Lockheed will begin moving the production line to its facility in Greenville, S.C., at the end of the year after delivering the last of the iconic jets being built for Iraq in September, said Ken Ross, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth.
The F-16 has been a mainstay of Lockheed’s mile-long production line, but the Fort Worth plant needs the room as it ramps up production of the F-35 Lightning II, he said. Currently, 8,800 employees work on the F-35 and about 200 work on the F-16. It is expected that the F-16 employees will be allowed to transition to work on the F-35.
“As part of our effort to make room for the F-35 production here in Fort Worth, the F-16 production line must be relocated,” Ross said.
Over the life of the program, Lockheed has delivered more than 4,500 F-16s, including 3,600 built in Fort Worth. Since the company hasn’t booked any orders for new F-16s beyond the planes for Iraq, it would take about two years to start it back up in South Carolina once a new order is received, Ross said.
Moving production to South Carolina makes sense for several reasons, company officials said.
First and foremost, Lockheed Martin is ramping up activity on the F-35 in Fort Worth and expects to hire an additional 1,800 employees through 2020 as work on the stealth fighter hits full production. Last year, Lockheed built about 50 F-35s and expects to build up to 160 a year by 2019.
“The space we use for the F-16 will be consumed by the F-35,” Ross said.
Secondly, the Greenville plant is where the new T-50A trainer will be built if it wins a competition to build the aircraft for the Air Force. The T-50A is considered an “offshoot” of the F-16 design, so the economics of having the two lines together makes sense, Ross said.
Lockheed continues to pitch building the F-16 in India. India wants to modernize its aging military fleet of about 650 planes and the Indian Ministry of Defence has set up a competition to build a new single-engine fighter in that country as part of a “Make in India” initiative.
But the Trump administration has made it clear it will scrutinize any deal that may shift jobs overseas and has said it plans to take a “fresh look” at the India deal. Lockheed argues that the Indian contract, while moving production overseas, would still be a boost to the domestic economy.
Lockheed still thinks the F-16 is the right aircraft for India and is providing information to the federal government about that deal, Ross said.
Lockheed is also seeking to make additional F-16 sales to U.S. allies.
“We have a lot of pursuits ongoing but no new orders yet,” Ross said.