A multi-billion dollar project to build a new era of stealth fighter jets and create jobs goes on display in Rockford. Hamilton Sundstrand is one of several area suppliers for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project. But right now mechanical issues are keeping part of the project from taking off. Last week, the Defense Department grounded some of the F-35 jets.
"This is a normal development phase where you find problems and then you fix it and then you rapidly return to flight. We are in the process of doing that right now and we expect to return to flight soon," says Stephen O'Bryan, Vice President, F-35 Program Integration and Business Development.
But getting Lockheed Martin's F-35s back in the air is not the only area of concern. Congress is again talking about cutting defense spending. According to Reuters, the U.S. expects to pay more than $380-billion for 2,400 jets over the next 20 years.
"The F-35 is going to replace over 6 different models of airplanes, the F-16, the F-18, the AV-8B, the F-15, the A-10 as well as other fighter airplanes," says O'Bryan.
Lockheed Martin says keeping up an aging fleet is already costing the U-S a lot of money and it's keeping the country behind in technology.
"Today our services our flying aircraft that was originally designed in the Nixon Administration, where the average age of a U.S. Air Force fighter is over 20 years old," says O'Bryan.
In Rockford, there are more than 230 employees at Hamilton Sundstrand that work on F-35's design and manufacturing. Sundstrand hopes to grow that number as the program goes into full production.
"This program is not just important to our supplies, Lockheed Martin and Hamilton Sundstrand, but to our great country, so that we can continue to provide highly technical jobs for those who work on this airplane for decades to come," says Andreas Schell, President, Hamilton Sundstrand Electric Systems and Rockford Site Leader.
The F-35 is not just being built for use in the U.S., eight partner countries will also use the planes. Lockheed Martin says that will provide more than $200-billion in exports and help employ more than 127-thousand people.
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