April 6, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Hundreds of workers who build F16 fighter jets at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. could lose their jobs this year end as the company trims down after a three-year hiring boom.
The company had hired extra workers to speed up F-16 production at its west Fort Worth plant but now that the company is meeting delivery schedules, cutbacks are necessary.
As many as 1,000 of the 5,700 jobs assigned to the F-16 program could be cut by year's end. However, the actual number will be lower as some workers will probably be reassigned to other positions. Unfortunately, Lockheed's F-35 joint strike fighter program is behind schedule so it will be unable to absorb a large number of jobs.
Senior executives of parent Lockheed Martin Corp. have expressed concern recently that profit margins on the aircraft programs have not met expectations because of development and production problems.
The Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. division has about 16,300 employees and about 600-plus contract workers.
Since winning a contract to develop the F-35 in October 2001, Lockheed has added more than 5,000 employees to its payroll, mostly in engineering and other technical fields. At the same time, the company continued hiring production workers and some engineering staff to boost production of F-16s from a couple of planes a month to six or seven a month to fill orders overseas.
At one point last year, Lockheed executives have acknowledged, they fell behind schedule producing substantially different versions of the F-16 for Israel
and the United Arab Emirates
Lockheed now expects to produce 70 to 75 F-16s annually for the next several years.
The two other major programs that account for large numbers of Lockheed workers in Fort Worth, the F/A-22 Raptor and the F-35, have fallen behind schedule.
Production of the F/A-22 Raptor continues at low levels because of technical problems and cost overruns.
The F-35 schedule has been pushed back nearly a year because of difficulties meeting the design requirements. Lockheed had expected to produce the first prototypes this year and make a first flight in late 2005.