It is a contract valued at between $10 billion and $11 billion, and Lockheed Martin’s Greenville operations facility is hoping to be the plant selected to get it.
As the U.S. Air Force’s fighter training aircraft, the T-38, is in its fifth decade of use by the military, the Air Force is seeking a new trainer for its pilots.
“One of the things we are looking at is to make sure we can adequately replace the T-38, so the Air Force doesn’t miss a beat,” said Don Erickson, site director for Lockheed Martin’s Greenville operations facility located at the S.C. Technology and Aviation Center.
The facility has started to convert Hangar 11, a former military hanger built in 1958, to house the production of the T-50A. Erickson said the conversion includes a new interior roof, construction of office space and a fresh coat of paint on the floor. The intent, contract award pending, is to be able to produce four T-50As per month in Greenville.
Erickson said if Lockheed Martin is awarded the multibillion dollar contract, sometime in late 2017 or early 2018, the facility will expand its workforce from the 600 already employed in Greenville to nearly 800 between 2019 and 2022. Erickson said that additional workforce could come from existing Lockheed Martin employees and from sources such as aviation training students at Greenville Technical College, for which Lockheed Martin has funded a $25,000 scholarship.
“We have a lot of people who are retired military and some out of Shaw (Air Force Base), so they have F-16 and fighter jet experience,” Erickson said.
The initial contract for the U.S. Air Force will be for an estimated 350 of the new trainers. However, Erickson said, factoring in the potential for international sales of the jet, that number could climb to between 500 and 1,000. The focus, if awarded the contract, will be on the initial order from the Air Force and, after that, the government can determine the direction with any international sales.
Erickson said the infrastructure already established at SC-TAC is already in place for Lockheed Martin to begin production of the aircraft. He said that will be an added benefit to the Lockheed Martin-Korea Aerospace bid to the Air Force. That means the only focus for the company is to retrofit Hangar 11 in the hopes that a bid award will lead to expanded production of the jet.
“The significant impact will not only benefit Lockheed Martin, but SC-TAC,” said Liz Seman, a member of the SC-TAC board and the Greenville County Council. “We are excited about what this means for Lockheed Martin and Greenville County.”
With Lockheed Martin as one of its largest clients, SC-TAC has an estimated $2 billion economic impact yearly on the economy. Even with an additional focus on the new automotive test track at the former Donaldson Air Force Base, Jody Bryson, SC-TAC president and CEO, said the entire site has grown with Lockheed Martin and the addition of the T-50A project “will put us on the global map.”
“We have not diluted any of our efforts with aerospace. I would say we have just added to it,” Bryson said. “It’s not new for us to wear many hats.”
The venture between Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace is one of four expected to submit a bid for the project. The others are Boeing Co. and Saab; Northrup Grumman, the manufacturer of the T-38, and BAE Systems; and the Textron AirLand Scorpion, a jet similar to Lockheed Martin’s that’s already in production.
Erickson said the next step in the process is for the company to draft a request for proposal to the Air Force, which he said will happen in the next few months. Then all companies bidding will go through the Air Force’s selection process, which includes a demonstration for the Air Force.
“I would say we have a fairly competitive offering because of the flexibility and readiness,” Erickson said.
Reach Matthew Clark at 864-235-5677, ext. 107, or @matthewclark76 on Twitter.