Lockheed, Boeing may team up to develop new fighter jet
By David Koenig
FORT WORTH, Texas Lockheed Martin Corp., which won a contract to develop the military's next fighter jet, opened the door yesterday to including losing bidder Boeing Co. in the Joint Strike Fighter project.
Dain Hancock, president of Lockheed's aeronautics division, said the company would ask Boeing if it could add value to Lockheed's Joint Strike Fighter team.
Last Friday, Pentagon officials announced they had picked Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors to design and develop models of the Joint Strike Fighter for the U.S. and British armed services. Air Force Secretary James Roche called Lockheed "the clear winner" over Chicago-based Boeing.
Presuming it wins the subsequent contract to build 3,000 copies of the fighter, the award could be worth more than $200 billion to Lockheed and its subcontractors, including Northrop Grumman Corp. and BAE Systems.
Analysts said the move could help Lockheed build political support for full production a congressional decision that could be nearly a decade away.
Paul Nisbet, an analyst with JSA Research Inc., said if Boeing were left out of the fighter project completely, it could seek to undermine support for full production by rushing development of a newer technology, most likely an unmanned fighter jet.
Lockheed officials "knew they were going to have to do this when they bid" for the Joint Strike Fighter work, Nisbet said. "It's a political reality."
Jerry Daniels, chief of Boeing's St. Louis-based Military Aircraft and Missile Systems Group, talked Thursday with Hancock, about the prospect of Boeing contributing to the JSF program, Chicago-based Boeing spokesman John Dern said. The two companies were to further discuss the matter next week, Dern said.
Boeing and its supporters in Congress, especially lawmakers from Missouri, where Boeing planned to build the Joint Strike Fighter, have lobbied to split the contract. They say the work must be divided to ensure that both companies remain in the fighter-building business.
Analysts have said the loser would probably quit the fighter business a view expressed openly by Lockheed officials before the Pentagon announcement.
Some Texas politicians, however, are opposed to splitting the contract. Some suggested that splitting the contract would drive up costs and result in an inferior plane.
Lockheed officials did not indicate what work Boeing might be able to do on the Joint Strike Fighter. Analysts said the work could total 20 percent to 25 percent of the project without upsetting the other main subcontractors, Los Angeles-based Northrop and London-based BAE, formerly British Aerospace.
Lockheed plans to build 22 test planes and deliver the first fighter to the military in 2008.
Lockheed officials believe a key factor in their victory was a novel propulsion system that allowed their supersonic test plane to hover, land and take off like a helicopter. Pentagon officials have declined to publicly critique the rival designs.
The military plans to use the plane to replace fighters used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines, including the A-10, the AV-8 Harrier, the F-16 currently built in Fort Worth and the F/A-18.