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Pentagon Proposes F-35 Delays

A reduced defense budget would delay but not reduce the purchase of the Lockheed Martin fighter jet.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 production would slow down but not be eliminated or reduced under the budget proposal Defense Secretary Leon Panetta unveiled Thursday.

The Pentagon would buy 179 fewer F-35 Lightning II fighters the next five years, the department’s Armed Forces Press Service said, but the Navy, Marines and Air Force would still purchase those planes later. The

the need to stick with the plan to buy more than 2,400 Joint Strike Fighters over the next decade-plus, and the new Pentagon proposal is a long way from being enacted.

Lockheed Martin’s Marietta plant builds the , the core of the fuselage, for the F-35, which is assembled in Fort Worth, TX. The F-35 work has taken up the slack left by the budget-driven early end of the production of F-22s in Marietta.

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The Marietta plant completed four center wings in 2011 and expects to deliver 24 more this year while employment grows slightly from the current 7,700, general manager Shan Cooper told the Marietta Daily Journal.

She spoke after Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented their plan for defense spending in fiscal 2013, which starts Oct. 1.

The proposed budget of $525 billion is $6 billion less than the 2012 budget, the first decrease in actual Pentagon spending since 1998, The Washington Post said.

The plan includes annual increases the next four years, culminating in a $567 billion budget in fiscal 2017. That plan would save $487 billion from current five-year budget projections, the Post said.

The Pentagon still remains committed to all three versions of the F-35, Panetta said, according to the Armed Forces Press Service, but “we have slowed procurement to complete more testing and allow for developmental changes before buying in significant quantities.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said good engineering that resolved trouble with the F-35’s short-takeoff, vertical-landing version has allowed the plane to move forward, the Armed Forces Press Service said, but problems remain with cost and performance.

Full production will begin “when it’s economically and managerially prudent to do it,” Carter said.

Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave the Joint Strike Fighter a ringing endorsement Thursday: “It’s a terrific airplane.”

He added: “We’re very committed to it, and it does represent the future of tactical aviation for this country and a lot of our partners. We just need the manufacturability of this thing to catch up so we can start buying.”

The Pentagon news came the same day Lockheed Martin announced a new leader for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, the business unit that includes the Marietta plant.

Larry Lawson, now the head of the F-35 program, will succeed Ralph Heath when he retires April 1.

Lawson used to oversee the F-22 program, whose late last year, and has been with Lockheed or Martin Marietta since 1986.

His promotion will ripple through the company’s aircraft division:

  • Lawson’s deputy, Orlando Carvalho, will take over the F-35 program.
  • Lorraine Martin, who heads the program producing and modernizing C-130 transport planes in Marietta, will move into Carvalho’s current role in the F-35 program.
  • George Shultz, who now leads aeronautics modernization, will take over the C-130 program.

Lockheed Martin also announced Thursday that sales and profits declined in 2011. The Bethesda-based company said it had net sales of $12.2 billion for the year, down from $12.8 billion in 2010, and earned $698 million from continuing operations, compared with $821 million in 2010.

Lockheed’s stock ended the day almost 1 percent higher at $82.47 a share, up 74 cents, Daily Finance said.

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