Pentagon chooses Lockheed Martin for largest-ever contract

Friday, October 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon chose Lockheed Martin Corp. over Boeing Corp. on Friday to build its high-tech, next-generation fighter jet, a contract worth at least $200 billion, the largest in Defense Department history.

The contract is for 3,000 supersonic jets with radar-evading capabilities to replace the aging fighter fleets of the Air Force, Navy and Marines, albeit with modifications to fit the needs of each branch.

The companies waged a long and costly advertising and lobbying campaign for the contract, which establishes Lockheed as the nation's sole fighter jet manufacturer.

Lockheed, based in Bethesda, Md., has said if it won it would add as many as 9,000 jobs at its Lockheed Martin Aeronautics division in Fort Worth, Texas, which currently employs 11,000.

Chicago-based Boeing had predicted it would have added 3,000 new jobs for its Seattle facility and another 3,000 engineering jobs and 2,000 production jobs at its St. Louis plant.

Analysts said Boeing may be in a better position to weather the loss. It is developing an unmanned combat aircraft that could be highly lucrative and, unlike Lockheed, it has a commercial airline business.

The Defense Department gave Boeing and Lockheed $660 million each in 1996 for research and development of prototypes that could take off quickly, land vertically and on carrier decks, throw off radar and provide all the high-tech cockpit gadgetry demanded by modern warfare.

The plane is designed to replace the Air Force's F-16 and A-10, the Navy's F/A-18 and the Marine Corps' AV-8B Harrier. It also would be used by Britain's Royal Air Force and Navy, which want 150 of the planes. Britain has committed $2 billion toward the development of the plane.

Boeing's test model, dubbed the X-32, is more compact than Lockheed's X-35. The X-32 has a gaping air intake on the front and dual lift nozzles underneath, while the X-35 achieves its short takeoffs and vertical landings with a single thruster and a lift fan at the top of the plane.

Both Boeing and Lockheed's planes for the Marines, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy can land vertically. Versions for the Air Force and Navy are designed to land conventionally.

The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, twice warned the jet could end up costing more, take longer to build and have performance problems because the technologies need more development. The Pentagon has said its independent investigation found the technologies are adequate.