It was good news for the Cherokee County area and environs because the center-wing assembly of the jet is assembled at Lockheed Martin’s vast aviation plant down in Marietta. It’s good news for the country because it lowers the overall per-plane cost of the program, and hence saves taxpayers money. And it’s good for Lockheed for obvious reasons.
About 330 people now work on the F-35 program at the local plant, a number estimated to grow to 1,000 when the program reaches full production late in this decade. A “stealth” coating is applied to parts of the plane, including its doors and panels, at the plant here. The center-wing assemblies, or “boxes,” are then trucked to Lockheed’s plant in Texas where final assembly takes place. It will be flown by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
The F-35 has been developed jointly by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Italy, Turkey, Norway and Denmark. Each will add it to their air fleet when it comes on line. Japan has ordered 42 of the F-35s to replace its F-4s, Israel is buying F-35s and Singapore is looking hard at buying the plane, too.
“(The Korean buy) strengthens and extends our long-standing security partnership while enhancing regional stability across the greater Asia-Pacific theater,” said Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed executive vice president, in a statement.
Indeed, South Korea’s decision to buy the F-35 was a direct result of the rising tensions in Asia as an expansionist China flexes its muscles and doubts grow about the ability of the U.S. to continue its post-World War II role as defender of the peaceful status quo along the Pacific Rim.
South Korea had been expected to purchase the Boeing-built F-15, but reopened its bidding and ultimately chose the F-35 because of its superior stealth capability. Its virtual invisibility on radar screens would allow South Korea to hit nuclear instillations deep inside North Korea.
Meantime, the sales to foreign countries are expected to drop the plane’s per-unit cost from the present $100 million each to $85 million, which in turn could make them more affordable for the U.S. military as well.
All told, it was news that shows the F-35 program is flying in the right direction.