 training simulators and approximately 70 technical support systems, according to U.S. military officials.

Managing the F-35 flight-training center in the Panhandle’s Eglin Air Force is Lockheed’s Orlando training systems unit, which also produces automated logistics computers for use on stealth fighter jets.

Orlando’s role in the F-35 program produces more than 500 jobs, such as weapons-targeting systems produced by a south Orlando Lockheed missiles group.

Although plagued by schedule delays, cost overruns and technical glitches – including a June 23 engine fire that temporarily grounded the jets — the Pentagon is pushing forward with the F-35 program.

According to Richard Burnett of the Orlando Sentinel, the military acknowledges that Lockheed is working to reduce costs while focusing on performance issues.

Lockheed and other F-35 partners announced a new proposal last month to cut costs on the latest generation of aircraft, calling for spending $170 million right through 2016 to bring the cost of each F-35 from $100 million to $80 million by the end of the decade.

With estimated costs of $400 billion – including development – the F-35 could become the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history, with as many as 2,400 planes built for the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and global allies.

Every significant advance in military technology experienced glitches in early stages, Lockheed representatives said, but they are confident the tactical superiority of the F-35 will be well worth the price.

Lockheed F-35 program chief Lorraine Martin recently defended the program in response to a New York Times editorial that called for the Pentagon to consider restricting purchases of the F-35, opting for more proven aircraft programs such as the F-15 and F-16.

“Our responsibility is to provide the most advanced and affordable multi-role fighter to our forces,” Martin wrote. “We have no intention of relenting in this critical pursuit, especially when the imperative of maintaining future air dominance cannot be accomplished by buying more fourth-generation aircraft, as your editorial imprudently suggests.”

Over the past ten years, the F-35 program has provided $1 billion in contract revenue to defense operations in Central Florida, including Harris Corp., the Melbourne-based operation to devleop F-35 communication systems and cockpit avionics. More than 1,000 jobs across the region connect to a range of F-35 related projects.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.