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This article was Originally Published on Jun 25, 2004 in Volume: 3  Issue: 2

Lockheed Martin

Interview with Tom Burbage

Executive Vice President

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Tom Burbage is executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 JSF program for Lockheed Martin.

Q: What do you see as Lockheed’s chief achievements on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) so far this year?

A: In March of this year, we conducted a design integration maturity review for the JSF/F-35 air system. This review was the culmination of five months of critical design reviews with all of our suppliers and lower tier integrated product teams. We are building our first two airplanes, one conventional, or Air Force, airplane and one short takeoff and vertical landing [STOVL] airplane. We are simultaneously conducting an extensive series of trade studies to further optimize our family of designs for weight, with particular emphasis on the STOVL configuration. These trades will result in an optimized family of designs later this year.

Four Pratt & Whitney F135 engines are now undergoing testing, including the STOVL propulsion system incorporating the shaft-driven lift fan. It already has produced “hover thrust” of 39,700 pounds. General Electric is well on its way to testing its first F136 engine this summer. Initial assembly of the first F-35 mid-fuselage is under way in California.

We have begun flight-testing our electro-optical sensors in a flying test bed. The F-35 radar has begun rooftop testing in Baltimore, MD, and we’re successfully testing F-35 subsystems in laboratories around the country. We’re also close to finishing much of the new F-35 production areas in Fort Worth, TX, where F-35 final assembly will take place, and in Palmdale and El Segundo, CA, and Samlesbury, U.K., where the mid and aft fuselages, respectively, will be assembled.

Q: What is the current status of JSF production, and what innovations have you undertaken to achieve greater efficiency and speed?

A: Initial assembly of the first F-35 began in May at Northrop Grumman in Palmdale when workers began putting together the center fuselage. Assembly of the forward fuselage and wings will get under way this summer at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth. BAE Systems will begin assembly of the aft fuselage and tails late this summer at Samlesbury. Northrop and BAE will ship their completed subassemblies to Fort Worth next year for final assembly. All three companies have invested in state-of-the-art manufacturing machines, tools and processes that will produce great leaps in manufacturing efficiency, precision and speed. Some of the machines mill components to an accuracy of 50 microns—about one-third the width of a human hair. Such precision is required for the F-35 to meet its stealth performance requirements.

Much of the equipment is automated, and able to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which will help the F-35 meet its ultimate rate-production goal of one aircraft per workday, and its assembly-span goal of five months per aircraft—compared compared to about 18 months for current-generation fighters. A continuous moving assembly line—the first for a modern fighter aircraft—is under consideration and could save the program a projected $300 million over its life. The processes and machines will be applied to an aircraft that has been designed from the start for modular, simplified assembly with tremendous reductions in fasteners and parts—and cost.

Q: Reports have indicated that some other countries are re-examining their commitment to the JSF. What are you doing to address these concerns?

A: We have very strong relationships with our partner countries, and we believe they are committed to the program. We continue to work proactively with all partner countries to identify appropriate opportunities for their industries. But industrial participation in the JSF program is based on the principle of best value, meaning that industries must “earn their way” onto the program by providing the lowest cost/highest quality/lowest risk products and technologies available.

For many international industrial firms, the JSF program stands to represent a significant percentage of future business. The program also offers opportunities for additional financial return from partner and non-partner country sales, recoupment for partner-country JSF purchases, price levies on non-partner country sales, associated logistics and training, and spin-off technologies or sales.

The program’s economies of scale and its long duration ensure continued major, long-term revenues for JSF partner countries. While near-term economic gains may be relatively modest in a few cases, long-term gains over the life of the program are likely to be significant.

For many of the JSF companies and some of their respective countries’ defense industrial bases, this more than $200 billion program could be the most important driver of financial success well into this century. In addition, access that this program will provide foreign countries into the business base of major U.S. defense primes, subcontractors and other program opportunities is incalculable.

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