Lockheed Martin plans to hire about 170 people in the third quarter of 2018 as it moves production of the F-16 warplane to the company’s Greenville Operations from Texas.
New employees will join a core group of experienced Lockheed Martin workers in standing up the S.C. production line of the most advanced F-16 Fighting Falcon ever produced, said Donald E. Erickson, site director of the company’s Greenville location.
Erickson said the company is scheduled this month to deliver the last F-16 to be built at its Fort Worth, Texas, plant. Lockheed Martin is ending F-16 production in Texas to make more room to build the U.S. military’s newest fighter, the F-35, a single-seater plane with stealth capabilities.
Continued production of the F-16, which could add up to 250 jobs at Greenville, will be timed to fulfill anticipated orders for jets with Bahrain, Indonesia and Colombia. India also is in the mix for new F-16s, but it wants to eventually build the planes in India to shore up its advanced manufacturing sector. Greenville, however, will build F-16s for the Indian air force until India completes its own plant.
Lockheed Martin will be able to tap into the state’s workforce development resources such as ReadySC and Greenville Technical College, Erickson said. The Federal Aviation Administration has licensed the tech school’s aircraft maintenance program to train 120 students a year. Upon graduation, many go to work at Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin also aims to recruit maintainers at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter and McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Richland County when they exit military service. Both bases fly the single-seater warplane, and McEntire has the distinction of flying the most advanced F-16 model in the U.S. Air Force, Erickson said.
“That’s a pretty good pool of F-16 maintainers that are there,” Erickson said. “We’ll be building a platform that they’ve been working on” during their military service.
The F-16, which the Air Force has flown for 40 years, is regarded as the world’s most capable 4th generation multi-role fighter. Lockheed Martin reported 4,588 F-16s have been ordered by 28 countries and 3,200 are in operation around the world.
The F-16 is a workhorse of the U.S. fighter fleet, representing about 50% of the nation’s total air combat force.
“We’re ready to go and when we do get cooking on this, we’re going to build the most advanced F-16s that’ve ever been built,” Erickson said.
While Lockheed Martin’s Greenville Operations moves forward on the F-16 project, it also is in the mix for landing a contract to build the Air Force’s newest flight trainer, the T-50A.
The T-50A would replace the T-38, a two-seat supersonic plane that became operational in 1961. The fleet is scheduled to “age out” by 2030, Erickson said.
Lockheed Martin has joined with Korea Aerospace Industries in bidding for the Air Force package. They face three other competitors, who are offering their own designs.
The program contract that would deliver 350 aircraft to the Air Force is estimated to be worth $9 billion to $10 billion through 2021 and add another 250 jobs to Greenville Operations, Erickson said.
“Most analysts who have looked at this program are convinced that the number (of new trainers) is only going to grow” as planes are sold to foreign countries and the U.S. military orders variants of the original design, Erickson said.
Analysts think that 500 to 1,000 trainers could be ordered over the next 15 to 20 years, which would push the value of the T-50A program several billions of dollars above the original estimate, Erickson said.
Lockheed Martin has assembled two of the planes at Greenville and flown 90 sorties since November. Data collected from those flights were submitted to the Pentagon in June. The Air Force is expected to award the contract by the end of 2017.
Erickson noted that Lockheed Martin already has a significant presence in the Upstate and South Carolina. The Greenville Operations, headquartered on 272 acres in 16 hangars at S.C. Technology and Aviation Center, has 450 employees and an annual payroll of $68 million.
The F-16 and T-50A projects are “two significant evolutionary opportunities for Greenville that will only add to this economic impact,” Erickson said.