There probably is no one in Lockheed Martin management that would say the strike by the Machinists union that is now in its ninth week has been a good thing, but Lockheed CEO Bob Stevens says the company has made good use of the "down time" in Fort Worth.
Stevens, at a press conference in Bethesda, Md. on Tuesday that the Star-Telegram participated in by telephone, said the company's F-35 management team had been able to use the drastically reduced production rate caused by the strike to improve the processes and make adjustments that should help improve production efficiency going forward.
"It's certainly given us time to bring balance to the line," Stevens said. "We've worked to use this time prudently."
Since the program's earliest days the F-35, as with any new aircraft production program, has been plagued with parts shortages, defective parts and components, rework required and in many cases parts that required re-design. Planes are assembled with missing parts or with parts that have to go back and be replaced.
Suppliers struggling to meet deadlines are forced to cope with re-designed parts or to solve technical and reliability problems at their level. All of these factors, many of which stem from overly optimistic assumptions years ago, have added to the delays and rising costs of the F-35 program.
Lockheed's negotiations with the Machinists union and its hard line stand on changes to pension and health care benefits were not the result of Pentagon mandates, Stevens said, contrary to some suggestions and published commentary.
"The Pentagon did not direct us in any way in our negotiations with the IAM," Stevens said, but reflected a drive to bring down costs across the corporation as it prepares for drastic reductions in defense spending.
- Bob Cox