Lockheed Stealth Jet Lifts Local Aerospace

Staff Reporter

The Joint Strike Fighter may be the next-generation fighter jet program grabbing all the headlines, but it's another stealth-fighter program flying largely beneath the media radar that is bringing a more immediate windfall to Los Angeles.

It's Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-22 Raptor.

Initial production of the F-22 is getting underway, and various subcontracts are still being negotiated. But the $43 billion program, which initially calls for the Air Force to buy 339 of the planes, is expected to involve 250 L.A.-area subcontractors, generating $10 billion in local revenues and creating as many as 3,000 new higher-pay L.A. jobs.

"L.A. has the greatest concentration of F-22 suppliers in one single area in the United States," said Dick Mather, Lockheed's business development director for the F-22. "It is extremely important."

And the program couldn't be gearing up at a better time. This spring, local aerospace employment is projected to dip below 100,000 for the first time since World War II.

"This is new employment for the aircraft industry in the Los Angeles area at a time when it has fallen to a low point," said Philip Coyle, senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think tank. "It's a real shot in the arm."

The region employed 113,700 aerospace workers a year ago, far from the peak of 274,000 before President Clinton's defense cuts, according to the L.A. County Economic Development Corp.

By far the biggest local beneficiary of the F-22 is Raytheon Co.'s Air Combat & Strike Systems unit in El Segundo. It has secured a $3 billion contract to build the plane's "common integrated processor" a super computer that controls every function.

"Raytheon is the 400-pound gorilla in the subcontractor base for the F-22 in L.A.," said Lockheed's Mather. "The CIP is integral to the avionics architecture of the airplane. For the first time in a fighter, we are developing a full integrated system."

That system retrieves data from within and outside the plane and feeds it into the radar, electronic warfare, communications and navigation systems to offer the pilot specific flight locations, targets and airborne enemy positions.

Raytheon plans to do its engineering, testing and final assembly work in El Segundo, but that facility will share manufacturing duties with plants in Dallas and Andover, Mass.

Rich potential

With many qualified employees already on the payroll, Raytheon's new local hires related to F-22 work might be as few as 200. But as the first company ever to fully integrate a jet fighter, Raytheon expects its CIP technology to lead to lots of future defense contracts that would boost local employment further.

"The work is extremely important to us because it represents one of the most sophisticated processing systems that we build," said Frank Fleischer, director of business development for the Air Combat & Strike Systems unit. "It was designed here in L.A. We develop and market variants of the core for other projects. We intend to leverage that to other applications."

Lockheed expects to begin assembly of the first 13 planes at its Marietta, Ga. plant this year, and start delivering them in 2003. Another 23 planes will begin assembly in 2003, with production ramping up to 36 planes annually as early as 2005, Lockheed and Air Force officials said.

Other major local subcontracts that Lockheed has awarded for its F-22 program include:

> $421 million to Honeywell in Torrance to make the environmental control system to control the airplane's temperature.

> $371 million to BAE Systems in Santa Monica to produce the "actuator interface module" a major piece of the flight control system.

> $170 million to Aerospace Dynamics Inc. of Valencia to make the "aft booms," which are two large components on each plane that maintains structural integrity.

> $100 million to Fansteel Inc.'s California Drop Forge division of Los Angeles to forge stamped or milled machine parts.

> $84 million to Marvin Engineering Co. Inc. of Inglewood to make external pylons, from which weapons or fuel tanks are hung.

> $51 million to Teledyne Technologies Inc. of Northridge to make the emergency pilot escape sequencing system.

> $38 million to Northrop Grumman Corp. of Woodland Hills to make the "inertial reference system," which helps track flight locations in the navigation system.

The F-22 can travel up to 1,500 miles per hour and carry up to six advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles or two 1,000-pound Global Positioning Satellite-guided "smart bombs," as well as two short-range heat-seeking missiles.

In many respects, the F-22 is a superior plane to the much higher-profile Joint Strike Fighter, formally known as the F-35.

Screaming-fast stealth

"The Joint Strike Fighter is a complementary aircraft to the F-22," said Lt. Col. Ed Worley, public affairs director at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which manages the F-22 program. "The Joint Strike Fighter is not as capable as the F-22 in certain missions, particular air-to-air missions."

F-22s cost nearly $85 million each, while F-35s only cost $35 million apiece. And with today's primary military threats to the United States being somewhat less sophisticated than in years past, there is less need for the F-22's expensive bells and whistles.

"Even in today's environment, which is bullish for defense spending, next-generation air superiority fighters like the F-22 are not required in huge numbers to fight a terrorist threat," said Jon Kutler, president of Quarterdeck Investment Partners Inc., a defense investment bank in Los Angeles. "They were designed to fight a First World threat, which we are backing away from."

As a result, the Department of Defense has ordered 3,000 F-35s to be delivered to the Air Force, Navy and Marines over the next three to four decades. That program is expected to pump $100 billion into the local economy, but initial low-rate production is not set to begin until 2007 at the earliest.

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